39. God of Times & Seasons

Getting to Know God Meditations:  39. God of Times & Seasons

Eccles 3:1   There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

Songs 8:4   I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.

Jn 7:6  Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do.

Gal 4:4  when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son

Gal 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

And So? Let’s declare it from the outset – God is never in a rush.  This God we have been considering, who we have said more than once is all-knowing and all-wise, knows exactly what is going on, what causes stuff to happen, how long things will take and when things will happen. And because of this, God is patient, He waits and He waits: “he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)

The enigma of time: Time is a mystery or a philosophical construct or a philosophical bind. It is taken for granted but also causes speculation so that ‘time-travel’ has been a good source of writing and films. But in this modern day, we are ever aware of ‘the time’ whether it is to clock-in at work at the right time, to turn on the TV at a right time, or to get to the airport to have the right time to get processed before your flight. Time is simply the space awareness we have between one activity and another. We say, “We have just an hour before we need to leave for the meal out,” and within that ‘hour’ we know we have a number of things to do and each of them will take ‘time’.

Time involves Process: Eccles 3:1-8 is a great source for meditation but it speaks of appropriate or right times to do various things, but when it comes to the process we need to go to Isaiah as he chides the people and implies that God take His time and has a time for everything: “Listen to me now. Give me your closest attention. Do farmers plough and plough and do nothing but plough? Or harrow and harrow and do nothing but harrow? After they’ve prepared the ground, don’t they plant?…. They know exactly what to do and when to do it.(Isa 28:23-26)  Farming is a process, it takes time and varied activities to bring about a harvest. Gardeners learn this thing as well; they are constant season watchers. They may put bulbs in during October, say, but realize they won’t see any signs of growth until March perhaps. To be a gardener you have to learn patience. Parents know that children are not good with patience: “Are we almost there yet?”   Are we like little children with God sometimes, I wonder? Solomon understood this when he wrote the Song of Songs and penned, “I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”   It takes a while for love to build so often, and it is a foolhardy suitor who seeks to rush it. There is a process even within relationships.

God is Patient: Earlier in this series we considered the God of Purpose and we considered His activities and words in respect of Israel, providing a nation for the world through which He could reveal Himself, a nation into which He could send His Son. From the time He spoke to Abram about blessing the world through him, and the fulfillment through His Son, was roughly two thousand years. In our perspective God is not in a rush. If you really want to put time in perspective consider what today’s world-watchers say; according to one history book on my shelves, there have been 31.7 billion years since ‘the Big Bang’. If they are right that is a long time – indeed a time that we cannot possibly comprehend. It is utterly meaningless to the human mind. But if they are right, God is certainly not in a rush. (Perhaps He was doing lots of other things in that time we know nothing about!!!!!)

Frustration: Frustration follows impatience. We want things to happen NOW! We struggle to cope with delay, even though we know time has just got to pass, a process has got to be allowed to work through. For God, revealing things through Israel, it necessitated each player in Israel’s history to live out their time, day by day, hour by hour, so that they be allowed to build their testimony. Often we find the scribes writing such things as, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not as his father David had done. In everything he followed the example of his father Joash,” (2 Kings 14:3) here referring to Amaziah. Those few simple words, “as his father David had done,” refer back to pages of testimony about David’s life, but he had to live it out before it could be said. So it was of each king, years passing in which testimony was built, and all the while God watches patiently. God is patient, He doesn’t get frustrated like we do.

Jesus, the example: Jesus, the Son of God, must be the prime example of divine patience and order. Again and again he indicates that he is moving according to a divine plan and would not, therefore, be rushed into anything prematurely. Our verse above from Jn 7 was from a time when his brothers were encouraging him to go to Jerusalem for publicity sake, but he resists that motivation. At a wedding in Cana in Galilee when the wine ran out, his mother sought to involve him but his response was, “My hour has not come,” (Jn 2:4) or, “This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.” (Msg paraphrase) Although in both cases he did respond in the way suggested, his immediate response indicates he was not going to let even closest family conclude they could dictate his activity. Later he was to explain, “The Son can’t independently do a thing, only what he sees the Father doing. What the Father does, the Son does.” (Jn 5:19 Msg) The Son’s activity and timing was governed by what he sensed his Father was leading him to do, not what others wanted him to do.

