45. What Hope

Meditations in Job : 45.  What hope

Job 17:15 where then is my hope? Who can see any hope for me?

Life is sometimes a battle. At the time of writing this particular meditation I am aware of a friend who is battling with negative thoughts that threaten to destroy him. I am particularly aware of him at this moment as I read the next portion of Job. Job is struggling. He’s just been having some remarkable revelations, coming to some remarkable understanding, but the pressure of physical stress and the mental stress of the browbeating nature of his ‘friends, threatens to overwhelm him and squeeze out of his mind any remnant of these thoughts of a friend in heaven. That’s what it’s like when we get in a major spiritual battle. We seek to take hold of the truth and declare it, hold on to it and live by it, but the shear pressure of immediate circumstances almost crushes us. Jesus knew this experience on the Cross: he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.” (Isa 53:5).  For him also it was a double pressure: the awful physical anguish caused by the cross, and the mental and spiritual anguish as the powers of darkness railed against him (see Psa 22:12-) so much so that he declares prophetically in that psalm, “My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. (Psa 22:14) Jesus knew what Job was going through!

In these verses he first of all turns back to the friends who are almost taunting him: But come on, all of you, try again! I will not find a wise man among you.” (v.10)  It’s as if he taunts them back, as if to say, Come on, is that all you can do, have another go!  He ponders on what they have got to attack: “My days have passed, my plans are shattered, and so are the desires of my heart.” (v.11)  It’s as if he says, Come on guys, whatever have you got to shoot at?  My life has gone, my plans no longer exist, and any desires I might have had are past history!  I’ve nothing left for you to have a go at!

He continues about what they do: “These men turn night into day; in the face of darkness they say, `Light is near.’” (v.12)  i.e. they twist the truth!  He goes on, “If the only home I hope for is the grave, if I spread out my bed in darkness,  if I say to corruption, `You are my father,’ and to the worm, `My mother’ or `My sister,’ where then is my hope? Who can see any hope for me?” (v.13-15).  In other words, he looks death in the face and says, if death is all I have left, what hope have I?  Now to get the full significance of that we have to observe that there is likely to be a footnote in your Bible next to the word ‘death’ that indicates that it really means Sheol, or the underworld. The belief in such an underworld is a belief without hope. Who wants to end up in such a gloomy place? That is no hope you want to cling to for the future. Bear in mind all of his positive revelations earlier on here about a friend in heaven speaking up with him and perhaps one day seeing him. That suggests a hope of entry to heaven; thus this present wondering is in fact a writing off of the belief in Sheol. It is as if he implies there has got to be something better!

For us today of course, we see the fuller revelation of Scripture and realize that our hope is in heaven, because of what Jesus has done for us. Job speculates:  “Will it go down to the gates of death? Will we descend together into the dust?” (v.16). It may be very easy for us today with the revelation of the New Testament to be assured of heaven, but before Jesus came, that was not clear. The ‘it’ in this last verse is of course hope, we see as we reread the earlier verses.  Is the only hope we have to go down to some netherworld? Philip Pullman, author of the children’s ‘Dark Materials’ novels, ends the last of the trilogy with the two children going down into the land of death where there are just ghostly figures, the ghosts of those who have died. Pullman’s answer to this dark world is to get the boy hero to cut an opening into an alternate universe and let the ghosts out where they turn to dust and get absorbed into that world.  Another non-existence in another guise, but that is all an atheist is left with.

Other world religions have a variety of ‘after-this-life’ experiences but none matches the certainty that is revealed through Jesus Christ of a new world of utter goodness and blessing in the presence of God, where we still have personalities and are clearly beings with self-consciousness and self-awareness.

It is a measure of a person’s world view to see what hope they have after this world.  It is a good question, what hope do YOU have?   For many there is a blithe and naïve, well it will probably all work out all right.  On what grounds do you believe that?  No, that is blind faith and blind faith goes nowhere. Of course there are a lot of people who say there is nothing after we die, but that actually flies in the face of so much evidence.  The world view that says we come back in another form, dependant on how good we were in this world, would scare the life out of me if I believed it.  How could I ever know I had lived a sufficiently good life to merit even coming back in this life, let alone coming back as something better?  No that is seriously scary in its uncertainty!

The promise that arises again and again in the New Testament is of eternal life that starts at the moment you come to Jesus Christ looking for the salvation that only he can bring. Because it is ETERNAL it obviously has no ending and so when we die we simply go on in a spiritual form into the existence we call heaven, in the wonderful presence of God. We continue on there, not because of our efforts, not because we go to church, not because we are good, but simply because we surrender our old life to God and receive this new life that God offers us because of what Jesus has done for us on the Cross at Calvary nearly two thousand years ago. Simple, wonderful and true!

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49. Warfare

Ephesians Meditations No.49

Eph  6:10-12 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Finally? When preachers say ‘finally’ they usually go on for another quarter of an hour! But this letter is drawing to a close and this is a key and crucial issue before Paul finishes. Remember the context has been the unity of the body of Christ, the church, and Paul has worked through a number of practical issues in the Christian life, things that should not be there and things that should, concluding with thoughts about family life and life working for another, all very practical stuff. Now, in the concluding paragraphs he wants to cover and remind his readers about spiritual realities, about the warfare that is constantly being waged and, as a good pastor, he wants to teach them how to overcome.

The overall call in the coming verses is a call to overcome and he tells us how to do that: “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” It is God’s presence and God’s strength that will help us overcome, not our own strength. This is the wonder of the Christian life, that God’s strength is available for us. However it is not like receiving an injection and suddenly feeling full of energy; very often God’s strength is there but until we get on and do what we are called to do, we’re not aware of the ability He gives us, His strength that always matches the need. That is the truth, His strength always matches the need that He gives us to do, and so we’re not aware of overflowing power, just power to do what needs to be done!

