14. Peace over the Past

Short Meditations on Peace 14. Peace over the past

Isa 32:17   The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.

In the previous two meditations we considered a little of the stress (and therefore absence of peace) that comes with relational breakdown and I suggested that relationships are the most fertile ground for upsets in our lives and therefore for absence of peace. But often these things have their roots in the distant past, things that happened years ago, maybe in our childhood, and we are living today with the damage from that. It is another of those things that robs us of knowing peace in our lives. Very often such things we push into our subconscious and, on the surface at least, forget them.

But they are not forgotten because every now and then something happens that triggers a response based on what happened back then. Imagine two children playing when they are fairly young and they have got hold of and managed to light a blow torch. One of them waving it around carelessly blows it across the upper arm of the other one causing very serious burns, which leave a scar. Now suppose the scar leaves a very tender feeling. Every time someone or something goes near that arm, that person, now grown up, will veer away from being touched.

Now translate that into the emotional trauma that can be left in an abused life. I used to know a lovely Christian man who eventually told me that his father used to lock him away in a room for hours on end when he was a child. For 98% of the time he was fine but every now and then something triggered the darkness he had known as a child, and he found himself withdrawing into his own dark hole and no one could get near him.

If such things have happened to you, you may say in the light of the previous meditation, “You want me to think well of the one who abused me as a child for years?” I would like you to face it and seek counsel from a trained local counsellor, I cannot do it in a few words here. We once counselled a young woman who shared she had been constantly raped by her father as a teenager and as a result could not let a man near her. Incredibly she was married and had two small children. How, we asked? I got drunk, she replied. To cut a long story short we listened to her for a morning, prayed over her for an afternoon and she went home free, so much so, her (unsaved) husband came and saw me and asked, “What did you do with my wife? She’s a raving sex maniac now?”  He was blessed. She was free.  It was God.

Don’t let past unresolved issues remain unresolved. Do seek help. God can deliver and heal ANYTHING! Peace follows.

45. In God’s Will

Meditations in James: 45 : At Peace in God’s Will

Jas 4:15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

In the Advent story, when the angels came to the shepherds, they declared, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:14). God’s desire for mankind is peace, yet peace, so often, seems such an elusive thing. Yesterday we considered the tendency of affluent, modern, Western man to travel and to plan. We envisaged the hard working office worker, locked into their daily routine but looking forward to the two or three week’s escape each year to the sun and sea of some far off exotic land. Yet see those same people as they return and so often it takes them three days at least to get over the tiredness of that holiday. Was ‘peace’ a word that described them before, during or after their holiday? Rarely!

We also considered the uncertainty of life, the many negative ‘storms of life’ that can befall us in this Fallen World. We never know what might come. For some people that uncertainty creates fear – and peace and fear never reside together! The lives of so many people are characterized by busyness and uncertainty and with those two things go stress, tiredness, worry, anxiety and fear. However, none of these things are the things God has designed for our lives. They are in fact the characteristics and fruits of godless living.

Ah, that is the key!  We just spoke of ‘godless’ living. That is what creates busyness and uncertainty and stress, tiredness, worry, anxiety and fear. You can be very active in God’s service but that is a very different thing which may produce tiredness, but there is an accompanying peace and sense of well-being that goes with an awareness of flowing in the will and purpose of God. God has designed us to be at peace and harmony when we are flowing in His will and purposes. When we are not in that place, our life is out of kilter and busyness, uncertainty, stress, tiredness, worry, anxiety and fear are the things we experience. For many, these things are so familiar we assume they are the norm, the way life just is. But that’s not the norm!

The norm is what God has designed for us, to be at peace and harmony in His will as we respond to Him and live out His purposes in our lives. There is a verse we often quote: we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10). This describes Christians as people who have been designed by God to do good, and the good we do has been planned by God for us. This is the wonder of the Christian life. It is a life designed by God. We find the apostle Paul using such phrases as,live by the Spirit,” (Gal 5:16) and led by the Spirit,” (Gal 5:18) and keep in step with the Spirit,” (Gal 5:25). These all imply a life that is guided and directed by God’s Holy Spirit which He has put in our lives.