Our Gal 4:4 quote comes over well in the Message paraphrase: “But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son…” which very much matches what we’ve just seen Jesus himself saying. In a previous study we noted that there were a number of things in history that showed that that time was the very best time for the gospel to be spread across the Roman world. Within that same letter, Paul encouraged us to persevere with life because a time of harvest will come in our lives if we do press on and persevere. Timing is all important and even as we commented about there being a right time for a harvest for the farmer, so sometimes we just have to wait for various things to either fall into place or come to fruition before the good comes that we have been praying and waiting for.

God’s Seasons: We should perhaps note, as we conclude this study, that when you observe the history of the Church there have been various phases or seasons but mostly, in the ordinary, everyday run of the mill order of things, they tend to be determined by how we respond to God. The years following Jesus’ ascension were clearly years of blessing as the early Church moving under the power of the Spirit continued the works of Jesus.  The further on and away from that day, as history progressed, it seemed that much of that died away even though the Church was flourishing. Although many of the following centuries were mostly spiritually dark, historians do observe that there were pockets of blessing throughout much of the past two thousand years.

These days? After 1517 when Luther nailed up his 95 theses, the Reformation restored Scripture to its proper place in the life of individuals and the church. More centuries passed before, in 1906, the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, restored the life and ministry of the Holy Spirit to the fore, although it did not cross denominational boundaries until in the 1960’s the Charismatic Movement restored Holy Spirit life for the individual, with also a new teaching restoring the ministry of ‘the body of Christ.  These were clearly seasons of God when He moved on individuals to restore His Word and Spirit to the lives of His people. What is interesting is that these were not revivals.

Revivals? The characteristics of true revival were described by Duncan Campbell of the Hebridean 1949 revival: “God moves in the district. Suddenly, the community becomes God conscious. The Spirit of God grips men and women in such a way that even work is given up as people give themselves to waiting upon God. In the midst of the Lewis Awakening, the parish minister at Barvas wrote, “The Spirit of the Lord was resting wonderfully on the different townships of the region. His Presence was in the homes of the people, on meadow and moorland, and even on the public roads.” This presence of God is the supreme characteristic of a God-sent revival. Of the hundreds who found Jesus Christ during this time fully seventy-five per cent were saved before they came near a meeting or heard a sermon by myself or any other ministers in the parish. The power of God, the Spirit of God, was moving in operation, and the fear of God gripped the souls of men – this is God-sent revival as distinct from special efforts in the field of evangelism.”

When does a revival occur (and a number have through the period of Church history)? When God decides. Often it seems at low social or low moral times, usually preceded by a burden of prayer but these times that have occurred in history, just like the three years of Jesus’ ministry, cannot be explained as a human phenomenon but only as an act of God. They last for limited periods of time and appear as God intervenes in history, mostly in the lives of His people (renewals) but sometimes community-wide (revivals) as and when He sees that His testimony in the world needs strengthening.

And us? We have sought to show again and again that God is patient and God works not only sovereignly but through the way He inspires and empowers individuals. That inspiration and empowering is available for every believer in greater or lesser degrees. The ‘greater degrees’ tends to be a work in the individual who is wholly committed to God and open to receive and respond to whatever God has for them. That is true for all of us, it just depends on how open we will be to Him. The challenge is always there, will I be open to be used by Him if He comes in a fresh way to empower us by His Spirit in either renewal or revival? May He find us open and available.

2. Once upon a time

Meditations on the Reality of Christmas:  2. Once upon a time

1 Pet 1:19,20:   Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.

Many years ago I first did a study of ‘before the creation of the world’ and I discovered that in the New Testament there are seven references to the things that happened before God created anything. The one above tells us that the one who came in the form of a baby some two thousand years ago, was decided upon, not “Once upon a time”, but actually outside of time, in eternity before time came into being (because time only exists where there is a material world, in our understanding.) So back ‘then’ Father, Son and Holy Spirit existed and communicated between their individual beings.

Now if you were a new arrival to the Bible and you read the Christmas story, you might wonder how they went about deciding upon these events we are going to consider. If we didn’t know any better we might imagine God, the Father, turning (figuratively speaking) to the others and saying, “Let’s have some fun with the human being we’re going to create, let’s set up a scenario that is going to blow their minds away. Let’s drop some of the angels into it, that will freak them out. Let’s speak some confusing and contradictory ‘prophecy’ through some before hand who we’ll call ‘prophets’ and, hey, for the fun of it, Son why don’t you drop in on them to show them how superior we are?”  Such a conversation can only come when we are truly clueless about the Bible.

