Snapshots: Day 20

Snapshots: Day 20

The Snapshot: “Abram, I am your shield.” That’s great, Lord, but what about the fact that I am still childless. It seems that sometimes God’s encouraging words (often through a preacher) just don’t seem to hit where I am itching. Lord, there are bigger issues than you protecting me. I am lacking – still! And there I have choices, either to become jaded and critical or let the Lord build trust, patience and perseverance in me. It seems all the way along this Christian path there are these vital choices. I am sure they won’t affect my ultimate destination but they will determine the type of person I will be when I leave here. Abram learned it and became known as ‘God’s friend’.  What will I learn and by what will I be remembered?

Further Consideration: The path to believe – which we’ll consider tomorrow – is rarely an easy one. When we come to Christ it seems so wonderful that we go through what is often called ‘the honeymoon period’ where everything seem just perfect, and then we start to learn the realities of this world, this life, perhaps the realities that sometimes demand patience or perseverance from us, realities that it is sometimes a battle, and we start to grow up!

Gen 15 starts with an ‘after this’. It prompts us to look back – Abram has arrived in the promised land, a famine strikes so he flees to Egypt where he has problems, he comes back to the land and there is quarreling between his herders and Lot’s, and so they separate, Lot gets embroiled in a local war and Abram has to go an rescue him. It has not been an easy time.

So when the Lord says to Abram, “I will be your shield” He is bringing him reassurance that even if this fallen world is unpredictable and often hostile, He will look after him and protect him.

But then Abram complains about having no child. It’s a natural anxiety but it is a bit like saying, “Yes, well, that’s all very well, but what about my reputation and my future,” and in so doing he demonstrates what we do so often. The Lord speaks into our circumstances and because we have some other particular worry on our mind, we tend to dismiss this latest promise that was intended to encourage. It’s a sign we need to grow up and learn to realize that God has got ALL my issues in hand. He’s already told Abram that he will have children and so now He is giving him an additional reassurance – but Abram hasn’t yet let the previous promise settle in his heart and so hasn’t fully taken on board that whatever the outward appearances may be, God is still working on his case and so will bring a child at the right time.  Can we learn to take on board all that God has said to us and let it transform us into a trusting child of God?

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10. Prayer of Testimony

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:   10. Prayer of Testimony (1)

Psa 3:3    But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.

Approach: In our introduction to Psalm 3 we suggested that verses 1 & 2 were David praying out his concern while he was on the run from Absalom, verses 3 to 6 are a prayer of testimony and then verses 7 and 8 a prayer of request. It is thus a psalm that shows us different aspects of prayer – acknowledgement, declaration, petition. I have a feeling that I have read all the psalms many times and yet have only a surface understanding of them and verse 3 that we are moving into is no exception. Some of it appears obvious but as I pause over it, I suspect it is not as obvious as I have usually thought. Let’s approach it slowly and carefully.

Contrast: Circumstances versus reality: The verse starts with a ‘But’. That always suggests a contrast with what has just gone before. In verses 1 and 2 David spoke of his foes and those who had risen against him, and the fact that many were saying that God will not save him. Such verses imply gloom and doom and leave a sense of concern, worry, anxiety, insecurity, threat; that is the cloud that hangs over him because of Absalom, those are the circumstances that bring the ‘down’ feeling. Isn’t that just how it can be so often, the circumstances look and feel bad and the temptation is to sink under them, but David shows us another way. He declares the truth that he has found through his experiences of the Lord. The reality is that God has been there for him. The classic illustration of that was when he testified to Saul in respect of Goliath, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”  (1 Sam 17:37) i.e. God is with me and for me, that I know, because that is how it has always been. Now there are four things to note in the verse in respect of his testimony.

Yahweh/Jehovah/The I AM: Note how he addresses God: LORD, with the capital letters denoting the name given to Moses (Ex 3:14), “God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”  The One upon whom David relies is the ‘I AM’ of Israel’s history, the God who revealed Himself as, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” (Ex 3:6) and subsequently the God of Moses, the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan. This is the One he has experienced and knows, the Eternal One, the Mighty One who is there for His people. This is the starting place of his confidence which rises up to suppress all the negatives of verses 1 and 2.

