9. Persevering for Peace

Short Meditations on Peace 9. Persevering for Peace

Prov 4:11  I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.

I am aware that the previous meditation was a little short and abrupt (the downside of ‘short meditations’). I spoke of life callings or careers but the biggest problem here is when we identify the sort of person we are and then (maybe with help) match it with a career or job. But then jobs may not appear obviously available and so prayer for wisdom and help from God is an obvious course to take.

Most of us have to work to earn to pay for life, but that is another subject we’ll tackle another day, but nevertheless this is the path we are forced to take (few of us being fortunate enough to inherit large sums!) So here comes this smart preacher who says ‘pray about it, seek God’s wisdom’ and it sounds so easy. It might be easy if we all had ears that caught every word from God’s lips, if I may put it like that, but actually ‘hearing’ God isn’t always easy and often it takes time. The thing is that the Christian life is not an automatic machine that always works the same way for every person and in every circumstance. Sometimes, the Lord simply remains silent because He sees the path ahead of you is simple and obvious and it is going to open up for you quite naturally. We don’t always have to ‘have a word’, we just have to be patient.

If I am honest, and I always try to be, I really struggle when I watch and listen to younger Christians, maybe parents worrying over the way their children are going, because my own experience says that in my life and that of my family, as we look back, some of us had no guidance at all, others had glimmers of desire for a certain direction, and one went one way and ended up backing off and going a completely different direction – but with God’s blessing.

I look back on my life, from school days, through college, into one career, then another career and then a third career and finally a fourth career (yes!), I have no doubt that I see the hand of God throughout that time, including before I became a Christian, leading me on and on. Much of it appears as coincidences and much of it was a matter of circumstances and timing, and yes in later years we did pray, and did note disquiets and did sense some directions but often His hand was out of sight and yet there. Now you may get a specific word, “this is the way, walk in it” (Isa 30:21) but if not, hold on to various things. Know He IS for you (Rom 8:31), He IS working all things out for you (Rom 8:28) and even though you cannot see or hear him (1 Pet 1:8), He loves you. Be at rest in those things. His purposes for you may take time to become clear, but be at peace in the meantime.

10. Abandoned?

Meditations in Psalms : 10 : Abandoned?  – Psa 13

Psa 13:1   How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

Listening to and watching the Christian community, I am saddened by the sense of unreality that seems to pervade so many lives. The perceived and required mentality that seems to be taught in some churches is that we are always triumphant and we never struggle with life – we are victorious over-comers. Now as much as I agree with those two descriptions, there are some areas that they apply to but often life is not like that. The person who denies they ever sense that God is in another universe is either deluded or simply unaware of spiritual realities full stop!

Where there is honesty, there will be many people who feel as David feels in this psalm, and it is not wrong to feel this! The reality is that we lead a life of faith and that means we cannot see God and sometimes people or circumstances seem to blot out the sense of his presence (we’ll see much more of this in Psa 22). The disciples living their lives alongside Jesus often misunderstood and got it wrong in their understanding, so we shouldn’t be surprised (and God isn’t!) when we get it wrong. When Jesus hung on the Cross and took on himself the sins of the world, he cried out with a sense that God had left him. Now I am sure that didn’t happen, but just from Jesus’ human perspective at that moment, that was how it seemed. And that is how it seems to David at this moment: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”  He has this feeling that he has been abandoned by the Lord. It’s the same sort of thing that Job felt.

But what was going on in him to make him feel like this? “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (v.2)  David, like most of us, is a thinker and his thoughts go round and round and round. Where is God? Why hasn’t he turned up for me? Have I done something wrong? Has He left me? When the sense of the all-glorious being that is God gets clouded by people or circumstances these are the thoughts that will go through our minds. Now whether the ‘enemy’ is Satan or a physical human being is not clear, but someone or something is pressing in on him, stressing him, and causing him anguish and his mind struggles to understand what is going on.

Habakkuk is another good example of someone who struggled to understand what was going on. Listen to his cry: “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Hab 1:2) That’s what it seemed to him, and so he starts reasoning, even though the Lord has told him what is happening: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.” (Hab 1:13a)  He’s just been told that God is going to use the enemy to purge Israel, but the enemy are godless and unrighteous. It just doesn’t fit his theology. He continues, “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (Hab 1:13b) He hadn’t reached the point of understanding that the Lord does use the ungodly to sometimes chastise the godly. If you want another person who didn’t understand what was happening read about Gideon (Jud 6:13).