So why do I say that? Because that little cameo suggests a God who is self absorbed and self-concerned and who plays with mankind and makes fun of us. That sort of God sounds like a figment of the imagination that a Greek or Roman philosopher might come up with, a human god. The only trouble with that, is that everything we learn about God in the Bible says He is nothing like this. He is loving, caring, compassionate, selfless, utterly good and everything He does, He does for our good.

A more likely conversation might include, “Son, there is no other way than this for you to enter the world. It would be very easy for us to put you into the land as you are now, but if we did that they would follow you out of fear and that is not our way. We could put you into the land as one of them, fully grown, but then they would say that you did not know what it was to be truly like one of them, and they would hold you at arms length.” However, such a conversation would not touch on the real need, for as they considered the possibilities of creating a material world with material human beings the problem of giving us free will would crop up, the realisation that free will would almost certainly result in ‘sin’ and absorption with self to the exclusion of God. But enough of the hard realities behind Christmas, let it come a little at a time.

So Joseph also went … to Bethlehem … with Mary…While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.”  A couple and a baby. What a leap from the throne room of heaven in eternity where the plans had been laid in the splendor and glory of the Godhead. Almighty God, all-powerful Holy Spirit, all-glorious Son, utterly beyond our wildest imagination, with wisdom beyond anything we can comprehend, who bring material existence into being, who watch and wait, and wait and wait, until the time is right. And then on earth a child is born named Joseph and then several years later, a girl is born who is named Mary. Time will pass before the Christmas events and all we can be sure of, is that when they were born, no one could guess what would happen with these two. Can you pray, “Lord, please will you open my eyes to see the things going on around me and help me understand how things either fit your purposes or are simply activities of the world and the enemy which you will yet turn for my good.”

19. Holding to the Plan (2)

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 19.  Faith and holding to the Plan (2)

Heb 11:24,25   By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.

A couple of studies back we noted Joseph holding to ‘The Plan’,  the plan spoken out by God to Abram, Isaac and Jacob – this is my land and now it will be your land, for ever, and you will multiply and become a great people. Over four hundred years have passed – four  hundred years, how long that sounds! That was the same length of time that passed between the end of prophetic revelation in the Old Testament period to the start of the events recorded in the Gospels in the New Testament! It’s like us thinking about things happening in the early 1700’s, but with God time is not an issue, His plans and purposes remain regardless of how many years pass.

So Moses is living some 400 years on from the Patriarchs but he knows his history, he knows that he is a Hebrew, an Israelite as they will become. Somehow he’s done his history and presumably kept contact with his natural mother even though he was being brought up for the first forty years of his life as a Prince of Egypt.

Stephen in Acts 7 tells the story: At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his father’s house. When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action. “When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites. He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.” (Acts 7:20-25)

Now of course we know that it all went wrong and the next day one of his own turned on him and it became public knowledge so that he had to flee from Egypt and spent the next forty years looking after sheep in the desert, until God called him to look after over a million human sheep in the desert. But it really all happened on that first day when, as Stephen put it, “he decided to visit his fellow Israelites”. Up until then he had been living a life of privilege behind palace walls, with everything laid on for him. Perhaps it wasn’t that he had kept touch with his family but had just learned about them in his private tuition in the palace and, knowing his own history, how his own palace mother had taken him out of the Nile, he decided to go an look for himself and visit the people from whom he originally came. When he arrived at where they were he saw they were slaves and he saw one of them being mistreated by a slave driver and at that point he stepped over the line and stood for being a Hebrew. All of his history, the history of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob came rushing back from the lessons he had received and he knows these are his people, a people with a special relationship with God, Yahweh.

Yes, at that moment he ceased to be the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and was a Hebrew with a history that could not be ignored. At that moment he decided to stand for them and went too far and killed the slave driver. As the Hebrews writer puts it, “By faith Moses, …. chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.”  The ‘pleasures of sin’ were simply the life of luxury and leisure in the royal palace, self-concerned and godless.

Now there is a possible course of action that we don’t usually think about. He was a Prince of Egypt, no doubt a powerful man. The slave driver is likely to be just another slave as far as Pharaoh would be concerned, two a penny. So he died, so what? These things happen. He could have faced it out, but he didn’t. These were his people and he found himself going back to them the next day, at which point he has to remonstrate with two Hebrews who are quarreling and who turn on him. This is the point of decision. He could have brazened it out – “Who do you stupid slaves think you are? Don’t you realise I am a prince of Egypt, get back to you work or I’ll have you killed.” In his role that was a very real possible way through this – but he’s a Hebrew himself, and it’s got to him, and so “He regarded disgrace ….of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (v.26) His reward? To be counted as one of the people of God. At that moment he made the decision to leave; he could no longer handle this, being a prince in Egypt while his own people were slaves. He ran, and it was an act of faith. Whatever the future held it must be better than the reality I now know exists here in this land.

