8. Mourning & Grieving (2)

Transformation Meditations: 8. Mourning & Grieving (2)

Isa 61:1-3   He has sent me ….. to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion

In the previous study we focused on personal grief, what happens when someone close to us has gone, but I am aware that when Isaiah wrote these words he included, “in Zion” which suggests that he also had in mind the grief that a man or woman of God would have felt when Israel went through times of unbelief and the land was invaded and Jerusalem was plundered, and the glory of God removed.

We find such times of mourning in the life of Israel expressed in its earliest years by David when Saul and Jonathan were killed in battle by the Philistine army. This man, described as a man after God’s own heart, poured out his grief when he heard of their deaths with the refrain, “How the mighty have fallen!” (2 Sam 1:1) and repeated again and again “How the mighty have fallen in battle!” (2 Sam 1:25,27) The song of lament extols them both, despite the fact that again and again Saul had tried to kill him. He extols Saul, honoring his position of king over the people.

Years later Jeremiah (it is believed) lamented over the destroyed Jerusalem after Nebuchadnezzar’s army had burned down both city and Temple: “How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.” (Lam 1:1) In chapter 2, verses 1 to 8 it is again and again attributed to the Lord. Yet in chapter 3 there is hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (v.22-26) Anguish with hope.

In the New Testament Jesus mourns over what will yet happen to Jerusalem: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.” (Mt 23:37,38)

In each case there is a mourning over what has happened or what is about to happen to the people of God and, more specifically in the latter two, to Jerusalem, the city that held the Temple where the Lord had revealed His glory, a glory that had gone.

The question arises, are we sensitive to the state of God’s people, do we yearn to see the glory of God revealed in and through His people, do we anguish when that is absent? The song of the Messiah brings hope, because the Messiah is sent to comfort us, even when we mourn over the loss of His glory. One day Jesus WILL return (see Rev 19) and God’s honor will be restored. In the meantime those with eyes to see grieve over so much formal ritualistic religion where the life of God is absent, but they also rejoice when they come across the body of Christ empowered and directed and moving by the Spirit and the glory of the Lord is seen. Pray over both situations.

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7. Mourning and Grieving (1)

Transformation Meditations: 7. Mourning & Grieving (1)

Isa 61:1-3   He has sent me ….. to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion

The list of those to whom the Messiah has been sent to minister goes on to include those who mourn and grieve. The synonyms for the two words are almost exactly the same so it suggests Hebrew parallelism, but the action for both is apparently different. A dictionary suggests ‘to comfort’ means, ‘to ease or alleviate a person’s feelings of grief or distress,’ while ‘to provide’ means, ‘to make available something’. So the Messiah comes to alleviate a person’s distress by providing them with something. The implication is that when we mourn we are lacking something which the Messiah then comes to provide.

So when do we mourn? We mourn over loss of someone loved. We have a sense of sadness at their absence. The word grieving is slightly stronger and usually speaks of a more intense sorrow at such loss. Now this is a subject that calls for honesty. We are all different and we all feel differently about people we love. I have taken and attended a number of funerals and watched ‘the mourners’.

Some people stand or sit throughout the service in tears, others appear unmoved, and Christians often rejoice at the ‘promotion’ of their loved one to heaven. Yes, there will still be a great gap in our lives at the loss of our loved one, but the reality of heaven and the comfort of the Lord’s presence can turn such a time into a time of praise and worship.  However strong the reality, the anguish is still so great for some that tears are the appropriate expression. There is no ‘right’ way.

But then there is the death of a loved one who has gone through years, perhaps, of suffering, and death is a welcome relief. Most people feel it is unseemly to express such relief at such times, but it is the reality and we should not feel guilty about it. Then, of course, there is the death of a person we hardly knew, and sorrow is almost hypocritical in such a case. Care and concern for those who remain, is something else.

So we said that the Lord, the Messiah, Jesus, comes to provide something that is missing. What can that be? There may be loneliness, an acute sense of being left alone when a life-long partner passes away. The Lord comes to bring comfort through an intense sense of his loving presence. For some grief may be accompanied by fear, an intense worry about how they will cope on their own. Again, perfect love casts out fear (1Jn 4:18 – although that is strictly in a context of judgment, it is nevertheless true).

The assurance that only he can bring also brings a sense of security. Similarly it may be the absence of peace, because of the nature of circumstances surrounding the death, but again it is the Lord’s presence with us that brings that peace. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” (2 Cor 1:3,4) God is known as a God of comfort, not One who stands off at a distance, impartial and uncaring. When Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus, he wept, he felt for the people. God feels for us, draws alongside us with His comforting presence. If you are grieving, may you know that experience.

5. Darkness?

Transformation Meditations: 5. Darkness?

