7. Loved

Studies in Isaiah 54: 7. Loved

Isa 54: 10  “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

 Grace Prevailing over Justice: In the previous study we saw how the Lord was using the analogy of Noah and the Flood to explain His faithfulness, we should say, in respect of Israel. Even as Noah had moved His heart and brought a promise of grace prevailing over justice, so that same grace would prevail today so that, although He had indeed cast them away for a moment because of their disobedience, now He would come to them and restore that previous relationship. We did go into verse 10 as we mentioned the covenant of peace, but there is something even more wonderful there that we must take hold of.

In a Shaken World: The first phrase of this present verse may be skimmed over by many (me included often) but it is highly significant: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills removed.” In other words it doesn’t matter how disastrous the world seems, God’s love is going to be there. Now don’t take this casually because very often (along with Chicken Licken) we feel the sky is falling down as things around us seem to deteriorate. At the time I write, the political landscapes of the UK and USA have been transformed and in the UK in particular (although some in the USA say they feel the same) chaos seems to ensue. For many this has created a world-weariness, almost a mental and emotional exhaustion that is only helped by turning off and ignoring the news.

But it is more than just than the political landscape. Older generations feel lost in a world that has been utterly transformed in their lifetime. The world has been shaken for them by technology. Younger generations complain that because of the self-centred carelessness of older generations they have been put into a situation where financially they are disadvantaged; their world has been shaken.  But this ‘shaking’ can be much more personal; when illness strikes or downsizing comes to your workplace and the job you have held for thirty years is suddenly gone, it comes like an earth-shattering loss. In many ways it feels like the earth is being shaken and things we have taken for granted for so long (the hills) are removed from our lives, and it makes us feel very vulnerable.

Need of Security: It is at such times that we desperately feel we need security. When the ‘ground is shaking’ and when ‘the hills are being removed’ we suddenly start thinking about these things. While everything was going along fine, we just took life for granted.  There was food on the table, the sun shone and day followed day without a worry or care in sight. And then the ground shook. We felt it but it would pass quickly. But then it continued shaking and then ‘the hills were removed’ and suddenly everything was different. It happens all the time in the Fallen World, especially this modern world where change is the name of the game every day it seems. It can be highly disconcerting but such shaking can wake us up to the realities of our life – we have taken so much for granted, we had become complacent with our relationship with the Lord, almost superficial if we are honest. Then comes the shaking – usually a loss, of a job, of health or of a loved one – and we start praying, we start crying out, “Are you there?” Of course He is but we had become things-focused instead of God-focused and so lost that sense.

The Word Comes: Then comes the word of the Lord: my unfailing love for you will not be shaken.” The psalmist says the same thing: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” (Psa 46:1,2) He doesn’t mention the word ‘love’ there but that is what it is all about and why he does not need to fear. The earth may be shaken but God’s love will not be shaken. David knew this same love: “save me because of your unfailing love.” (Psa 6:4) Whatever else might change, God’s love would not. All other resources might run out, but God’s love will never fail, will never be exhausted. Jeremiah was prophesying against the same thing when he declared, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jer 2:13) Not only had the people turned away from God who was an everlasting source of life and love, but they had tried to manufacture their own forms of provision and security and those always failed! No, God’s love is unfailing, that is why He is so often referred to as ‘faithful’ because He is unchanging.

Beware Appearances: I often teach on the fact that Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand ruling in the midst of his enemies, and will continue to reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet, and it is at such times that I sense that readers or listeners have the same query as Gideon had that we considered in the previous study. It is so common we need to repeat it here: if God is around, why are all these things happening? In another context recently I wrote the following:

Point One: we live in a Fallen World where, because of sin, things go wrong and people say and do nasty things because they have free will.

Point Two: God does not override our free will and so permits the world to proceed as it does with things going wrong and people acting badly BUT He does expect us, His children, to act as His representatives and to be salt and light in it.

Point Three: He a) expects us to change the circumstances and b) be changed by the circumstances. We are to be one of His means of bringing change in this world while being changed into Jesus’ likeness as we do it.

That is the ‘big picture’ that we need to remember. Jesus IS ruling but he doesn’t do it with a heavy hand; he uses us (yes, he does sometimes move sovereignly without us as well) and sometimes waits for us to catch on to that, but the Father’s love IS always there, it is unfailing and it does not change because we are slow to understand or slow to act. It is still there despite whatever we do. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) the apostle John declared. Hold that truth firmly, never let it go, despite the appearances of what is going on around you. He IS there for us at all times, every day. Hold that, rejoice in it and be at peace in whatever is going on.