But there is an aspect of the record we have missed: “When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian.” (Ex 2:15) We have just examined what could have happened but for that to happen Moses would have to deny his people, deny his own birth and stand up in this situation as an Egyptian who cared nothing about the Israelites – but he couldn’t!

There is an unusual phrase I have taken out from the middle of that verse 26: “for the sake of Christ.” Now of course he would not have known about Christ, not known about the coming Messiah because that was something to only be revealed through the prophets in the centuries ahead – but we are told elsewhere in scripture that Moses was a prophet, a great prophet and so even here at this early part of his life, he senses there is something more to life, something more of God’s plans. He’s learnt about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and he’s no doubt seen the God factor in their histories and as he catches that in his spirit, something says, “There is something more” and even that is just a glimmer of the revelation that is to come. We’ve seen it in Abraham who looked for a city with God, a dissatisfaction with the present and a yearning for what God has on his heart, and Moses has it as well.

So this forty year old embryo prophet, who doesn’t realise it yet, senses something at this turning point in his life, something of the eternal will of God and in a moment of desperation, he goes for it, he rejects his life in Egypt and has to flee.  He’s caught something from God and he goes for it. That is faith.

Because of the presence of the Holy Spirit indwelling us and making us Christians, we too catch this sense, the will of God. The enemy will challenge it and maybe we will be confronted by difficult circumstances where we have to either own up or shut up, we either stand for the truth or we join the rest who deny truth. We ARE the people of God. Pharaoh doesn’t like it and will threaten us. ‘Pharaoh’ is the world attitude today that denies God, challenges Him and His people and we resist him in the same way Moses eventually came to resist the next Pharaoh, with the will of God, the word of God and the power of God, but we’ll only do that when we’ve made the same decision by faith that Moses made – I am one of God’s people. I am not a prince of this world. I will do His bidding and leave the rest up to him. Amen!

3. Be a Leader

Meditations on “God of Transformation: 3:  Be a Leader

Gen 37:2,5-7     Joseph, a young man of seventeen…   had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.

I suspect I have commented more than a few times, when I write these meditations, about watching people receiving personal prophecies. They may not actually say it but the look on their faces says, “Oh yes? In a million years! Who are you kidding!”  Our capacity for not believing God is often very high! (That’s a gentle way of saying we’re good at unbelief). The trouble with personal prophecies is that they come wrapped up for a person who is not yet what the prophecy says; that’s what makes it a prophecy, it speaks to the future. So we look at ourselves or we look at the person receiving a word from a visiting prophet and we find it difficult to comprehend a leap from what is now to what the word says. Especially if we have low self-esteem (and many of us do) we find any sort of elevation somewhat mind blowing, and the greater the elevation the more impossible it seems and we forget that this is God speaking and nothing is too difficult for Him (Mt 19:26, Lk 1:37).

All of these things come together in the case of young, spoilt-brat, Joseph in the Old Testament, one of the younger members of a large family, most of  whom hate him because he’s his father’s favourite and spoilt. So he has a dream. It is a prophecy and he unwisely shares it, which only goes to make the brothers hate him even more, because the prophecy has his family bowing down before him. Their personal animosities cloud their judgment and so they instantly write off what he is saying. There is a grave danger when it comes to prophetic words, of looking at the bringer and, even more, the way they bring it and then writing it off. I have seen it happen.

A women in a large meeting brought ‘a word’ and because she was a bit weird and brought it in a rather dramatic way, the leader of the meeting just quickly passed on to the next thing in worship. I confess my instinctive reaction was relief  but the moment we moved on I had one of those inner checks that said, “No, this was my word”, and so we missed it. One of the disconcerting things I have observed over the years is that when it comes to finding someone to convey His word, the Lord is often more concerned with availability than finding someone who is perfect. The number of perfect people around are few and far between, and so He takes what is available and sometimes that person doesn’t match up to our Pharisaic expectations, and we are the losers.