A Shield: A shield is an instrument of protection against incoming missiles or other weapons. But David says God is a “shield around me”. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a futuristic sci-fi where a town is covered with a barely visible ‘force field’ that protects it. It completely covers it and protects it and that is how David sees the Lord’s presence, so it doesn’t matter if there is an army against him, he is safe. Elisha understood this concept although he expressed it in a different way. Do you remember when he and his servant were staying in Dothan and an enemy army surrounded it and scared the life out of the servant out for an early morning walk on the walls of the town. He ran to Elisha who knew it was simply a matter of revelation and so prayed for his servant, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17) There was the Lord’s shield for them, the angelic army of the Lord!

Glory: But he also refers to the Lord as, “my glory”. We see, “But you, Lord, are … my glory.” We know what the Lord’s glory is, for we see it at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:16,17), and as Israel travelled through the desert and it lit up a cloud by day and appeared as fire by night. When the Tabernacle was constructed according to God’s instructions, the glory of the Lord filled it (Ex 40:34). It was a bright light, so when David says you are ‘my glory’ he is saying, ‘You are the One who lights up my life with your splendour, revealing me for who I am, your chosen and anointed servant.’

Affirmation & Encouragement: There are perhaps a number of words that apply into what follows: “you, Lord, are …. the One who lifts my head high.”  All of the negatives of verses 1 and 2 weighed heavily on him, especially as he knew the ultimate cause of them, for they were God’s disciplinary judgment on him. I like how the Living Bible puts it: “You alone can lift my head, now bowed in shame.”  Have you noticed how people with very low self-esteem, those who feel utter failures, walk with the heads bowed down, their eyes on the floor; it is a common thing. So why is David’s head lifted?

God with us: Emmanuel: First, because the Lord is with him and with God on your side, God beside you, and in our case, and with God indwelling you as Lord and Saviour, you are someone special with no reason to have a bowed head. Yes, the enemy is there, the circumstances are bad, and the outlook is bleak, but with the Lord there with you, for you, in you, all that doesn’t matter. The Isaiah prophecy about Immanuel – God with us (Isa 7:14) – and fulfilled in Jesus (Mt 1:23), says it all, God is with us, not far off, not off down the other end of the universe, no, He is here with us!

God the encourager: I said there are perhaps many words that describe what God does for us, to lift our heads, encourage, affirm, empathize and comfort, declare victorious, the list can go on. It isn’t just that God is with us, it is that He is with us to do things, to bless us, deliver us, lead us in victory, and all these things work to the same end, they lift our down-turned faces in the face of the negative circumstances and negative enemies.

And Us? Are we confronted by negative circumstances (in this Fallen World there are usually plenty of them!) or negative enemies?  What is the answer? Not to dwell on their presence but to realize the Presence of the Lord God Almighty and His Anointed One with us, and as we realize that presence, to receive from Him all the good things He wants to bring to us: grace, goodness, love, joy, peace, patience, perseverance, endurance, affirmation, comfort, encouragement; they are all there in His outstretched hands to be received. As we pray, let’s remember who He is and who we are and rejoice in that wonder and put into perspective the negatives of the world. Amen? Amen!

51. Armour

Ephesians Meditations No.51

Eph  6:14-17 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Sometimes Christians seem to focus on the functions of armour rather than the actual things Paul is talking about, so let’s identify from the outset the things that Paul says comprise our armour: truth, righteousness, availability in the Gospel, faith, salvation and God’s word.

A belt holds everything else in place so truth is the essential element of the Christian’s life without which everything else is questionable. When the enemy attacks, simply ask, “What is the truth here?” That is important because one of his weapons is lies and he uses them to deceive us into wrong thinking. Thus focusing on the truth in any situation is vital. Watch out for half truths as well. Yes, I am a failure but that’s only half the truth. The other half is that despite that I have been saved by God’s grace and mercy. Yes, I do get it wrong but the other half of the truth here is that when I confess it, I am forgiven and cleansed (1 Jn 1:9). Truth also requires me to me real. If I pretend or put on a face, then I make myself vulnerable to the enemy, but when I am seeking to let God work in me and I am patently honest about who I am, then truth prevails and the enemy is thwarted.

