9. Confidence

Short Meditations in Philippians: 9. Confidence

Phil 1:19b   what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance and make me dwell in safety.

So here is Paul in prison writing to the saints in Philippi and, speaking about his own circumstances, declares he is able to rejoice, both in the circumstances because of the things that are happening while he is still in them, but also because he is sure he is going to be delivered out of them.

Let’s try and apply this to our own circumstances which are not always, it seems, truly glorious! Hold these two things from above. Are we able to rejoice both IN them and also because we have an assurance that we will be delivered OUT of them?

What is the key to these two things? I believe it is a sure confidence in who God is.  In my studies over the last few years, I am absolutely sure that the Bible declares three things about God. First, He is love. Second, He is good. Third, He is perfect (meaning He cannot be improved upon). Now these three characteristics apply to everything God thinks, says or does. Now having said those three things I have to admit there are times in my life when I may struggle to reconcile what is happening to me with these three things, but I have concluded that they ARE true; it is just that for the moment I cannot see how my present circumstances are going to work for good – mine or others, and it may be that these circumstances are going to work for the good of others as well as for me (somehow they WILL always work for MY good). It may take a time to see this – and that may be months or years  even – but it will eventually come through.

Now the more we experience this sort of thing and see that this is God’s intent, the more, when the next set of trying circumstances come along, we can declare by faith what we have learned previously: God will bring good IN this and He will deliver me OUT of it.

Now these sorts of things are real trials of faith. When you cannot see the way ahead, when it seems impossible for any change to come or any good to occur, it is a real declaration of faith to be able to say, “I don’t understand how this can bring good or can change, but knowing the Lord, I KNOW He will bring good in it and He will deliver me out of it.  Now don’t try and out-guess God. Don’t try and work out how God will do it, because in an impossible situation only HE can do it. When wine runs out at a wedding, only He can turn water into wine. When too many ‘guests’ turn up, only He can extend the limited resources to feed them all. When a blind person asks for sight, only He can bring it. When death confronts you, only He can bring resurrection. Jesus proved it. He is the grounds of our assurance.

26. Job

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 26.  Job

Job 2:3    Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”

We are getting near the half-way mark in the 39 books of the Old Testament, Job being the 18th and I have pondered why exactly am I writing this particular series? (apart from the fact that I prayed and this seemed to be what the Lord was putting on my heart.) What am I trying to do, what do I feel is the aim of each study? Well perhaps as far as each study goes it is to lift up for inspection some of the gems found in every book of the Bible. As far as the entire Bible is concerned it is to see that although books vary in what we might call weight or significance, every book is part of the canon which the apostle Paul said was seriously useful for bringing us up, (2 Tim 3:16,17) and every book has gems within it worthy of our reflection and meditation.

Job is a book that for many is hard going. I did a series of meditations on it years ago and it is heavy stuff. If we are honest, I think many people think of Job as a valley covered with mist, so difficult is it. Now if that is an accurate analogy, then I would say as I come to it now, I come as if standing on a mountain looking down on this mist-covered valley and as I look various rockets burst up through the mist and explode in the clear air above producing a beautiful display. These rockets or highlights come at various places in the book and they bring light or clarity to the whole. The problem we struggle with is that the book largely comprises arguments between Job and his three friends about the reasons for Job’s state and, and here is the difficult part, so much of the time these three friends get it wrong, either partially or completely! That’s what makes it hazy or misty. So, all I intend to do is highlight these ‘rocket verses’ and make the briefest of comments.

1:1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” The start of this story is to describe Job as blameless and upright etc. Hold on to that when you read the book.

1:8  “Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” We are shown into heaven where the angels (and Satan is a fallen angel but is included here) parade before the Lord and it is the Lord who initiates discussion about Job. All that happens is because the Lord initiates it.

1:12 “everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Satan challenges whether Job will be so righteous if he is put under pressure and so the Lord allows that in a limited way. And then later (2:3) we get our verse above where the Lord points out that Job had NOT failed despite being under awful pressures.

2:10 “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” With all that Satan brings about, the record is clear: Job had not sinned.

Now those are the key starting ‘rockets’ that reveal what the whole book is about. Job is put under the most severe of physical and mental trials but has not sinned. For the next 29 chapters we have the debate between Job and his three ‘friends’. In the midst of these confusing pages, Job makes a most remarkable declaration:

19:25,26 “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” As this is thought to be one of the earliest books in the Bible with so little revelation existing beforehand, this is a most remarkable declaration.

In chapters 32 to 37, a young man, Elihu, presents a further viewpoint. Then in chapter 38 the Lord speaks:

38:1-4  “Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.”  Ooops!  Job you may have been right about being blameless before all this, but when you start declaring about God you are on tricky ground! In the chapters that follow (38-41) the Lord demonstrates His knowledge and His power. When the Bible describes God as ‘holy’ it means He is utterly different from anything else we know, and the lesson God brings Job is that when it comes to talking about God we need to guard our lips sometimes.