Isa 61:1b   He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners

The work of the Messiah, we said, is to transform us, to redeem us, to save us, and we are looking at some of the aspects of his mandate in Isaiah 61 and reiterated by Jesus in Luke 4. Previously we considered the broken-hearted, captives and prisoners. Now we need to consider darkness.

There is a specific prison that is referred to here. In a sense the other prisons we referred to are legitimate but this characteristic needs special attention – darkness. Isaiah, speaking about Galilee prophesied, The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isa 9:1,2 reiterated in Mt 4:15,16) Now why was Galilee in the north of Canaan referred to as being a place of darkness?

First, it may be that being furthest away from the Temple in Jerusalem, the presence of the Lord seemed weakest, if I may put it like that. His light, His glory, seemed at a distance. There are some for whom the presence of the Lord always seems at a distance. You hear it spoken of, but it is mere words.

Second, Galilee being in the north was always the first to bear the brunt of the enemy invaders that so often came from the countries of the north; they were more vulnerable than the south. There are some who, for a variety of reasons, feel more vulnerable to attacks of the enemy.

Third, because of that, there would be what can only be described as a dread of what might be coming. It only need a whisper, a rumour, that countries to the north are arming and a dread would fall afresh. There are some who live with a sense of fear, of dread of what ‘might’ happen. The enemy has imposed a sense of insecurity and you almost expect the worst.

What is the answer to these three things that bring a darkness to our hearts and minds? It has to be, first of all, the truth, the word of God. The Lord is with you and for you (Rom 8:31) and will never leave you or forsake you (Heb 13:5) and is working for your good (Rom 8:28). He has plans and purposes for you (Eph 2:10), plans that are good (Jer 29:11). He loves you (1 Jn 4:4,16) and sent Jesus to die specifically for you as an expression of His love for you (Jn 3:16,17) so that now you are a child of God (1 Jn 3:1) This is the truth. Stand before a mirror every morning and declare these truths. Copy the verses our and declare them every morning.

Second, it has to be the presence of His own Holy Spirit who does indwell you (1 Cor 3:16, 6:19) if you are a Christian, born again of His Spirit (Jn 3:3-8), and He is your inner resource if you will listen to Him, to His words of encouragement and affirmation, but it will mean resisting the lies of the enemy: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (Jas 4:7,8) He HAS come to release you from darkness (Isa 61:1, Col 1:13). We are children of light (1Thess 5:5) and so darkness – fear, dread etc. – is to no longer be part of our lives. May it be so.

4. Prisoners?

Transformation Meditations: 4. Prisoners?

Isa 61:1b   He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners

The work of the Messiah is to transform us, to redeem us, to save us, and we are looking at some of the aspects of his mandate in Isaiah 61 and reiterated by Jesus in Luke 4. Yesterday we considered the broken-hearted; today we consider captives and prisoners.

Perhaps when we think of drug addicts or alcoholics, the concept of someone being a prisoner to their addiction is easy to understand. Thinking about humanity being prisoners needs a little more thought. Accepting that there may still be aspects of our present lives that indicate we are still prisoners, requires honesty and grace.

Now it seems there is specific similarity in these two words – captive and prisoner. They both imply in their meaning having had their freedom taken away by someone or something else. A definition of a ‘captive’ is ‘a person who has been taken prisoner’. Definitions of a ‘prisoner’ include, ‘a person captured and kept confined by another’ and ‘a person who is or feels confined or trapped by a situation’.

The first place we can be captives is in our head. First there are the lies we believe. Someone told us again and again when we were young that we were rubbish, worthless, failures, and so now we believe it; it is ingrained in our thinking, but it is a lie. You are made in the image of God and precious to God, you are someone, someone special. If you’ve become a Christian, God loved you so much that He sent His Son to die for you (Jn 3:16,17)

Second, there is the anguish we feel in our minds as we battle with either guilt or fear. Perhaps we did fail and maybe it was big-time and so yes, we were guilty, but Jesus died for that failure, died for that guilt and shame, and having confessed it to him, you can now be free from it. In fact if you feel it is still there and you have confessed it, realise it is the voice of the enemy you are listening to. Draw near to the Lord, resist the enemy and tell him to leave with his lies (Jas 4:7).

But then we may be captive to bad circumstances. Maybe there are those to whom we are related, or those who are over us at work, who impose on us, abuse us, and demean us. Find a spiritual friend or church leader, share it with them; you probably need support to break free from that relationship. It doesn’t have to continue. Stop being a prisoner to other people.

Some of us will be prisoner to a creeping illness, or an infirmity, or just creeping old age. We can’t escape it. We can pray against it and we can ask others to pray for us, but if at the end of that it still seems that this is the path the Lord wants you to walk, remember that His grace is always there for you and as He said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9) Those are not glib or trite words but the truth. Even in weakness, even in limitation, His power can be present.