23. Total Security

Reaching into the Psalms:  23. Total Security (end of Psa 4)

 Psa 4:8   In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Process: This psalm starts with David calling to the Lord to answer him in his distress and ends in him declaring his complete sense of peace. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrote, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) There is a process there: anxiety, prayer, peace, and we see the same thing in the process of this psalm.

David cried out to the Lord with request (v.1), and yet affirms his sure knowledge through experience that when he prays, the Lord hears (v.3). In between he addresses those who are causing his grief, those who demean the Lord and worship idols (v.2) and counsels them to check themselves out as they lie in bed (v.4) and to be faithful to the covenant and offer right sacrifices, trusting in the Lord’s mercy (v.5). He focuses on their wrong thinking, implying that the Lord is not there for them (v.6a) and so he prays that the Lord will let His face shine on this people (v.6b) and bring blessing that will transform grumbling into joy (v.7).

It is difficult to know exactly what is personal testimony and what is challenge to his detractors, but whatever it is, by the time he has off-loaded it all to the Lord, he is left with a sense of complete peace, total security. Yes, the opposition is there, but so is the Lord! Moreover he knows that the Lord is not only with him but also for him, and that means total security so at the end of the day when he goes to lie down, he is at peace.

Product = Peace: It is always good to unburden ourselves by sharing our concerns with someone near us, and the Lord is the obvious starting place to do that and, as Paul said, when we do that there comes a peace that goes beyond understanding. I think the very process of unloading to another lifts the burden, but as we do it in prayer, there comes a mystical exchange.

The Message paraphrase version puts it quite well, “Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life.” Look at that. A ‘sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down’. That’s a nice way of putting it.

Beyond Explanation: Well that is nice but actually the translations speak about a peace “which surpasses all understanding,” (ESV & NKJV & NRSV) or transcends all understanding” (NIV). Surpasses means exceeds or goes beyond, while transcends means rises above. The product of our offloading our anxieties to the Lord in prayer is a peace that is inexplicable, you can’t explain it. For us it should be rooted in what the Message ended with: “Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life”, i.e. encountering him means we encounter the very source of our peace, the One who is, the One who is ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2), who is in total control and who is for us (Rom 8:31). Rooted in that, when it happens we just find this peace coming which just is and is beyond understanding or description.

Approaching Sleep: How we go to bed at night is quite significant. I know someone, a friend, who has to have an audio-book story playing quietly in the background to still their over-active mind. For many the thought of going to bed at night is not greeted with pleasurable anticipation. Many go with the worries of the day bearing down heavily upon them. For others, like my friend, they have had a day full of mental (or perhaps spiritual) activity and their mind is still full of it. The experts say beware the blue screen syndrome, the need to play games on some hand-held device for that lit-up screen works against sleep. Perhaps we should learn from David and Paul: off-load the day to the Lord, pour it all out before Him but remember, with Paul, to add thanksgiving for all the good bits of the day.

The possibilities of sleep: Sleep (after having offloaded to the Lord!) can be a time of recreation (Gen 2:21), even a time of revelation (Gen 28:11-), a time of guidance (Mt 1:20), a time of learning (Mt 27:19), a time of the Spirit’s blessing (Joel 2:28). It is interesting in the last quote that it is ‘old men’ (repeated by Peter on the Day of Pentecost – Acts 2:17). Young people tend to sleep more deeply and therefore dreams tend not to be so near the surface to be remembered on waking, but older people tend to need less sleep and it is often broken or shallower and dreams are nearer the surface, able to be remembered. All of these things – blessings in sleep – are rare when the mind is filled with worries, so good dreams become nightmares and not a blessing. Thus our suggested approach to sleep – offloading the day to the Lord – is an approach of wisdom that perhaps many should heed.

David – and us! David has prayed, has expressed his concerns, addressed his detractors, affirmed the Lord’s goodness and ends the day retiring to bed in peace with a strong assurance of complete security in the Lord. Perhaps we might add to end-of-the-day prayer the suggestion of reading a short passage of scripture that releases faith and encouragement. Some may drink certain sleep-helping beverages – fine! – but what cocktail could be better than a time with the Lord, offloading concerns, giving thanks for the good, and declaring the truths of His word?  As we pray, like David and like Paul, peace descends and so sometimes we may not be able to get to the reading part, the peace just sweeps us into unconsciousness and a time of refreshing and blessing. May it be so.