Thus, more for personal reasons than for anything else, the family write off young Joseph’s dreams and the drama of his life unfolds. The sons sell him into slavery and from slavery he ends up in prison. It looks like it goes from one bad place to a worse bad place. Some fourteen or so years pass before Joseph gets known as a dream interpreter in the prison. Then when the Pharaoh (for he is now in Egypt) starts having dreams and casts around for a dream interpreter,  it is not too long before Joseph is dragged out before him. He gets the interpretation of the dreams and before he knows it, Pharaoh has promoted him to Prime Minister of all Egypt, second only to himself, because he alone seems to exhibit the wisdom and revelation necessary to manage the country through the good years and then bad years of the next fourteen years. Thus at least twenty eight years have passed before his family turn up in Egypt seeking food to help them cope with the famine back home, and in the time he has changed and his role has changed and everything about him has so changed that it takes some time before he reveals to them who he is.

Now that is the story and there are two vital things to note in it. We’ve already considered the first one, that prophecy may come through unlikely vessels and to unlikely people, but God knows what He is about. The second thing though, that only comes out when you look at the unfolding story, is that it took nearly three decades to be fulfilled, and herein is a crucial point.

Very often the transformation that God wants to bring about and which He spoke about in the prophetic word, takes time to be fulfilled. So often the end result is after a process of transformation – our transformation – and that takes time. Previously in this series we considered God breaking through into the material world that He had created, and it took time. Then we considered Sarai and other barren women, and it took time before they conceived. Now we have seen the transformation of Joseph and again it has taken time. The lesson that should be shouted from the roof tops is that God loves to bring transformation but so often He takes His time with it, because He is thorough and He is working with human beings who He does not force on faster than they can go. God is not in a rush, even though we may often exhibit impatience. It is a very significant lesson for many of us. Let’s heed it.

3. Jesus’ Timetable

Short Meditations in John 2:  3. Jesus’ Timetable

Jn 2:3-5   When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

As John’s Gospel appears to be the recollections of one man, John (as distinct from a collection as in say Luke), it is interesting to speculate that John was one of the ones at the wedding and how, in old age, he mused over the things he can still remember. He sees in his mind’s eye Mary turning to Jesus and quietly saying, “They have no more wine.” At this point John has no great expectations of Jesus and so is slightly surprised at Jesus’ slightly abrupt, “Why do you involve me?” Well, John might have thought, because she looks to you as the man of the house now your father has gone (no mention of Joseph in Jesus’ latter days – we assumed he has died).

But then Jesus adds something that might have had John wondering: “My time has not come.”  At the time John might have been a bit perplexed by that but perhaps later on he came to realise that Jesus had a timetable that he was working to, Jesus’ timing is not accidental. We find similar things later in the Gospel, e.g. Jesus told them, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right…. You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come,” (Jn  7:6 & 8) and then, “At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come,” (Jn 7:30) and then, “He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his time had not yet come.” (Jn 8:20)

There are a number of other time references in John that indicate Jesus was aware of what was yet to happen, e.g. “Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem….Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth,” (Jn 4:21 & 23) and “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” (Jn 5:25) and “Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me.” (Jn 7:33) and “Jesus said…”Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (Jn 12:30-32)  The message is clear: throughout Jesus is aware of a timetable of things to achieve.

119. Resources

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 119. Resources

Mk 6:37,38 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five–and two fish.”

“We don’t have enough money!” How many times does faith flounder with this statement? That is the most common form of this problem of resources. Or it may be “We don’t have enough personnel to start this project.” Or it may be, “I just don’t have the time or energy to be involved.” These are all resource problems that arise again and again in the Christian life.

Rather than wallow in these statements of unbelief, how about adopting the perspective that says, “Lord, if this project is of you, please provide us with the resources or show us how we are to get them.”

The disciples are in learning mode – although they don’t realise it – and haven’t yet reached this level of understanding. They have confronted the initial difficulties of their situation: it is late and the people need feeding and so common sense says send them away to get food. But Jesus doesn’t operate on common sense; he operates on the knowledge of his Father’s resources. He knows what can be and so he needs to gently lead the disciples into the place of faith but first they will have to confront the impossibilities of the situation.

So, to start the ball rolling he suggests that instead of sending the people away, they simply feed the crowd. One of the disciples does some quick mental arithmetic and concludes that to feed this crowd it would need the equivalent of two thirds of a year’s salary, i.e. a lot! Are they to spend that amount because, implied, we haven’t got it!