Be a person who draws near to Him and knows His presence and in that presence, you will find power to cope; not merely to survive but to glow, even in adversity, even in affliction, even in illness. You may be a worn ‘earthen vessel’ but you contain the glory of God (2 Cor 4:6,7). May you know it. “He has sent me to … proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” 

2. The Poor?

Transformation Meditations: 2. The Poor?

Isa 61:1 the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

We have started to look at the subject of life transformation that takes place when a person encounters God and we have started by looking at the Messiah’s mandate in Isa 61, quoted by Jesus of himself when he started his ministry.  The Messiah comes and says, this is what my Father wants me to do – to proclaim good news. When Jesus started his ministry he declared, The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15)

How frustrating; there it is again, ‘good news’. Well, perhaps we have to see Jesus’ summary of what he then went on to do: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) Well good news certainly for the first five in that list, but there it is yet again, this reference to ‘good news’ being proclaimed to ‘the poor’. So what is the ‘good news’ and who are ‘the poor’?

Well I am old enough to remember the excitement in the Christian world when ‘the Cross and the Switchblade’ was published, the story of a young pastor who felt called to the streets of New York. It’s a long time back so my quote may not be completely accurate, but I remember one time when he was looking on the street people as his team was preaching in the slum streets and he pondered on what they were really achieving. A girl, I believe it was, came up to him and said, in respect of the salvation she and a number of others had received as the Gospel was preached there, something like, “Pastor Dave, the streets don’t change, the poverty and drugs are still here, and we still live here, but inside we are utterly different, utterly changed.” Something like that, at least. That stayed with me. The outward circumstances may remain the same – we may still be on low incomes, in poor circumstances – but inwardly we are transformed.

It may not be monetary ‘poor’; surely the blind, the lame, the lepers and the dead of that list in Mt 11 are poor. Surely those in Isaiah’s list – the broken-hearted, captives, prisoners, those who mourn and grieve, those in despair, they are all ‘poor’. Surely the reality is that anyone who has not entered into a living relationship with Almighty God, anyone who has not received the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience (Rom 2:4), His shared glory (Rom 9:23), His wisdom and knowledge (Rom 11:33), His grace (Eph 1:7), His glorious inheritance (Eph 1:18), and his power through His Spirit (Eph 3:16).

So what is the good news for these people, for all of us, because whoever we are, if we haven’t entered all of those things, we are ‘poor’. The ‘good news’ that God announces from heaven is that, “I love you, I have sent Jesus to die for you, I want to redeem you, justify you, forgive you, adopt you and empower you, transform you.” THAT is the good news. Let’s exult in the wonder of it, praise and worship Him for it, share it, and ensure it is beyond mere words, but comes with the power of the Spirit to guarantee that complete life transformation.

1. Transformation Declared

PART ONE: The Need

Transformation Meditations: 1. Transformation Declared

Isa 61:1-3 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

I recently finished the series entitled, ‘Reaching into Redemption’ which was all about the ongoing redemption process of God which starts when we are saved and continues throughout our lives. Some might prefer to refer to this as our sanctification, but I wanted to put the focus on the Lord and His activity, even though it did involve us. Having completed that series I have pottered in various attempts at other meditations but find myself coming back to this subject of ‘transformation’, the incredible nature of what takes place when God meets with a human being.  The thrust or main purpose of this, I sense as I have prayed, is the potential for life change that comes with encounters with God, something that perhaps we so often take for granted. My intent is that each of these (limited number of) meditations will be a lot shorter that those ‘Redemption’ ones, for I am aware the length of those required a high level of discipline to read, so I am intending to make these more manageable.

In this first study I simply want to take a preliminary look at these amazing verses from Isaiah that Jesus quoted at the beginning of his ministry in a synagogue in Nazareth (see Lk 4:18,19) Let’s be very simple; the intent of the Messiah, empowered and directed by the Spirit of God, was to proclaim good news to the poor, but that wasn’t just a word exercise, it was to be a life transforming exercise:

  • He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
  • to proclaim freedom for the captives and
  • release from darkness for the prisoners….
  • to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion
  • to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
  • the oil of joy instead of mourning, and
  • a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

Note first of all the people he goes to: the poor, the broken-hearted, the captives, prisoners, those who mourn and grieve and despair, to bring them to a place where there is something beautiful about them, and they are characterized by joy and known as a people of praise. So here’s the questions that must follow: do we see people around us without Christ like this, do we see life transformations like this when they (we) come to Christ, or is our evangelism simply words without power? The activity of Jesus seen through these words is a power ministry and he says to us, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) May it be so.

17. Are the resources too few?

Meditations on “God of Transformation: 17:  Are the resources too few?