13. Security

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 13. Security

Psa 3:5    I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me

Watched Over: I have struggled with this verse. As you are probably aware as you read these notes, often I find the paraphrase versions shed light on my ponderings, and I often like the way the Message version expresses it, but in this instance there is something crucial missing: “I stretch myself out. I sleep. Then I’m up again—rested, tall and steady,” i.e. there is no mention of the Lord! The Living Bible is better: “Then I lay down and slept in peace and woke up safely, for the Lord was watching over me.” That, I think, conveys more of the sense of what David is writing here.

But to backtrack, it’s an odd verse because you might think that the Message version is right in that that is how things are, surely, we get tired, we go to sleep and wake refreshed; that is what is called common grace, that is what happens to all of us. If only! Modern man seems to be more self-aware than his predecessors and sleep is one of those things you can read about in abundance. But the mere fact that so much is written about it, with changing ideas appearing from ‘experts’, suggests that sleep is not always as simple and straight forward as we just suggested.

The truth is that we can have difficulties with sleep. Yes, we can have trouble getting to sleep and we are told it may be an over-active mind, or eating or drinking too much too late, or we may be turning over worries of the day in our mind. I know of someone who has music or a story playing quietly in the background to help overcome the concerns of the day. When we do eventually get to sleep it can be just as bad and we may only have shallow sleep, sleep that is broken and comes to wakefulness from time to time, or that semi-wakefulness can be invaded by particular concerns that go round and round and just won’t stop. When that happens I now get up go downstairs, look at the stars, make a cup of decaffeinated tea, sit at my computer for half an hour and then invariably go back and sleep soundly. There is one school of thought that suggests that our ancestors tended to usually have two-periods sleep just like this.  The older you get, they say, the less sleep you need, and you certainly worry less about broken nights. In sleep, bad dreams can be an indication of worries (as well as eating wrong food before going to bed!). And so we could go on. The fact is that mind and body work together and, when we are not careful, conspire together to cause all these various problems.

But David is testifying to the Lord’s presence and provision. He has said He is like a shield who surrounds him, sheds His light on him and encourages him (v.3), that he can cry to the Lord and knows that the Lord will answer him (v.4). Yes, he may be on the run from Absalom, his throne has been taken, his rule may be ended, and he may never see Jerusalem again – and indeed his very life is under threat – but he has learned that although the Lord is disciplining him, He is still on his side and so he can further testify, “I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.” (v.6) He knows, as Job had come to learn, that the Lord may discipline him and even use Satan and his agents to come against him, but the instruction to the enemy is always summarised as, “Thus far and no further.” God has been there for him in the past, and although he has sinned and is under discipline, David has learned something we need to learn – God has not given up on him. God is still in the business of redeeming his life and He hasn’t finished with David.  Whatever your failure, as long as your heart is still pointed in God’s direction, He has not given up on you.

I like even more the ‘Easy-to-Read Bible version of verse 5: “I can lie down to rest and know that I will wake up, because the Lord covers and protects me.” That touches on something that is peculiar to David’s situation.  David has known by past experience that it is possible to creep into an enemy’s camp in the middle of the night with the possibility of assassinating the leader. (1 Sam 26:7) Not only is David secure in the knowledge that if a mass-army turns up, the Lord will still be there on his side, but that divine protection extends to keeping him secure from assassins.  Physical strength restored, mental peace assured, spiritual resources recharged, these are all part of the design and work of the Lord and now, as well, complete security.

Perhaps nowhere is this assurance conveyed more clearly in Psa 121 which starts, I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?” The mountains could be a source of threat, for surrounding Canaan were mountain tribes and peoples who would sometimes come down and invade. In the mountains so often Israel had the so-called ‘high-places’, places where images (idols) were set up and worshipped, false idols, false worship. These were the possibilities open to the psalmist as he wrote that psalm.

But he will not be put in a state of fear by such threats and he will not turn to false gods, for, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (v.2) Yahweh, the Eternal One, the Creator of all things, He is his source of security. “He will not let your foot slip.” (v.3a) i.e. he will make me secure so I can stand firm in the face of all threats. But there is something wonderful about the Lord – He is on the job twenty-four hours a day: “he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep,” (v.3b,4) and so he could say, “The Lord watches over you,” (v.5a) but God doesn’t watch inactively, He watches to protect.