42:1-6 “Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted….. Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know….. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job is humbled by his encounter with the Lord.

42:7 “After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” That is a remarkable affirmation of Job. Not only has he not sinned but he hasn’t spoken wrongly about God. It appears that if God has a problem with Job (as He previously chided him) it was simply that he had not maintained a humble spirit when he talked about the Lord. That needed remedying.

42:10,12  “After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before…. The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.”  The Lord didn’t just leave him but totally restored him and blessed him twice over.

There it is. Rocket after rocket being fired up out of the mist that shed light. It is both a strange and amazing book. The lessons are incredibly challenging. First, the enemy does NOTHING without the permission of God first. Second, God is thus supreme over all. Third, the Lord looks for faithfulness to Himself and to themselves, in each of His people. Remain true to God and be true to who He has made you and don’t let other people try to tell you that you are something else! Fourth, because the Lord has given us free will, He knows that in this ‘Fallen Post-Genesis 3 World’ things will go wrong and He will be working to ultimately put them right. There may be a variety of reasons for those things and they do NOT necessarily mean we got it wrong. Some things are down to our own folly, some to that of others and some to the works of the enemy, and sometimes, just sometimes, the Lord allows or even provokes those things to come about simply to discipline us for our good, but it is ALWAYS for our good. Rest in that and rejoice.

16. Peace in Trials?

Short Meditations on Peace 16. Peace in Trials?

Jas 1:2-4     Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Now there are (let’s be real!) times when we go through trials and testings, and those times are not easy. In fact, it might be legitimate to ask, is it possible to have peace in the time of trial?

Again, seeking to be real, I suspect the honest answer has to be, initially at least, probably not. Why? Because these things tend to come to us out of the blue, so to speak, without warning and the first thing we know is that things seem to be going wrong. Worry!

Remember Paul’s words to the Philippians: “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:4-7) Challenging words that start with the suggestion that God is there, on our case – but we are anxious, otherwise we wouldn’t need Paul’s words. His counsel: pray and God’s peace will come.

But it’s a difficult trial? How can peace come? Perhaps first by recognising that it is a trial and such things are either brought or allowed by God and if that is so, the Lord is looking for you to pass the test. God isn’t out to pull you down, He’s there to build you up, He wants you to pass this test, to succeed in it, to triumph in adversity.

What is going on when a test comes?  God is wanting you to learn, to realise just who you are, a child of God with all of His resources available to you. Be at peace in it – He’s in control and He’s standing there holding out His resources to you to take.

Remember, through the Cross of Christ He has provided absolutely everything you need to see you through life: “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8) He tells us He has a plan for us: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10) Life is no accident. With God there is purpose.

So to conclude, God’s got a plan for you, He’s with you and He’s provided everything you might need for any and every circumstance, and that includes times that are trials or testings, and so you can be at peace in them, once you realise what is going on and understand the dynamics of God’s love that comes to us in this way sometimes. He’s allowing this for your blessing. Rejoice in it as such.

53. Trials & Tribulations

Meditations in 1 Samuel  53. Trials & Tribulations

1 Sam 27:8,9      Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites. (From ancient times these peoples had lived in the land extending to Shur and Egypt.) Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes. Then he returned to Achish.

Remember in all that follows, David is simply trying to survive. He is on the run from the king of Israel who is determined to hunt him down and kill him and so he has fled to neighbouring Philistia where Saul will not come because the Philistines were a strong adversary.  He has managed to get Achish to allow him to live in Ziklag, a little distance away, and so we now see David using his men as raiding parties against people who were not Philistines but who were those against Israel. The Geshurites lived south  of Philistia and were a people not conquered by Israel at the time of the taking of the Land. The Girzites aren’t mentioned anywhere else in the Bible but we must assume they were a similar people. The Amalekites had long been enemies of  Israel and Saul had been instructed to wipe them out but had failed to do that completely.

David is living on a knife-edge. He has to be careful to stay on Achish’s good side and so when Achish enquires where David went raiding he told him areas of Judah and Israel: When Achish asked, “Where did you go raiding today?” David would say, “Against the Negev of Judah” or “Against the Negev of Jerahmeel” or “Against the Negev of the Kenites.” (v.10)  To maintain this lie David had to completely eradicate any group he went against: “He did not leave a man or woman alive to be brought to Gath, for he thought, “They might inform on us and say, `This is what David did.’ ” And such was his practice as long as he lived in Philistine territory.” (v.11) It was literally the only way he could survive and as a result, “Achish trusted David and said to himself, “He has become so odious to his people, the Israelites, that he will be my servant forever.” (v.12)

However it got even more dangerous: “In those days the Philistines gathered their forces to fight against Israel. Achish said to David, “You must understand that you and your men will accompany me in the army.” David said, “Then you will see for yourself what your servant can do.” Achish replied, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.” (28:1,2) It gets even worse as the Philistines prepare to attack Israel and as much as David is on the run from Saul we know he did not want to raise a hand against him and so as we move on we find, “The Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, and Israel camped by the spring in Jezreel. As the Philistine rulers marched with their units of hundreds and thousands, David and his men were marching at the rear with Achish. The commanders of the Philistines asked, “What about these Hebrews?” (29:1,2) The good news, as we shall see, is that the commanders of the Philistines were naturally unhappy about having David behind them as they go to fight Israel.