OK, says Jesus, instead of focusing on what you don’t have, what have you got? Five loaves and two fish is all they can come up with. I mean, even asking what they have got, Jesus is playing with them. He knows they won’t have enough for this crowd, however much they have.

What is going on here? Jesus is bringing the disciples to a place where they realise that they just don’t have what is needed. In what follows there will be no question of explaining it away. They are about to experience a miracle and nothing else will explain this.

 

19. On Schedule

Jesus in John’s Gospel : 19 : Jesus, working to a schedule

Jn 2:3,4 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

Living in the twenty-first century, many of us have highly pressurized schedules.  Work demands press in on us and we feel squeezed by the demands made upon us.  People demand our time or effort and the already heavy schedule becomes heavier still.  We allow ourselves to think that we are indispensable and so we take on more and more.

When we examine the life and ministry of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Gospels, we might expect, with all the power at his call, that Jesus would take any and every opportunity to use that power to bless people, yet the truth is that he seemed to calmly work at what was there and did not allow himself to be put under pressure. In previous meditations we have seen that Jesus does only what he sees his Father doing (Jn 5:19) so if the Father was not moving the Son did not either.  Also, under-girding his ministry was the basic desire to do the Father’s will (Heb 10:7) with a plan decreed before the foundation of the world (1 Pet 1:20). Thus there was purpose with no rush.

Our verse here today does not tell the whole story though. There was a problem at the wedding and Jesus’ mother looked to him to help out in some way.  As a friend of the family and a good mother she is naturally concerned. Jesus’ twofold answer seems to have a human and a divine element to it. The first part seems to ask “What do you expect me to do about it?” but in the light of the second part might be more likely to mean “Don’t go dragging me in, that’s not how it works!” That seems partially at least to be the human side of his reply. The latter part is clearly the divine aspect; it’s like he is saying, “I’m working to my Father’s schedule and he hasn’t indicated He’s going to do anything here.” Now we can only take Jesus’ statements at face value and so as at the end of his statement his intention is not to get involved, yet a few moments later it seems he is instructing the servants. What changed?

The answer has got to be, the following response of his mother: His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (v.5), which is a response of faith.  Now one of the things we need to do is learn to observe when the Father is moving, what are the signs that He is moving?  We suggest that Mary’s response was as a result of the prompting of the Father.  Faith, the Bible says comes from hearing God’s word (Rom 10:17).  In every healing, in every miracle, there is faith – in someone – indicating the Father’s intention to move. Thus Mary’s faith here is the sign of the Father’s intention to move, so the Son instructs accordingly.

So what do we have here?  We have an awareness in Jesus that he is working to a plan which will culminate in his death at the end of three years’ ministry. Within that plan, within that schedule, the controlling issue is what is the Father’s intent for the things immediately before us? So yes, he has a schedule but within that schedule there is movement and flexibility according to the Father’s heart. The Father knew the times perfectly. Time was always significant in Jesus’ ministry: The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near (Mk 1:15), Jesus told them, “The right time for me has not yet come (Jn 7:6) At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come (Jn 7:30). Lessons for us?  Recognise God has a plan which involves time. We need to learn to be sensitive to His moving within that plan!

20. Living & Dying

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 20 :  A Time for Living and Dying

Eccles 3:2     a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

We started out this new section yesterday reflecting on the truth that timing is important, that life is built around timing. Our starting point now, and it is the obvious place to start, is with being born. There is a time to be born. Being born and dying, the two ends of our life, and we have a say in neither of them. We speak about free will and all the choices God gives us, but that excludes the start and finish of our lives. We had absolutely nothing to do with our coming into this world. For some of us, our arrival was a surprise to our parents. For some, our parents wish we hadn’t been born, yet the truth is that when God looked into the future from the beginning He saw us, knew us, and saw and knew that we would respond to Him and rejoiced over us.

With God there is this strange difference, that we struggle to understand, the difference between knowing we are coming and then seeing our arrival. It is strange because sometimes we say that God is outside of time and looks down on time and thus knows and sees everything all the time. Confused? Don’t worry, the important thing is to remember that when we arrived on this earth, when we were born, the Lord rejoiced at our arrival because He knew we would become one of His children. David understood something of this when he wrote, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psa 139:16) God knew what you would be like, knew that you would respond to Him, and He eagerly looked forward to the moment of your arrival – the potential that was you had arrived and would soon grow into that person who would, one day, turn to Him and become a child of God.