So, continues the psalmist, it doesn’t matter what is going on around you because, “the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.” (v.5b,6) i.e. total protection. Indeed, “The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (v.7,8) The Lord watches over His children to keep them from harm. (This is not to say we can’t walk out from under His protection foolishly and suffer harm). Yes, persecution may come but whatever threats come, nothing can take you away from the Lord’s love (read Rom 8). In the midst of ‘whatever’, the Lord is there and His command to the world is “thus far and no further”. For David under God’s discipline that was the sense of security that he had and thus he can testify as he has. May we be able to do the same.

3.5 Security or Supply

Short Meditations in Psalms: 3.5  Security or Supply

Psa 3:5  I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

Whether David means this is the Lord’s response to his prayer or is what he normally knows as the Lord’s provision is unclear. It is perhaps both; he normally knows the Lord’s provision but when he prays that provision is intensified if you like, for that surely is how it is so often.

As a verse it sounds so simple – unless you are someone who is kept awake by worries!  Worries must be one of the prime reasons we cannot sleep. When we have anxieties they seem to go round and round and round and just do not stop. When your life is under threat, as David’s is at this time, that must be doubly so.

Worries, concerns, anxieties, call them what you will, are a natural response when life turns bad, when things go wrong, when accidents occur and when people turn hostile. All of these things are difficult to handle and so all of them raise the emotional temperature of life. This is especially so when we can do nothing to change the situation except wait. If you read David’s story in respect of Absalom, he had to run, but he also trusted an old counsellor back in Absalom’s court to slow things down. There will no doubt come a battle sometime as Absalom will bring his forces against David but until then all he can do is wait, and waiting times are sometimes the worst; uncertainty is a real cause for concern, i.e. worry!

So, yes, David has every reason to sleep badly! The thing is with life, we need sleep! We can cut back on the hours we sleep but only for a limited time before it starts having a physical impact on us in our waking hours. But now, whether it is the result of his prayers or his long term knowledge of the Lord, he is able to say, “I lie down and sleep.”  That is actually a testimony. It says, “I have peace”. If you are someone who really sleeps well, don’t take it for granted; thank the Lord for it.

But he adds, “I wake again.” Again, so simple, but it says, ”I have survived the night.” It sounds so obvious but knowing his own experience in the past with Saul, he knows it is possible for an enemy to creep in during the night and kill. But, no, he is secure!

And why? “because the LORD sustains me.”  The word sustains suggests not so much protection as a supply that resources him. The Lord as his shield (v.3) is his protector, but now there is something more than that, the Lord is the provider of peace and peace is the assurance of security, isn’t it. When we are at peace we feel secure. Perhaps part of it is the assurance that the Lord is in control and He will look after me. With that sure knowledge I can sleep.

30. Hold the Good

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 3 :  30. Hold the Good

1 Thess 5:21,22   Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

I have a horrible feeling we take good for granted and don’t realise that it is something precious and to be held on to. When you talk about holding on to something there is a sense of clinging on to it to make sure you don’t drop or lose it. 

Consider things that are ‘good’: love, peace, quietness, security, safety, warm relationships, stable relationships, honouring and respecting people, absence of upset and hurt, honesty and integrity, freedom from crime, freedom from violence, being able to look back and be thankful, being able to look into the future with confidence. Look at so much of modern life in the West and realise the absence of so many of these things. When we were a child our parents kept us free from worry and so many of the above list were true for us, but in so many modern single-parent homes (and two-parent homes) these things are so often absent.

Before Christ, before we received our salvation, the apostle Paul quoted from the Old Testament, All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Rom 3:12) In other words, outside of Christ we have little expectation of finding good, real selfless, godly good, being expressed. Indeed Paul was to go on and declare in a more personal way, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” (Rom 7:18) Later on in the practical section of that same book he gave the same instruction that we find here: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good,” (Rom 12:9) and in the closing chapter, “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” (Rom 16:19)  Paul’s understanding sharply contrasts with today’s relativistic ramblings where few are able to say, yes there is good and yes there is evil and we know the difference.

But good for the Christian is not just an idea, it is a practical reality. Again Paul was to say to the Galatians, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Gal 6:9,10) Some versions in verse 9 have ‘well-doing’ for the NIV’s ‘doing good’ which is another nice way of putting it. The verse 10 reference is clearly to good deeds. In Ephesians he reminds us that, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,” (Eph 2:10) and of the Colossians he said, “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work.” (Col 1:10) Similarly there is Jesus’ teaching, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) 

Again and again the emphasis is not merely on working but doing good in what you do. Goodness is seen, goodness reveals who we are.  When speaking about the widows to be cared for by the church under Timothy’s oversight, Paul described the qualifications of those to be looked after as, “well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.” (1 Tim 5:10)  There are some very practical ways of doing good. When speaking to Titus about the qualities of overseers (elders) he said, “he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” (Titus 1:8). Indeed eight times in that letter Paul refers to ‘doing good’.

