14. Reasoned Prayer

Meditations in Colossians: 14. Reasoned Prayer

Col 1:9   For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you

People pray for a variety of reasons – but they always have reasons.  Paul will go on to say what he prays as we read on, but for the moment he looks back. He prays because of the things he has been saying. What were these things?

Well in many ways this is a recap of what we have already considered, but it does make clear Paul’s motivation. He started out by saying that he prayed for them (even though he has never been to Colosse) and always gave thanks for them when he prayed (v.3) and the reason he gave thanks for them was because of what he had heard about them – their faith and their love (v.4), which was their response to the hope of their eternal inheritance (v.5) that put purpose into their present lives and gave assurance about their life after death.  This had come with the Gospel which had born the fruit of salvation in them, and in many other places in the world where it was preached (v.6). As well as releasing faith and love, this Gospel impacted their lives as they heard and came to understand the wonderful grace of God (v.7). This Gospel had been brought to them by Epaphras (v.7) who returned to Paul and told him of the love that was exhibited in them by the work of the Holy Spirit (v.8)

All of that explains why Paul now says, For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.” The reason? What Paul had heard from Epaphras about them, the outworking of their having received the Gospel and of the work of the Spirit in them. As soon as Epaphras told Paul about them, Paul’s spirit soared in praise (assumed) and thanksgiving (stated). But Paul is also an apostle-pastor and he knows what the people in this church need, and that is what he goes on to speak about and which we will consider in the coming meditations.

We did consider the thankfulness aspect of Paul’s praying but it may be worth asking again, are we aware of our fellow believers in our area and do we have a sense of gratefulness and thankfulness for them? It is so easy to become isolated in my little church in our little corner and forget that we are part of the universal church where, although they do it so differently perhaps from us, the believers are nevertheless our brothers and sisters.

I have observed over the years that it is so easy to feel superior about what is happening in our church, where God is blessing, and assume that it is not so elsewhere. Such an attitude is accompanied by a lack of thankfulness for others. The fact that others worship in different ways to us and may be doing more/less to share the Gospel than us, means that sometimes we feel different from ‘them’ and so we have negative feelings about other churches who we may either look down on or feel threatened by. Thankfulness is something to be worked on. I sometimes wonder if we ought to shut down our own building once in every two months and send our people to go and experience life with other believers elsewhere in our area. A challenge, a threat or an opportunity for blessing?

But we’ve noted that we are going to go on and  see specific things Paul is going to pray for these people at Colosse and we may summarise it as praying for their blessing. We will go on to see a variety of things he wants for them but they are summarised as things that will build and bless them (and lots more! Exciting verses to come!) But this raises another question: are we passive about how we view our fellow believers? What I mean by that is are we happy to just observe them as they are, and happy that they stay as they are, or do we have a sense of the so many more things God wants to bring into our lives and the lives of those around us in the believing community?

In many churches we are just content to let the preacher bring his little message (which may be informative) each Sunday, but the thought of moving on, growing up, maturing, experiencing new gifting, moving into new areas of service and ministry etc., are alien to us. We are comfortable in our Sunday services, our prayer meeting and maybe even our Bible Study, but the thought of change and growth is both challenging and threatening and, for some of us, uncomfortable. Very often we lack vision of what could be and our faith level is sufficiently low as to be completely non-expectant – nothing is going to change today, tomorrow or next month.

But this non-expectant, passive, almost inert spiritual life is quite different from that found in the New Testament. Indeed it is alien to the things Paul is going to say in the verses that follow and so in order to appreciate them fully, we need to challenge ourselves now, before we get to them, are we willing to have our faith stretched to reach out and appropriate so much more than we might have at the moment?  These following verses are absolutely dynamic and the potential, if we will open our hearts to the Lord, is for our faith to be expanded greatly and our Christian experience deepened immeasurably. Because Paul is an apostle with a pastoral heart, he knows what is on his heart for these people he has never seen before, simply because they are new Christians and he doesn’t want them to stand still. They are part of the army of God, the servants of God called to change the world, but before that can happen, various other things need to come into place first, and it is these things that he now goes in to pray for.

Are we ready?

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37. Like Animals

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 37 :  Like Animals

Eccles 3:18,19 I also thought, “As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless.

When you lose contact with God, you lose contact with reality and when you lose contact with reality it means you lose contact with the truth. You may still retain partial truth, but away from God you are prey to negative thoughts, half truths and utter deception. Three dangerous little words: “I also thought.” How different from the strong words of the prophets who were able to say, “God said…. and God showed me….” It is a sad thing to watch an elderly person lose their grip on reality. Solomon was never a prophet but he was known to be the wisest man in the world – while he stuck with God, but once the deception of idolatry entered the royal palace it was a downward slope, and he’s left thinking his own thoughts, not God’s thoughts!

We have to be careful here for indeed all Scripture is inspired (see 2 Tim 3:16) but sometimes that means God inspired or nudged the writer to write, not that what they wrote was absolute truth. We see this in the arguing of Job; some of it is distinctly off the rails – but it is still useful to teach us! What Solomon says in these verses is basically true, but the sense of it is negative and it is only half truth. Let’s explain.