If we can come to a place where we have surrendered our will to God’s sovereign will, it takes all the strain out of life. The apostle Paul, again, shows us this. Consider his attitude to his life in the following: as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” (Acts 18:21) and, I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing,” (1 Cor 4:19) and, I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits(1 Cor 16:7). He seemed very relaxed in God’s will. What he was basically saying was, “I hope to be able to do this if that is what God wants, but if He wants something else and it works out differently, no problem!”  The writer to the Hebrews had the same approach: Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity…. God permitting, we will do so.” (Heb 6:1-3). However we should note that there were times when the apostle Paul did seem to be quite clear about God’s will: I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.” (Phil 2:24).

They key is being surrendered to God’s will and that is what James is trying to bring us to. He knows the very best place to be is right in the heart of God’s will and that is a place of faith whereby we simply say, “Lord, please lead me and I will go wherever you want and do whatever you want.” and we learn to rest in that, trusting in the guidance we sometimes get, trusting that whether we are conscious of it or not, when our heart is fully inclined to the Lord, He will be leading us.  He never forces us, but when we are surrendered to Him, He gently leads us, sometimes by direct and obvious words of guidance, and sometimes just by the gentle moving of His unseen hand, gently moving us and the circumstances around us.  However, He’ll only do that as He sees we are surrendered to His will, because He won’t force us or steer us into His goodness if He sees a fierce resistance in us.

The Message version of Rom 12:1,2 sums it up well, especially what we’ve been thinking about in respect of taking sides with God against the world: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” Isn’t that good!

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!

3. Testing

Meditations in James: 3 :  Joyful Testing

Jas 1:2,3    Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

Living in the West in the early part of the twenty-first century, we are more affluent and have more technology than any people who have ever existed before us. Life should, therefore, be easy and pleasant, but so often it isn’t. If you asked most people, they would pause, reflect and then say something like, “Life is tough!” Why is that? It is, I suggest, because we live in a Fallen World where sin prevails and therefore things go wrong and people are nasty. As a dispersed people (see yesterday) we are out there in the world, largely alone, having to learn to cope with the less-than-perfect life that rolls out before us. A lot of the time it may be humdrum, ordinary with no particular problems, but then suddenly something happens, something goes wrong and we are in conflict or stress and anxiety, or we are struggling with illness or infirmity. That’s what life in this Fallen World is like. The staggeringly wonderful news for Christians, of course, is that we are not alone; we have the Lord with us. Moses was able to encourage Israel with, Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut 31:6) and the writer to the Hebrews was able to take that and apply it to us when he wrote,be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Heb 13:5,6).

So the first thing to note from our verses today is that we live in a world where things go wrong, things that James calls ‘trials’. The second thing to keep in mind, which isn’t in this verse, is that whatever happens the Lord is with us in it. Perhaps we would to well to remember a third thing,  that however difficult the trial seems to be, the Lord will be there seeking to bring good out of it for us: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28). Bear those two things in mind: the Lord is with us and He will be working to bring good out of what otherwise might be a bad situation!

But then James says something about what is going on. He says God is testing your faith. Our education system, at the government’s direction, seems paranoid about testing. Our children constantly seem to be getting tested. Why do the government want teachers to do this? They do it because they want to check a child’s progress and ensure that they are learning. That is exactly why God tests us. There is a clear indication in Scripture that God expects us to mature – we’ll see that tomorrow. The writer to the Hebrews chided them saying, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Heb 5:12-14).