Indeed we see there the real heart of this call: “Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:13,14) Jesus came to deliver us out of a life of self-centred and godless evil into being those whose life is characterized by doing good, by being good, by being eager to do good. Paul is very specific about it: “I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.” (Titus 3:8)

The writer to the Hebrew understood this as well when he wrote about us maturing and receiving good teaching: “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:14)  That is what teaching should do, help us understand the difference between good and evil. Echoing Paul’s teaching about good deeds following, James taught, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (Jas 3:13)  Peter also echoes that earlier teaching about good deeds being seen: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Pet 2:12)

Later on Peter quotes psalm 34 to emphasis this same thing: “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.” (1 Pet 3:10,11)  The apostle John echoes so much of this in his third letter: “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God.” (3 Jn 11). Remember also, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23(+). Goodness comes from God and is to be seen in His people. Good is not only a concept but it is also a practice and it is a vital one that needs restoring to the church in the twenty-first century so that the world may see and believe and be blessed, but it needs working at. May it be so!

29. Water Bringer

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 29 : Jesus, bringer of Living Water

Jn 4:10-14 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” ….Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

If you were an alien who had just arrived on earth and didn’t know what water was, John’s Gospel would be rather a mystery to you, because water keeps on cropping up.  Jesus was baptized in water (1:33), he turned water into wine (2:6-), he referred to our natural birth as birth of water (3:5), he speaks about water to this Samaritan woman (4:7-), he healed a man by a mystical pool of water (5:1-), he walked on water (6:19), he spoke about streams of water to refer to the coming Holy Spirit (7:38), he washed his disciples feet with water (13:5), water poured out when he was pierced  on the Cross (19:34), and his last miracle was on water (21:7).  What all this says is that water is very common. There is lots of it on the earth and we use it to drink, to wash, to cook with and to manufacture things. Without it we’d be dead.  Water is a vital and essential element of our lives.

The Samaritan woman has come looking for water, ordinary water from the well, but does Jesus sense another yearning in her? It’s a strange thing isn’t it, that we can have different yearnings. When we haven’t drunk for a while we’re thirsty, we yearn for water. In that respect water is symbolic of all the material things we need to stay alive. Yet the truth is that we find yearnings within us that go beyond material yearnings. We have yearnings for love, for beauty, for meaning in life. Without these things ‘life’ is very ‘dry’. The woman was very jaded about life. She’s been through a number of relationships which had all failed or passed. Whether her husbands left her or had died we aren’t told, but she’s had five already. Even for a Hollywood movie star that’s going some. More than that, she’s living with a man now who’s not her husband. For this woman life is unreliable and upsetting. When we form relationships we anguish when they end. This woman yearns for something permanent, something stable, something that will put security into her life, something that will transform it. She comes with at least two needs, therefore.

Jesus senses this and starts talking about ‘living water’.  Living water could first refer to spring water that bubbles up from the ground and she seems to understand it in this way first of all because she says he has nothing to draw up the water.  Jesus’ answer in our verses today indicates that his water is different, because when you drink it, you’ll never thirst again, i.e. if you take Jesus’ provision, all of your non-material yearnings will be for ever satisfied. This provision will remain in you and will act like a spring within you, constantly welling up and providing all you need. This ‘water’ is living, constantly self-perpetuating, never ending in supply.

Even as we mentioned above in John 7:38,39, Jesus referred to this water there and meant the Holy Spirit. There, and in the present passage, are two requirements to receive that ‘living water’: first that you thirst (Jn 7:37), that you have a deep yearning for something more that the material world cannot provide and, second, as seen in the story of the Samaritan woman, you face your state and recognize your need and see that only Jesus can satisfy it. Thus when we surrender to him, he gives us his own Holy Spirit, who lives within us and acts as a constant, never-ending supply of life from within, the ONLY real life satisfying supply.

44. Live out Life

Meditations in Job : 44.  Living out our time

Job 17:1 My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me.

The good thing about meditations is that you can go further than just looking at the meaning of what the writer was putting before us; we can consider the implications and how they work out in our lives. That really is what we ought to be doing all the time with Scripture. If we just look at facts it remains sterile writing. If we allow the Lord to apply it to our lives, it becomes dynamic, transforming power.

As we commented in the previous meditation this is not, at first sight at least, one of the most enlightening parts of Scripture, but we must remember that all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16) so we need to see what it says and then see what it says TO US. Let’s just take the first nine verses of this fairly short chapter, and then the remaining ones in the next meditation.