My arrival came in the fullness of time. It needed my two parents, who needed two parents, who needed two parents…..  That why the genealogies in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are so important. They speak about a flow of history. That history had to flow as it did before I could come into being. There was indeed a time for me to be born, this unique person made up of the genes of preceding generations. For the person to be who I am today, I had to come into this particular part of history so that I would react to all the unique circumstances of this time, and those circumstances would react with my genes so that nature plus nurture plus God’s activity would produce the unique person that I am today.

How much did God direct life and people to produce me as the person that I am today? That is probably one step too far for us to understand, but we are moving towards the understanding that God spoke and acted into life to help direct and bring about the person who is me, the person who is temporarily clothed with a human body of flesh and blood. It was this body that is the vessel in which the real me develops and who, one day, will leave this body for a new one (1 Cor 15:43,44). The mystery of the real me is indeed a mystery. How life was imparted at conception, how a new spirit being came into being, is a mystery more than physical cells. When we move into eternity, will we find out that the real ‘me’ was a spirit injection at that point of conception, a real genuine injection by God that produced what we call life, and which we take for granted? Did Job understand that? The breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job33:4)

From that point it needed nine months (give or take a few days in most cases) to form me and prepare this body to be able, with some help, to survive on this earth. Then at the right time, my mother’s body ejected me and my life on earth began. To achieve what this little baby is, an almost infinite amount of things had to happen on the earth beforehand. Now it begins.

Time passes and an almost infinite number of things (well a number of things beyond counting!) and this body slows down and one day stops. Again Job said, Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (Job 1:21) The psalmist wrote, The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty (Psa 90:10). As history has developed and health has improved, that may have even increased – yet none of us knows when death will come. All we know is that it will: man is destined to die.” (Heb 9:27). Yes there are serious illnesses and people die, there are accidents and people die, wars and people die, but most of the time we don’t know why it is that the body just stops and heart beat and brain waves, the two usual measurements of the presence of life, cease.

Sometimes the very elderly seem to give us a clue when they say, “I’ve had enough of this life; I think it’s time to go.” The Lord alone knows, but is there indeed within the divine plan, a length of life that is right for this particular body, this particular person? Yes, we know the Lord knows when we will leave here, but is there an optimum time for us to go, when all He has wanted of us has been achieved, and all the resources He has given our bodies are used up? The Lord can clearly extend life when He wants to (see 2 Kings 20:6, and Jesus raising people from the dead in the Gospels). He clearly removed people in judgment or discipline (see Acts 5:5,10, 12:23), so is it that at the appointed time, it is the Lord Himself who stops our bodies and takes the real us on into the next world?

When we came into the world at the right time, we were helpless. As we grew we were able to make our own choices and our own decisions. We lived the life we chose and that God gave. When the time comes for us to leave, will we be able to look back and say, “It has been good. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”? (2 Tim 4:7). May it be so!

19. Time

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 19 :  A Time for Everything

Eccles 3:1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven

Having reached a point of truth after all of his ponderings about the meaningless activities of life, in this new chapter Solomon considers the thought that although life seems meaningless from his jaded, somewhat godless perspective, nevertheless there is an order or rightness for living. Now it is no coincidence that this follows his declarations in the last three verses of the previous chapter where three times he refers to God. When atheists tell us there is no God, the one thing they cannot explain is why there is such an ordered world. They resort to mechanistic language such as ‘natural selection’ but that goes nowhere near explaining how inanimate material came into being and then created life, all of which ‘works’ with amazing order. It was that order which enabled the early scientists, who worked out of a Christian way of thinking – of an ordered universe designed by God – to investigate the world. We take for granted the orderliness of the world. If there was no God and it truly was all the result of random chance, then there would be no reason why it was not random chaos with things being very different from the incredible order that we see today.

Remember, Solomon was a ‘scientist’ of his day. He had studied and explored (1:12), he had applied himself to understand everything (1:17) like no one before him, and few since. Solomon knew about life, and many of his findings about human behaviour are what form the book of Proverbs. Solomon knew about order and about timing.  Order and timing go together.  In the way God has designed things, one particular thing follows another particular thing – in a certain time. You see this in child development and in the development of all creatures. Watch how that order brings forth a butterfly. You can’t change it and it takes time. Different animals have different lengths of time that they carry their babies in their womb. To bring to maturity ready to live in the world, it needs time. Growth is orderly development and it takes time.