A breastplate covers the heart and so righteousness, and the knowledge of it, protects and reassures my heart. There are two sorts of righteousness we need to be aware of. There is the righteousness that God declares over us because we believe Jesus died for us. Thus we ARE righteous in His sight. The other sort is the practical righteousness that is heralded by a clear conscience, the truth that we are doing all we can to live as God wants us to live.

The third thing produces a variety of suggestions from commentators. Shoes essentially let you walk on any sort of terrain. The ‘shoes’ that Paul has in mind, come in the form of readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace. We need to know the truth of the Gospel and that it applies to us and that it is needed by all people. When we are convinced, like Paul, that it is, “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes,” (Rom 1:16) then we can face up to all situations recognizing the needs of those before us, why they act like they do, and what is the answer for them.

A shield is held up before us and protects us and thus faith is the vital defensive weapon in our armoury. Faith is believing and living by the truths that God has spoken to us through His word and through His Spirit, and we have to learn to remain steady and declare to ourselves and to the enemy, “God said…” or as Jesus refuted the enemy, “It is written…” (Mt 4:4,7,10)

A helmet covers the head, the mind, and so my salvation, the truths of it and the facts of it, should cover all of my thinking. Do you notice how many of these things overlap? We’re talking about the truth here, about my state of righteousness, about the gospel that I believe by faith. All of these things protect my mind against the lies that the enemy seeks to bring against me. Oh yes, all the pieces of the so-called armour work together to save me from his attacks.

Finally the sword in my hand is to be God’s word. I should know God’s word and be able to quote it as the truth that cuts through the barrage of lies that he hurls against me. We are what we are because God has brought His word to us and we have believed it. Now we can wield it to counter the untruths spoken against us. The more we know of it the more convinced we can be that we have the truth. The more we learn of it the more we realise that it works, it fits life and it IS the answer to all the needs of the world.

Remember, don’t focus so much on armour so much as what these things are that Paul speaks about. The armour is only a visual aid. It is truth, righteousness, availability in the Gospel, faith, salvation and God’s word that help us stand against the enemy. However, even here there is a danger, that we try to make these things mechanical, whereas they should all come out of our relationship with the Lord. It is Him, and His presence with us, who will save us from the enemy. Yes the ‘armour’ is our activity, our responses to the enemy, if you like, but ultimately our safety, our protection and our security come from the Lord Himself. He is our rock, He is our shield, He is our fortress, as the psalmists tell us.

God of Refuge

God in the Psalms No.11

Psa 7:1 O LORD my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me

We have seen previously (Meditation 3) God as a shield, the one who stands between us and our enemy and provides protection, but the idea of God being a refuge takes us on beyond that to a fuller and more intimate picture of God with us.

Yes, there is the same idea of God being a protector and He does it by being a deliverer (as we saw in Meditation 4), to save David from those who pursued him and sought to kill him (v.2).   So what’s the difference between a shield and a refuge?   A shield is something you hold out in front of you to protect you from the enemy, while a refuge is a place you retreat into to receive that same protection.   A shield is before you and a refuge is all around you.   A shield you have to hold up strongly, but a refuge is something you retreat into when you are weak and unable to defend yourself.  The refuge provides the strength and you need do nothing except get into it.

In mountain areas, there is sometimes a refuge in high places which is either a hut or simply a wall in a square shape with a single opening. In both cases the climber or walker simply gets into the refuge to escape the weather. When wives have been beaten by husbands who are bullies, we now have ‘refuges’ where they can go where the husband cannot. All they need do is flee into the refuge and they are safe.