How is Job feeling? My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me.” (v.1).  That seems a continuation from what we saw at the end of the last chapter. He  feels down and with no future. The brief revelation that he had seems to be swamped under the anguish he still feels. Jesus warned about this sort of thing when he told the parable of the Sower and, specifically, about the seed that fell among thorns – the worries of life which stop the word (seed) growing. (Mt 13:22). But not only does he feel down, he also feels got at. There are those around him who mock him and that makes it all worse: “Surely mockers surround me; my eyes must dwell on their hostility.” (v.2)

But then he says something remarkable: “Give me, O God, the pledge you demand. Who else will put up security for me?” (v.3) This is the language of a pawnbroker – a pledge is security put up for goods that have been put into pawn, to redeem or recover them. Look, he says to God, you demand something of me, and I don’t know what it is (implied) and I can’t do it; you must do it, you must provide it. If you want me saved and changed, then you’re going to have to do it. What incredible revelation. This is EXACTLY what has happened. God has seen the plight of mankind, lost in sin, and knows that man cannot get himself out of it, and so has sent His Son to pay the price, so we may receive eternal life.

But next we see something else about his understanding. He is so sure of his position,  that he reaches a conclusion as he talks to the Lord: “You have closed their minds to understanding; therefore you will not let them triumph.” (v.4) i.e. these people around me are blind to my circumstances, to why I am really like this; this has got to be a work of God, and if it is a work of God He will look after me and won’t let their negative words triumph over me and bring me down! Excellent!

He thinks about this in generalities: “If a man denounces his friends for reward, the eyes of his children will fail.” (v.5) i.e. if you take money to denounce a friend, truth will be lost and your children will similarly soon be unable to see or discern truth. But maybe the ‘reward’ will just be the sense of superiority over the friend you have put down. That is just as bad and just as much you will be providing a bad example for your children who will follow in your footsteps. He is giving a subtle warning to his three ‘friends’ to beware being that bad example.

Then he reverts back to talking to himself: “God has made me a byword to everyone, a man in whose face people spit.” (v.6).  I am an outcast who is utterly rejected by people because of what I have become (implied). “My eyes have grown dim with grief; my whole frame is but a shadow.” (v.7)  i.e. this sense of mourning almost blinds me to everything else, and I feel but a shadow of the man I once was.  See what an upset this causes: “Upright men are appalled at this;” (v.8a).  These good men are appalled at what has happened to me and, even worse they see themselves as, “the innocent… aroused against the ungodly.” (v.8b).  They think they are innocent and that because of what has been happening to me, that I must be ungodly, but it’s all right, “Nevertheless, the righteous will hold to their ways, and those with clean hands will grow stronger.” (v.9)  Perhaps he implies that he knows he is righteous and will hold to that, and that, as he does,  he will grow stronger.

So let’s summarise what we’ve seen in these nine verses.  Initially he feels that his life is nearing an end and that he is mocked by those who see his plight.  He recognizes that if God is making demands of him, then it needs to be God who brings help to him.  He considers that God must have blinded the eyes of his friends but that, even though he feels terrible, he will determine to remain righteous anyway.

Now that’s quite a remarkable challenge.  He thinks he is nearing the end of his life, he’s in a bad state physically, and people are wrongly judging him, but he’s going to remain steadfast with God’s grace.  Wow!   So how about us?  How do we cope when we are physically down, whether or not we are old?  Do we want to give up?  Do we become careless in the way we hold to the truth?  Do we feel we want to give up being an example – salt and light – to others?  If we are elderly, there is this key question:  How will we live out whatever time we have left on this earth?  Let’s close with those really encouraging – and challenging words from Psa 92:12-15: The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” So, will you continue to receive the Lord’s resources so that your latter years will remain ‘fruitful’,  continuing to be a witness to those around you? May it be so!