There he indicates he expects us to grow up, understand the truth and live it. God’s testing, however, doesn’t merely monitor our position; it acts like a work-out in the gym and strengthens us. Whereas a physical workout brings strength to our muscles, God’s work-out develops perseverance in us, that ability to just plug on when life seems difficult. Yes, there are times when life seems glorious and wonderful and easy, and at those times you don’t need any special resources, (and that is a danger for we forget our need of the Lord), but we’ve been saying that in this Fallen World life is sometimes difficult and the enemy would want us to give up on our faith, and so perseverance is something the Lord builds in to us. How does He do that? By allowing us trying times!

It’s not only James; Paul says the same thing: And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance(Rom 5:2,3). It’s not only James and Paul; Peter says the same thing: In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:6,7)

So there it is; these trials, these tests, work to bring perseverance which we need to handle the dark side of life, and as we do, our faith is seen to be genuine and all the angels looking on give a mighty applause because they see it is the work of Jesus and so when he returns, and every knee bows to acknowledge his wonder, this will be part of the reason for all the praise he receives. Our lives have the means of glorifying Jesus!

Which brings us to the first part of the verse that most Christians struggle with and focus upon: Count it pure joywhen these things happen to you. Why? For the reasons we have been seeing: because we are taking part in God’s strategy which strengthens us, reveals us for who we are, encourages us as we realise that we can cope with His grace. It also brings great glory to Jesus as we triumph as he, standing alongside us is working out the Father’s purposes and bringing good out of every situation for us. Wow!  Rejoicing in whatever life is holding for you at the moment? Go for it!

27. My Strength

God in the Psalms No.27    

Psa 18:1    I love you, O LORD, my strength.

Such a simple description: my strength. In a world that sees so many people stressed, this must surely be a most important meditation. What is stress? It is the inability to cope with the pressures of life or work or family difficulties. The presence of stress means that we have run out of personal resources that would enable us to cope well. Stress means that we are being pushes further than our physical resources can cope with. Stress means we are being pushed beyond what our mental resources can cope with, and stress means we are being pushed beyond what our emotional resources can cope with. Oh yes, we mustn’t forget one other area, stress is being pushed beyond what our spiritual resources can cope with. But actually our lives are one and all these interact within us – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  If we get ourselves into circumstances that are beyond our God-designed resources, we are into stress.

I have a busy day and the demands upon me may be many. I am at a time of life when my physical strength and stamina is not what it was when I was thirty years younger. Therefore I have to be wiser in conserving what I have and the way I use it, but if I believe my circumstances are God-given and God-guided, then like the apostle Paul, I must trust that the Lord will provide my physical strength: I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13). But the key here, is checking that all the things I allow to come and make a call on my life are things I believe are God sent. Sometimes I may have to reject some things. I also need to ensure I have a healthy lifestyle – healthy food, reasonable exercise and no late nights and early mornings!

Then there are difficulties to be overcome, problems to be solved, things that challenge my mind, and I need mental strength to be able to work at these without worry creeping in.  Are these problems my responsibility? Are they things the Lord wants me to deal with?  They appear to be things that require knowledge, wisdom, understanding and possibly insight, things which God said Jesus would have (Isa 11:2) and now because Jesus lives in me, must be resources available to me. All I have to do is commit it to him: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7). Ah, look what is in there in the midst of that, a promise of peace, i.e. emotional strength!   How did that come about? It came by turning to God, by seeking Him, and by pouring out my heart to Him. Therein is spiritual strength. Yes, He does live within us, but spiritual strength and stamina come by conscious awareness of His presence, by seeking Him and finding Him and knowing Him and finding that His glory is reflected in us (2 Cor 3:18).

Later on in this Psalm 18 David says, It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.” (v.32-34) There he links strength with the way ahead being made perfect. When we are weak, we may stumble and fall, but with God’s strength we can walk or run steadily and surely (like the deer), and we find a new strength there that enables us to fight the battles that confront us. You can’t explain his strength really, you just ask for it, and then suddenly you realize you have it and step out to do His will for your life and find you can do it; the strength is there physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and you achieve His purposes!