As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. In ONE sense this is true. In many others it is false. It is the one sense that Solomon is focusing upon. So what is he saying? He is saying that when pride takes a turn and we think we are so great, we need to see that we are just on the same level as all animals. Why? Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. There is it; we are on the same level as the animals in that both we and they are all going to die. That is a common feature of every living creature.

See how he continues: “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (v.20,21) There he moves in the same thinking – we’re all going to die and what is worse, we don’t know what is going to happen then, so like the animals we don’t know our eternal future.  Well of course this was Solomon speaking without the revelation that we now have in the New Testament. Don’t join in Solomon’s ‘Doubt Club’ for that is not where we are today. The New Testament is quite clear that when we receive the Lord Jesus Christ into our life we receive eternal life and that means a life that goes on after death, a life in heaven with God.

But look at the negativity that Solomon is left with: “So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?” (v.22)  Just try and get some enjoyment out of your work today because you don’t know what will happen when you leave this earth. That indeed is what many people are left with – godless people, unbelievers. Try to get the most out your work; that all you can hope for. Well fortunately there is much more we can hope for.

In the beginning we are told that God made us in his own image (see Gen 1:26.27). Now what does that mean? What characteristics or abilities do we see in us that makes us anything like God and which differentiates us from the animals?  We have the abilities to communicate, think, reason, invent, create, write, work, order, purpose and plan. Put another way, He has given us self-consciousness, imagination and conscience, and ability to grow and develop. Go back over these things and catch the wonder of who He has made us to be.  So this doesn’t just leave us with mundane work; this opens up a panorama of possibilities of doing things for pleasure and to please others that means far more than struggling for survival.

We are fortunate to live in a part of history where these things are beginning to come to fullness and we have opportunities to do far more than only work. Meaning in life comes with a sense of fulfilment as we allow God to lead us to become the people He’s designed us to be. Yet there does need to be a warning. We can do all these creative things and yet still not find meaning for that only comes when we are in harmony with God. That IS how He’s designed us to work best and anything less than that means we struggle for meaning just as Solomon did in his latter days. Let’s ensure we avoid the ‘aged-Solomon syndrome’!

31. Harms Way

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.31

31. Out of Harm’s Way

Matt 2:14,15 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

The world in which we live today seems increasingly unstable. Three or four years ago, terrorist threat became a very real feature of modern life and that has continued. In the past years the forces of nature have also wreaked havoc in many parts of the world, and it seems that no area of safe from possible natural catastrophe. Fear has become a very real part of many people’s lives as society has changed out of all recognition from fifty years ago. Where is there some source of stability?

As we look into these verses today and yesterday, we find our answer. Hollywood has produced various films where rogue government groups hunt the hero. This could be one such story and the rogue authority is Herod. He is shortly going to have every child under the age of two killed in an attempt to purge the land of a potential competitor to his family dynasty. Very soon the land is going to be very unsafe for this little family; their lives are under a very real threat, even if they don’t realise it fully yet.

And that’s where God’s intervention comes in. God has bound Himself to permit us free will – and that includes allowing evil men to be evil, so the murder of the infants will happen. As terrible as that is, it cannot be avoided. This is what sinful men do! However, while the plans of Herod are being made, the Lord speaks to His servant, Joseph, in a dream, knowing that this is a man who has proved that he listens and obeys. Possibly God was speaking to all the other parents with young children, but few if any heard.

Where does Joseph and Mary’s security come from? It comes from hearing God’s words of guidance and protection and responding to them. Note the twofold aspect of that. God speaks AND they obey. God could have spoken and they refused to go. In such a case Jesus would have been killed! No, their security came from obeying what God said to them; it was that which put them out of harm’s way. Does God not move sovereignly to protect His children? Yes He does, but more often than not, it seems that He wants our co-operation. The story of Peter’s escape from prison, from the plans of a later Herod (see Acts 12), is a classic example of this. God’s angel told him what to do and opened up doors for him, but he still had to get up, get dressed and follow the angel, step by step, out of the prison. Do you see this? Our security is not some passive thing, whereby we just sit back and let God pander to us. He wants us to be an active part of His plans and so He involves us in our deliverance from harm.

Is this easy? Is this easy, this listening to God and responding to Him? In as much as it requires us to learn to listen to Him, and the old natural ‘us’ would prefer to reason out our own lives, no, it’s not easy, but this is how it works! It’s what we’ve been saying again and again: this Christmas story is not a comfortable soft and mushy children’s story; it is an account of how God actually moved in the affairs of men and women, and it challenges us who call ourselves His children, to walk in the same way as them – the way of faith. When we learn to do this, we can be at peace, in the strong assurance that God is for us, and He who knows all things will lead and guide us – as much as we will allow Him to lead and guide! Maybe you have a steep learning curve ahead it you – but it’s worth it! Go for it!