34. Security

Meditations in Job : 34.  Security in God

Job 13:13-15 “Keep silent and let me speak; then let come to me what may. Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands? Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him”

There are religious people who get upset at any wrong word spoken before God. The God they know is harsh and judgemental and who will strike out at anyone who says a word out of place. That is not the picture of the God of the Bible. I have always marvelled at Moses’ willingness to argue with God. His two-chapter dialogue (Ex 3 & 4) is an amazing example of someone making excuses before God, but then his knowledge of the Lord is very limited so he gets away with it. But after all the Exodus happenings, the deliverance from Egypt, the journeying to Sinai and the revelation received at Sinai, you might think Moses has learnt to hold his tongue before an Almighty and Holy God but when the Lord threatens to destroy the makers of the golden calf, we find Moses arguing with God not to do it. As a young Christian I was always fascinated by preachers speaking of Moses ‘importuning’ God. It means soliciting Him or persistently pressing Him. It becomes clear that this is exactly what the Lord wanted of him. When God comes in the flesh in the form of His Son, Jesus, there are lots of interactions between Jesus and his disciples, especially Peter who was always opening his mouth to put his foot in it. Having observed that at length, I conclude that Peter felt utterly secure in Jesus’ presence and felt quite able to speak his mind. When we come to Job, we find something very similar.

See how he starts out in this next part of our study: “Keep silent and let me speak;” (v.13a). Come on, guys, give me space, allow me to say what is on my heart, is what he is saying. But note how our verses above continue, “then let come to me what may.” (v.13b). Wow! In other words, let me speak my heart and I’ll take whatever comes. Now those are either words of careless folly or they are words spoken out of immense security, and I suggest it is the latter. In one sense, perhaps, he’s already received so much suffering and sorrow that perhaps he thinks there is nothing more that God can do, but the words that follow seem to have more assurance behind them than that somewhat negative and fatalistic view of it. He asks a question about his actions: “Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands?” (v.14). He realises that speaking rashly before God is a dangerous and foolhardy business, but then he speaks out words of immense confidence in the Lord: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (v.15a).

Those must be some of the great words of this book. God can take my life if that is His desire, yet I will trust Him for whatever comes after that, I will hope in Him, I will put my entire future into His hands and feel utterly secure in what He will do with me. Some of these Old Testament saints were incredible!  I always marvel at the way the writer to the Hebrews spoke about Abraham being willing to offer Isaac, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.” (Heb 11:19) These men shame our often weak faith. Job has such confidence in the Lord and his relationship with Him that he is not afraid to say, “I will surely defend my ways to his face.” (v.15b) To His face? Job is willing to look God in the eye and defend himself!

But his confidence goes on and on: “Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before him! (v.16). This will turn out for my deliverance? In this he trusts in God’s loving goodness and His faithfulness to what Job knows about Him, and then also in his own godliness. It is not pride to be able to look the truth in the face when it is about yourself. The apostle Paul taught, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Rom 12:3). Humility is the ability to see yourself as you are, to see your limitations AND to see your grace that God has given you. Job knew that he had been godly and wasn’t ashamed of it, and so also trusted that God would honour that godliness. In fact as he goes on, he builds on that certainty: “Listen carefully to my words; let your ears take in what I say.” (v.17). I’m happy to enlarge on this, is what he infers.

He continues, “Now that I have prepared my case, I know I will be vindicated.” (v.18). I’ve thought about this, is what he is saying, and I trust God and trust what I know about my own motivation and actions, and I believe I will be vindicated by Him. Indeed, when we come to the end of the book, as we’ve noted before, the Lord declare to the three friends, you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7). Job concludes his case, Can anyone bring charges against me? If so, I will be silent and die.” (v.19). Look, he says, as I look back over my past life, I have examined myself and I am not conscious of having stepped out of line and having sinned, therefore you won’t be able to find anything legitimate to say against me; you can make these generalisations about me being a sinner, if you like, but I challenge you to find specific wrong things that I did. That is an amazing claim. It is similar to Paul’s claim to the Thessalonians: You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.” (1 Thess 2:10). It’s not a pride thing to be able to say this. It is a simple statement of truth spoken in humility. We should not be ashamed to say, “With God’s help I have been righteous this day”. Job actually has some lessons in humility for us. May we heed them!

28. My Rock

God in the Psalms No.28    

Psa 18:2   The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.

In this verse David pours out a number of descriptions of the Lord. We’ve previously considered the Lord as our fortress (or stronghold) and as our deliverer and so now we focus on the Lord as our rock.  Perhaps the best way to remind ourselves of the nature of a rock is to remember Jesus’ parable of the two house builders (Mt 7:24-27),  everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (v.24). In the parable when the floods came the house built on sand was washed away but the one built on rock remained firm. New York is a city which is built on rock which is why so many of its buildings go so high – they have a strong foundation. The picture conveyed is of a firm, fixed and stable foundation.