But then Paul uses the language of analogy. It is possible that he is in prison and in chains or at least (and I think this is more likely) that there are guards in the vicinity who wear armour and he likens the things we have from God to pieces of armour, as we’ll see when we move on in the next meditation. For now he gives us a simple instruction, which he will soon enlarge on: “Put on the full armour of God.” Note the word, ‘full’. Not just odds and ends, but the full covering that God has provided. When you put on armour you cover all parts of the body. God doesn’t leave us ‘uncovered’ in any way. He provides full protection for us in the things He has given us. Now comes the reason for this need of this armour: “so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

Yes, this is the truth, that we have an enemy, an adversary.  In many places the Bible testifies to the fact of this fallen angel called Satan, the Accuser, or the devil. His activities are most clearly seen in Genesis 3 where he challenges the truth and tempts Eve and Adam to disregard God’s words.  He tempts, he deceives, he accuses and he attacks (see Job 1,2). He schemes to bring us down, he plots to get us to stop following God and he sows discord and discontent and seeks to get us to lose our perspective. We will see as we go on that our call is to stand, and the picture is of us having being given ground to hold – the truth, the truth about ourselves, the truth about God and the truth of the Gospel. In the fight our enemy seeks to push us off this ‘plot of ground’ so we give up believing the truth and from then on we are vulnerable and will fall.

If we are uncertain of our perspective, Paul spells it out: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We may think that the troubles we have, the situations we struggle against, are to do with people, but people are only the means that Satan uses to come against us outwardly. He also comes against us inwardly in our minds. This is a spiritual battle and the main part of it is fought in our mind. It’s not just people, it is all those who are ungodly and unrighteous, whether they be human or demon. When people come against us and challenge and oppose us with atheistic arguments, the origins for that are in the spiritual realm from our enemy, who rules their minds.

We need to be quite clear of this before we go on to consider the armour and the battle in detail: this is a spiritual battle, an unseen battle and therefore the answer is with THE Spirit, God Himself.  He is with us and He is for us and He will provide all we need. Remember, part of what we call the Lord’s Prayer says, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Mt 6:13). Do you see the need to pray that on a regular basis?  There is a very real need and we ignore it at our peril.

Walk of Despair

WALKING WITH GOD. No.40

1 Kings 19:3,4 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD ,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

We have previously commented along these lines, but it bears repeating, that the idea that the Christian life is always smooth and easy is unreal. Christians have to live in this Fallen World and so things go wrong and people are nasty. To see the reason why Elijah was running for his life, we have to see the previous two verses: “Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” This was a very real threat from a very nasty person! There was a contract out on Elijah’s head! But, you might say, wasn’t Elijah this great prophet of the Lord so he could simply stand up to the Queen? Well actually, no, because that is the problem.

The problem is not only the Queen, it is that Elijah has just been through an amazing spiritual battle and would be feeling exhausted mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Please realize that this was all in the service of his Lord. Even Jesus took time out to rest after his busy schedule. The reality is that when you are giving out spiritually, it can leave you drained. Yes, the Lord will be your strength and yes, He will restore you, but for that moment you are empty, needing to be refilled, and it is often that at that moment the enemy attacks, when he sees you are vulnerable. The response? You feel weak and fearful and want to run, escape to a quiet place and fall asleep (v.5). Did the Lord chide him for this? No! Instead He sent an angel who provided supernatural provision for Elijah to enable him to get to the place of meeting with God again. This is a very real experience and we need to really take on board the elements of it.

First note that we live in a state of war with Satan and sometimes he seems to come like a roaring lion (1 Pet 5:8) and when he comes like that he seeks to create fear in us.

Second, note that he comes to attack like this when we are vulnerable and probably when we have just been giving out a great deal, and even when we have just had a great victory.

Third, the crucial thing here is to be aware of what is going on. When Peter in the verse just referred to warns about Satan coming as a roaring lion, he starts, “ Be alert…..” Very often Christians become casualties simply because they did not realize what was going on and did not take steps to counter it. Emotional responses when you are at this place of attack are fear, doubt, feeling down, worrying and so on. They are all things the enemy seeks to impose upon you. Realise what is happening.

The fourth thing is to get out of the firing line. It was sensible, in the absence of a word from the Lord, to get out of range of the Queen. When you are feeling weak and vulnerable step back from the front line until you can be restored. While you stay there you are simply a target for more blasting from the enemy, and that isn’t necessarily the big obvious things, it can be the subtle temptation that brings your downfall into sin.

The fifth thing is to get with God. Elijah made for Horeb, or Sinai, the known place of encounter with the Lord. Even to get there he needed supernatural help. It may be that you need help from the Lord and that ‘angelic’ help can actually be through others. If you have those who are close to you, ask them to pray and carry on praying for you. (If you don’t find them!) I have a small group of people I confide in who pray for me all the time, but they find it particularly helpful if I share with them what is happening to me. Perhaps we need a retreat – it can be a day or a week. We would like to say that the ‘walk of despair’ should only be temporary, but unless you do some of these things, it can extend. Prov 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” It is the same principle that applies here. If you stand alone you are vulnerable. If you have those who can be made aware of the battle and the subsequent weakness, you are on the way to recovery.

The ‘walk of despair’ is all about resources, or to be more precise, shortage of them. In your daily walk with God, when you are in the midst of the battle, those resources can run low. Listen to the apostle Paul: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” (2 Cor 1:8,9). Did you see that? “pressure, far beyond our ability to endure” Why does the Lord allow that? Listen to Paul again, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.” (v.10,11). There it is, exactly as we were saying. This happens, share it, get prayer support to get to the Lord and “he will deliver.” Hallelujah!