Thus, similarly, we can have a sense of the Lord’s presence surrounding us and when that happens, the noise of the winds of adversity are cut off and we have peace.  God is our refuge.  There are times when the enemy seems to rage against us and affliction comes in a variety of ways, and we cry out to the Lord and then, suddenly all is still, the struggle seems to be terminated.  God is our refuge.  It is simply His presence being manifested and whenever He comes into our circumstances, He takes control and peace comes. The picture of Jesus asleep in the boat with the disciples, in the storm (Mt 8:24 -), although an historical event, is also a good analogy of this.  A storm blew up that threatened the boat. They woke Jesus and he returned to their conscious world and rebuked the wind and the waves.  Suddenly there was peace. Thus was God manifest.   God was their refuge.

In Num 35:9 onwards we find God giving Moses the law for the cities of refuge. These were simply places where someone who had committed manslaughter could go to get protection against the avenger. We have an accuser, Satan, for that is what his name means.  When we fail and sin, we confess it and when he accuses us we have to flee to the refuge that is Jesus and all he’s done of us on the Cross.  That was why John wrote in 1 Jn 2:1,2 about how, should we sin, we have one who speaks in our defence, the one who died for us, Jesus. When we are accused we are to flee to God, our refuge, for He alone has provided safety and protection for us against the demands of Satan and the Law, so that we might live and not die. He is our refuge because of who He is and what He’s done.  Psa 126:1 says, Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.” This is what a refuge does, it keeps us safe; it makes us feel secure.   That is far more than the work of a shield.  As we said, the refuge surrounds us and it is His strength, not ours, that prevails against the enemy. We just have to cry to Him and then let Him be Himself for us, for His very presence acts as a refuge from all the enemy can bring against us. Hallelujah!

God, a Shield

God in the Psalms No.3

Psa 3:3 But you are a shield around me, O LORD ; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head

We have seen previously that God sees and God acts. God reigns from heaven through His anointed on the earth. He is the Lord. Now all of that could remain purely academic, purely remaining in our mind and leaving the rest of us untouched, but not so for David. The God who is ‘out there’ is also ‘down here’ with us and therefore has effect upon us.

For David, as he flees from his rebellious son, as he fears for his life, he sees the Lord as a shield. Remember what a shield is? Something you hold out in front of you to protect you. We have windshields in our cars to protect us from the wind as we drive. We have shields around x-ray machines in hospitals to protect us from the x-rays. We have shields in nuclear reactors to protect us from harmful radioactivity. We have sunshield creams to protect us from too much sunshine. A shield keeps something away, stops something from harming us. Thus for David, he is able to say that the Lord stands between him and his enemies to keep them from harming him.

But more than this; he says that the Lord is a shield around me. In other words, the Lord’s protection completely surrounds him. There is nothing half-hearted about this protection. It is complete.

When others come against us with words, with unkindness, or with harmful intentions, do we know the security that comes from experiencing the Lord standing between us and them? That’s what it is – a sense of Him standing between us and them, and therefore we can be sure that they cannot harm us. That knowledge means that we can therefore stand there without fear, stand there in the grace of God, knowing that we are God’s children, loved and protected. This means we can smile at our enemies. This means we can pray for our enemies (Mt 5:44). As we stand there, confronted by our enemies, we can know peace and security, because He is there and He surrounds us with His protection.

But there is more in this verse. Sometimes when others seem to be against us, it has the effect of wearing us down. We feel we are in a place of blackness, a place of isolation and loneliness. So what does David go on to say? “You bestow glory on me. The light of God’s presence seems to shine in our darkness and two things follow. First, we know that we are not alone; He is here. Second, the darkness, the heaviness, falls away as His light shines and suddenly we are no longer cast down. Suddenly we find we are walking with our head held high. As David said, the Lord came to lift up my head.

Yes, this is what this psalm tells us: our God is not just the all-powerful, all-mighty, all-knowing God ‘out there’, but He is personal, here for me. I can experience His presence, here and now. I can know security because He is here and now, to guard me and protect me, to stand between me and those who are against me.

Can we learn to have that sense, that God IS here with us and that He is here FOR us, to love us (for He is love – 1 Jn 4:8), and to protect us, as He stands all-powerfully between us and the people or things that would seek to harm us? He is there to ensure that we are not harmed by them, and He wants us to learn to know Him, know His presence, know His power, know His protection, and in ‘knowing’ we shall be changed.