The picture of a deity as a means of support was not uncommon. Moses comparing the Lord with the gods of other nations, said, For their rock is not like our Rock (Deut 32:31). In similar vein Isaiah wrote of the Lord saying, Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one (Isa 44:8). Even more, the picture of a rock is of an enduring or lasting support. When we look at mountains made of hard rocks we realize they have been there a long time! Isaiah wrote: Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.” (Isa 26:4). When all else is shaky or moving, God can be depended upon to be the same, unmovable: Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go(Psa 71:3).

The heading over this psalm speak of it being written by David when he had just escaped from Saul. In the historical context we find, David stayed in the desert strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands (1 Sam 23:14) and Saul and his men began the search, and when David was told about it, he went down to the rock and stayed in the Desert of Maon (1 Sam 23:25).  The place of refuge for David was evidently a rocky outcrop in the midst of a desert. What a picture!  All around is sandy wasteland that is barren and unstable, and David finds his security in a rocky outcrop. Thus is the Lord to us, a rocky, stable outcrop in the midst of a dry and barren and unstable world.

In the world everything is constantly changing. The early part of the twenty-first century has been characterized by natural disasters as well as human wars and conflicts and terrorist activity around the world. It is an unstable place. Postmodernism is a way of thinking that doubts and questions the assurances of the previous scientific age. Cynicism is a common characteristic. The old adage of “Been there, done it, got the tee-shirt” might now be changed to “Been there, done it, and it doesn’t work.” People have tried alternative life-styles, for example cohabitation instead of marriage – and are finding it doesn’t work! Constant change is because we have been unhappy or even disillusioned over what has gone before. Where is something that is stable, unchanging and trustworthy?  Here He is!  The Lord, our Rock.  All else changes but the Lord is unchanging.  When we speak of the Lord’s love, His goodness, His kindness or whatever other characteristic that He has, it is ALWAYS there, it never changes. We may drift away from the Lord but when we come back, we find He is still there, unchanging, still as faithful as ever, with his arms of love reaching to us. He is our Rock!  Hallelujah!

24. My right hand

God in the Psalms No.24

Psa 16:8 I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

There are probably many times when we read Scripture but just don’t take in what it means. What does he is at my right hand mean?  Perhaps we’d better look, first of all, at general references to the right hand:

Gen 48:14  But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger.” Israel put his right hand to make a special blessing. The right hand was seen as the hand of authority. Joseph saw what his father was doing and recognized its significance.

Ex 15:6 Your right hand, O LORD, was majestic in power. Your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.” Israel saw God’s destruction of Pharaoh as an act of His right hand. It is seen as the hand of power. See similarly Psa 17:7, 20:6, 21:8 etc.

Ex 29:20  Slaughter it, take some of its blood and put it on the lobes of the right ears of Aaron and his sons, on the thumbs of their right hands”. The right side was the side designated hold, to be cleansed. The right hand was to be holy.

Psa 110:1  The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right handJesus is seated at God’s right hand in heaven. It is the place of intimacy with the Father and a place of rule. This intimacy is seen also in Psa 73:23, Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” Have you seen pictures of little children holding the hand of their parent? There is a safety and security and intimacy there.

It is this last reference that perhaps impinges most on our verse from Psalm 16. It is first a sense of safety, closeness or intimacy. He first says, I have set the LORD always before me, which is an act of will on David’s part, a determination of attitude. It’s like that which Paul says,Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Col 3:2). For David, his heart is open to the Lord at all times (v.7), he seeks to have a God-awareness or, if you like, a God-consciousness, at all times.

When he knows the Lord’s presence is with him, he knows that God’s authority, power and rule are there, working on his behalf. Because of this he will not be shaken, and he will rest secure (v.9). Because of this he knows that the Lord will not let death come prematurely (v.10). When he knows the presence of the Lord, he knows there will also be joy (v.11), because the Lord isn’t just there, He’s there to bless. That’s what David means when he speaks of the Lord who has eternal pleasures at your right hand (v.11). God’s right hand is also a hand of provision.

Do you see the two sided aspect of this?  We have been considering all these pictures conveying all these things at God’s right hand, but David is referring in our verse above to his own right hand. He has an awareness that in all these aspects, God is there close to Him. When it comes to his own authority and power, his own safety and security, his own provision, they all exist because of the intimacy that He knows – the closeness of the Lord to Him. He purposes to ensure this: I have set the LORD always before me. He puts the awareness of the Lord in the foreground of his life, to ensure that he is always conscious of the Lord’s presence.  Yet, to give the whole picture, his psalms indicate the reality of life – sometimes we lose that sense of God’s presence and have to step aside, be quiet, wait on Him, until we regain it. He is what he is, because God’s there, close!