Matt 14:16,17   Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”   “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

Yesterday we considered the feeding of the five thousand, and even calling it that, highlights the problem – the need is too great – and when the need appears too great we can be made to feel hopeless in the face of it. There are too many starving people in the world. It is hopeless! There are too many non-believers in this country; we are outnumbered, it is hopeless. Well humanly speaking that is true but crisis equations or spiritual conundrums work differently. Imagine it like this: MASSIVE PROBLEM + tiny human resources = inactivity and no change to the MASSIVE PROBLEM and if that is what you work with, that is how it will be.

But consider a different approach: MASSIVE PROBLEM + tiny human resources + intervention of God = Transformation. Our problem, all too often, is that we focus on the tiny resources and say, “We can’t do this!” We allow their smallness to keep us looking at them hopelessly and so we fail to turn to the Lord and say, “Lord, what do you want to do with these resources and what part do you want me to play in this?”

The two feedings of the two crowds have exactly the same elements, MASSIVE PROBLEM + tiny resources.  Well they are resources adequate for one  or maybe two people but look at them in the light of the MASSIVE PROBLEM and they are dwarfed  and appear simply as tiny resources that are completely inadequate for the situation. Both sets of feedings (the 5000 and the 4000) have the same transforming element – Jesus! Size, magnitude, volume, whatever are no problem to the one who helped bring the world into being and now upholds it. Here he changed food; at a wedding he changed water into wine. It’s all the same, he is the God who can transform our material circumstances; we’ve just got to believe in him and believe he is here for us – and then be available, because as we said previously, he loves involving us.

If you want an Old Testament picture of transformation that we have not covered (well not this part anyway) look at Moses arguing with God at the burning bush. Moses has shrugged off all of the Lord’s arguments to use him until eventually, the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” (Ex 4:2) Now, as we’ve said many times before, when the Lord asks questions it is not because He needs knowledge but He wants to draw your attention to something.  Moses looks at his hand: “A staff,” he replied.”  You see, it doesn’t need a great deal of revelation to see what you have that the Lord wants to transform; you just have to stop, pause, think, look and take note of what you have.

“The LORD said, “Throw it on the ground.”  What? Let go of it and let me do something with it. You have a gift (yes, you do) but you hold it tight because it is precious to you, you value it, it’s all you’ve got. All right, now let go of it and let me transform it!

“Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it!”  Wooah! What happened, that’s not my gift anymore! No it’s not, it’s God’s and He’s showing it to you in a different form, the form of the snake, Satan the enemy  because even a gift or an ability can be used by the enemy to bolster you and stop you going on to receive the full blessing of the Lord. It is still yours but it’s being shown you in a different form.

Now you need to take hold of it and use it for God’s purposes: “Then the LORD said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. “This,” said the LORD, “is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has appeared to you.” (v.4,5) When you take control of it as the Lord directs, it will be transformed again and that transformation will convince others and bring changes. It may be that that picture may be a picture of what has to happen to your life. You may need to lay it down for the Lord and He may need to transform it, initially into something that does not look good, but then He will transform it back into something that in His hand can do great things. Moses is going to take this staff and hold it out over the land and see things change. The ‘staff’ may your gifts or it may simply be your will. Very often the first tiny resources to be changed are us, but the Lord looks for our willingness and availability.

Jesus takes the tiny resources, the loaves and fish, gives thanks, breaks them and hands them to the disciples. OK, you take them and feed the MASSIVE PROBLEM with them, and when they do, the tiny resources appear as MASSIVE RESOURCES feeding a TINY PROBLEM! Heavenly algebra is good isn’t it!

Sometimes it simply needs the wisdom of God to bring transformation. This happened many years ago. I caught a vision from heaven about reaching out to a local needy community providing a Saturday morning club for 6 to 8 year olds (I didn’t see those younger and those older seemed too daunting, so this was the age group I was left with). I shared it with the church and only one person responded with enthusiasm. In fact most other people said, “We’re too busy or too tired, and there’s not enough of us to do something like this.”  We prayed and felt we should go to the youngest house group we had and ask their advice. We went to them and said, “Look this is what we’re going to do but we need ideas and we think you’d do better at coming up with ideas than us. Can we brainstorm ideas for ten minutes and see what we come up with for us?” Ten minutes later we had a board covered with about thirty ideas and then one of the group said, “Hey I like those, I could do that” and another joined in and said, “Yes, me too.” Before we left that evening we had a full team and shortly after started a work that lasted a number of years. It needed a vision that people could buy into but to get there we needed the Lord’s wisdom first.

What MASSIVE PROBLEM is there, out there in your community, that the Lord wants to do something about? What has He put on your heart but you’ve said, “Oh no, it’s too big and my resources are too small!”  Talk to Him about your need of His wisdom and then listen and get ready to move.  He’s just waiting to transform your tiny resources!