Sometimes we don’t understand the big picture, we don’t see what God is doing in our circumstances and thus we cry out with David, “Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death.” (v.3) We even feel that unless the Lord turns up and gives us answers, our very lives are threatened (spiritual if not physical!). How can we survive, we feel, if this continues like this? The only outcome we can see is the enemy triumphing: “my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.” (v.4)

There it is, we’ve come to the end of our resources it seems. We don’t understand it all – and we have tried!  But then, there in the dark, we sense something and contrary to all understanding and expectations we find ourselves declaring, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.” (v.5) Suddenly we find there was something else there we hadn’t realised was there, a glimmer of grace, that sureness that despite everything, God IS the God of love (1 Jn 4:8) and He will bring my salvation, and despite all else that the enemy can throw at us, “I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.” (v.6)  It may be rubbish at the moment, but the Spirit reminds me that the past has been good, and it’s all of the Lord.

In this light, I love the closing words of Psalm 92: “The righteous ….will still bear fruit in old age ….proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15)  They may be limited in many other ways, but the older Christian can still testify to this truth.

Habakkuk broke through to the place where he could write: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Hab 3:17,18)  You don’t get to that point of complete assurance in God until you’ve been through the place where you first cry out, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?   Only after that do we find that grace is there in the sludge at the bottom of the barrel, and grace declares the truth: God IS there, and God IS working out His purposes and God still IS a God of love and does all things well for me. Amen? Amen!

29. Silence/Speaking

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 29 :  A Time for Silence or Speaking

Eccles 3:7 a time to be silent and a time to speak

I was at a barbecue, attended by about forty people I think, and I stood there at one point and looked around at the chattering that was going on. In some cases it was one to one, in other cases groups of three, four or five. One of the thing human beings do is talk – and talk a lot. Talking is the way we express relationship. It may be the very tentative opening words with a stranger, but even there we are seeing is some form of basic relationship can be formed, even for a few minutes. It may be the catching up on the news with someone you haven’t seen for a long time; you are re-establishing the relationship you have, distant though it often may be. With others it may be just the ordinary, every-day type of chatter, but talking goes on wherever there are relationships between human beings. We talk because we know things and we want others to know them as well. We talk because we don’t know things and we want to find out.

Today’s verse has an almost ominous feel to it. There are times when it is better to keep your mouth shut and times when you need to speak out. I think standing before God is often a time when it is best to keep quiet. I know that at the times in life when I have been most aware of the holy presence of God, I just wanted to keep quiet. Speaking words would have spoilt the sense of beauty and wonder that was there. When Isaiah saw the Lord his first response was an indication of the awareness of the sinfulness of his mouth: Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isa 6:5). I always like Ezekiel’s wisdom in saying the least possible when the Lord asked him if the valley of dry bones could live: He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” (Ezek 37:3). Smart move, Ezekiel.

Solomon understood this as well:A man of knowledge uses words with restraint.” (Prov 17:27). The more you know the more you realise how much you don’t know.  Elsewhere he said, When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19). Be careful, our words may either reveal what we’re like on the inside or they may lead us into sin by speaking wrongly.  James understood this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.” (Jas 1:19)

One of the dangers of being a Christian is that we so often forget these warnings and feel we have all the answers and so we impose those answers on all we come across. The trouble is that they may not be ready yet to receive them. Jesus taught, Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” (Mt 7:6)  I understand that to mean, don’t pour out wonderful things of God to those who mock and deride and just haven’t got open hearts. If someone walked up to you and said, “I’m a communist,” or “I’m a Jehovah’s Witness,” we would immediately think, “Why are they saying that? They must want to impose on me their viewpoint of life.” Yet that is how many Christians act and speak. Yes, we do have the most wonderful news the world can receive, but are they ready to receive it.

If you’re an evangelist you’ll just scatter the seed of the Gospel anyway and your grace can cope with the rejection of many. For most of us, with our next door neighbour or the person we work with, our call is first to let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds,” (Mt 5:16) so that they will ask you about why you are like you are: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet 3:15) but even then, But do this with gentleness and respect,” so you keep the door open for further conversation if they are not ready to go far now. Peter was obviously very much aware of this, perhaps because the Gospels so often record him opening his mouth rashly. Is this why he speaks to wives: Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” (1 Pet 3:1,2). Somebody once said something like, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if you have to.”