Wherever we look we are constrained by time. Time appears again and again significantly in Scripture: he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” (Eph 1:4) The timing of salvation shows us that it was planned even before the Godhead brought the world into being. Then we see, when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.” (Gal 4:4). The execution of that plan was brought into operation at exactly the right moment in history. As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (Lk 9:51). The climax of the plan was being brought about according to an exact preplanned timing. The Passover, after three years of ministry was to be the climax resulting in the death of the Lamb of God. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom 5:6)

Paul understood this. Israel were utterly helpless in sin and in failure and spiritual barrenness under the Roman oppressors, after centuries of pointless squabbling. It was almost as if God waited for them to be at their weakest, and then He came in the form of His Son. The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” (Psa 110:1) For the ongoing working out of the plan, there is that same sense if timing. Jesus will continue to reign at his Father’s right hand until he has achieved what the plan decreed.For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:25). It hasn’t happened instantly. In accordance with the way God has designed all things, so with salvation, there is a gradual working out of the plan of salvation of the world.

Again atheists struggle with the idea that God developed the world gradually. Surely they say this slow gradual social evolution of mankind can’t have been God. Why didn’t He just bring it all into being as it is now, why wait all those centuries of social development? Because that is how God designs everything – to grow and develop slowly, in stages, one stage building on the previous one. Why didn’t God accelerate it and give men ideas of great scientific inventions to bless mankind thousands of years ago? Why wait until modern history? Because three thousand years ago it would have been meaningless to them, so what they ‘invented’ was on a par with the level of their knowledge then. Wherever we look it is the same – gradual development. Order. Timing.

When you look at your life, the same will be true. We can’t rush maturity. It is a slow, gradual thing. There is no instant maturity. No, maturity takes time and experience. If that is true of me, it is true of all of us, and I therefore need to learn to be patient with other people and simply accept them where they are in their development now. Do you see, it applies in every area of life! In the days to come, we’re going to let Solomon open us this line of thought for us and, with the Lord’s help, perhaps come to a greater understanding of life than we’ve ever had before!

7. Bound by Time

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.7

7. Bound by Time

Luke 1:21-24 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.

There are a whole variety of things that go to make life seem difficult sometimes, and time is one of them. If only we were able to control and change it, we think, if only I could stretch it out (so I could go on enjoying this experience that I don’t want to end), or if only I could shorten it (so I could bring this difficult time to an end quickly). But no, we are stuck with it. In our modern world we have fast food, or quick-drying paint, things that speed up life for us, but have you noticed we haven’t managed to speed up how long it takes for a woman to carry a child and bring it to birth; it’s still nine months.

Nine months! Nine months of silence for Zechariah. He’s got his sign; God CAN do things that actually affect him, that change his ability to speak. Oh yes, when God’s on the scene He can enable us to do a whole lot of things we couldn’t do on our own. That’s one of the marvels of the Christian life – but then perhaps you haven’t plugged into that truth yet. Christianity is all about God coming and changing us and enabling us to be people who do things today that we couldn’t do in the past. Or perhaps it’s to change us so that we don’t do things we did in the past! You see He’s God, and He knows best, and when we open our lives to Him, He blesses us in this way.

So here is Zechariah, coming out of the innermost part of the Temple with others waiting to congratulate him on having performed this once-in-a-lifetime service – and he can’t speak! Something has obviously happened, but what? That’s often the trouble with encounters with God; they’re not always easy to describe! Especially when you can’t speak! It’s then down to an instant course in sign language.

But he’s got the message! When he returns home, somehow he conveys something to Elizabeth his wife. Perhaps it’s just that elderly couple do still continue to express love to one another physically, but whatever it is, probably to her total surprise, Elizabeth finds herself pregnant! Hang on, she’s an old lady probably past child-bearing age, and all the years have proved she’s not capable of conceiving. Well she is now! That’s what we said, when God turns up, He enables us to do things we couldn’t do previously.

So here are this elderly couple waiting out the nine months; Zechariah possibly wondering if he’ll get his speech back; Elizabeth possibly wondering how she’ll manage when it comes to the birth. Two people waiting and wondering and the time drags by, one day at a time, one hour at a time, just waiting. Oh yes, there are times when we wish we could speed up time, but God has designed things to work in certain ways and that often involves time. It takes nine months for the foetus to develop so they’re going to have to just be patient and wait. Are there things you’re feeling impatient about? Come on, the lesson here is you can’t rush things. You can do stuff, pray more, or whatever, but some things just have to go their time – unless God speeds it up – now there’s a thought!