For most of us, speaking out the Gospel is not so much a case of ‘when’ but ‘how’. We are always to be bearers of the truth, always to be witnesses to Jesus (Acts 1:8) but it is knowing how to say it. A brash and arrogant speaking the truth simply creates hostility. That’s why Peter spoke of doing it with gentleness and respect. Perhaps this is another of those times when we need to shoot up an instant prayer, “Lord, please give me wisdom, show me what to say” (Jas 1:5). Jesus taught, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (Lk 12:11,12). There is so much more that could be said about when to speak and when to remain silent, but we will have to rest with this for now.

24. Rejected?

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.24

Psa 74:1 Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?

There have been times in church history, both ancient and modern, when it seems, from the human perspective at least – and we must continue to reiterate this throughout these meditations, that it is from the human perspective – that God seems to have given up on His people. This cry seen in the verse above comes either when something so dramatic has happened that this must apparently be the conclusion, or when a long period passes when God seems to have been silent.

Perhaps for many people, there is no expectation of God’s moving and so religion is just a week by week ritual, but for those who are truly the children of God, there surely must be an expectation that God is a God of communication who speaks and moves and does things. He speaks to His people either by a word into the individual’s spirit, or through a prophetic word to the individual or His gathered people. The ‘does things’? Yes, He brings healing when we pray, He clearly changes circumstances when we pray, He draws people to Himself and miraculously transforms their lives, He provides miraculously for His servants and He brings revelation and wisdom to show them the way forward. In a whole variety of ways He speaks and moves. That is the norm for the Christian life. That is what we should expect.

But then there have been low times, times when the Lord seems to be silent. In the days of Eli and young Samuel we find, “In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.” (1 Sam 3:1). The reason soon became clear; the leadership of Israel was far from the Lord. No wonder the Lord appeared silent. But this Psalm was written, it is believed, in the time of the exile. Jerusalem has been destroyed and the people have been cleared out of the Land. Even the remnant that had been left has now fled to Egypt. This surely, they think, is a sign of the Lord having rejected them. When Jerusalem was destroyed in AD70 and the Jewish people scattered into the world, they would have thought the same thing. The psalmist even believed that all of God’s prophets had gone (v.9) and so there were no mouth-pieces left for the Lord to speak to the people, but then why would He speak when He had no people left?

But that, we said, was the human perspective when it feels low. That forgets the prophetic word that had come through Jeremiah, “This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon ” (Jer 25:11,12) and even more, This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD , “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.(Jer 29:10-14) Now that was an amazing prophecy, but it is so easy to forget that the Lord has spoken when you are in the midst of a period of silence.

In such a period of silence, it is so easy to listen to the enemy and think you have been utterly rejected, but at those times we are simply called to be faithful. After the return from exile and the rebuilding of the Temple and the re-establishing of Jerusalem, there was over four hundred years when the Lord seemed to be silent and seemed to do nothing. Surely during those years, some of the people must have wondered if their centuries of experience of the Lord were all now past history. But then came the Son of God into the most glorious but brief time in human history.

In the modern church as we see the decline of moral standards and the breakdown of society, it is natural to wonder, “Has God given up on our society? Has He rejected our country?” History tells us that this is how it has been before every revival. Before every powerful and miraculous coming of the Lord in revival, the state of the land has always been very low. Yet He comes again and again into church history and brings salvation in powerful ways and in large numbers, in ways that, during the times of prior darkness seem almost impossible.

Through Isaiah the Lord spoke about restoring His people in the end times. In the mid-twentieth century Israel returned to their land. It is still a time of waiting, yet the promise is still there and one day He will come and breathe fresh life into that physical nation and draw many of them to know Him through their Messiah, the Son of God. For us as Christians, in a time of limited divine movement, we cry out for Him to come in revival power, for we see that nothing else will redeem our societies. Elsewhere in the world He moves, but in the West, that movement seems strictly limited. Has He rejected the West? No, be patient, be faithful and pray, and watch and wait. He is coming!