Achish argues on David’s behalf (29:3b-5) but has to give way to his commanders and so somewhat apologetically explains it to David  (v.6,7) and David pleads innocence (v.8) and Achish has to press him further to leave which he does (v.9-11). When David gets back to Ziklag (30:1) he finds that Amalakites have plundered the town and taken all their women and children (v.2-4). To cut a long story short David and his men pursue them, overcome them and bring back their families but we should perhaps note David is still seeking the advice and direction of the Lord: Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” Abiathar brought it to him, and David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?” “Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.” (v.7,8)

What is also interesting is how when they return David uses the plunder they capture from the Philistines: “When David arrived in Ziklag, he sent some of the plunder to the elders of Judah, who were his friends, saying, “Here is a present for you from the plunder of the LORD’s enemies.” (v.26)

I have headed this study ‘Trials and Tribulations’ because this is a time in David’s life which I am sure he would not have wished for that was trying and difficult. The difficulty was that he was still a warrior and Israel were still his people but he was living with the enemy. However there were other enemies and so he seems to have used his time to deal with them in such a way that it remained a secret and it still appeared to his hosts that he was fighting against Israel. This life of almost two lives nearly brought him to the place where he might have had to fight against Israel but was fortunately saved from that by suspicious Philistine leaders. He then finds that one of his other enemies have come and plundered his home town and has to go and complete the job of dealing with them,  Finally he uses the plunder to bless his friends back at home in Israel.

It is a highly convoluted and unnerving experience. What can we learn about David from all this? Well he never went against his own people and so remained loyal to Israel during this time. In fact he went further and continued to deal with some of their old enemies who had continued to be a thorn in their side. Amazingly therefore, he continues to act as a commander of an Israelite fighting force even while living under the feet of one of Israel’s primary enemies. In it all we see he is still loyal to the Lord and seeks His wisdom. He is also loyal to his friends in Israel.

There are good things in the midst of this confusing time of his life. Let’s just accept it, life is sometimes confusing and not because of wrong things we have done. David is not on the run because he has done wrong things, quite to the contrary in fact. It is, as we’ve noted previously, a fallen world where people ad circumstances seem to pile up against us. Remember in it, the Lord is there with you and calls you to remain loyal to him, however confusing things may appear to be. Hang in there! Confusing circumstances do not mean He no longer loves you; they just mean the enemy is having a little rant for the moment. As we said, hang in there! You might be a king  – a ruler over the circumstances – tomorrow!

24. A Teachable Spirit

Meditating on the Will of God: 24:  A Teachable Spirit

Ex 4:12-15   Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.

We have said before that when you are considering these things it pays to be repetitive. We have also noted that when it comes to the will of God, it is not natural for us to know and understand it; it needs to come by revelation. Also at the heart of the experiences of Jesus’ followers was the call to be a disciple, a learner. But we have also considered the issue of having a hard heart (as in the case of Pharaoh) and so when you put all these things together we see that to be a Christian means to be a learner and to be a learner means we must deal with any signs of a hard heart within us. We’ve also noted that in the day in which we live, a self-centred attitude predominates, often heard in the words, “Don’t you tell me what to do!” Such a person is locked into a self-destructive lifestyle where the blindness of sin prevails.

          We have chosen the above passage from the Lord’s conversation with Moses, very simply because near the end of it twice the Lord says He will teach Moses. Yes, He is aware that He is sending Moses on a humanly impossible task but He will go with him, He will do miracles through Him and now, He will teach him what to say and what to do. Now if that was true for Moses, I suggest it is also certainly true for us. We blunder through life and we get it wrong. We say wrong things and upset people, we do things the wrong way and get in a mess. We do need help, we do need teaching how to do things better – and God delights in teaching us.

          James in his letter wrote, If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (Jas 1:5-8) I have included all those verses because they say so much about this. First of all, ‘wisdom’ is the ‘knowledge of how to…’ It is knowing how to speak or knowing how to act, that is appropriate for the situation. That is wisdom and the Lord says He will give generously (plenty of it) without finding fault (for He understands our shortcomings and that is why we are asking for help, after all).But the person asking must not doubt because if he does then he will not stick to what he has been told by God. If he doubts that it is God or doubts what God says, he will half-heartedly go about it and will end up all over the place like a boat tossed around in a storm. If he is a “on one hand this, but on the other hand that” sort of person that is being double minded and not a man of faith and so will be unstable. No, in summary, God delights in teaching us how to speak or act but we have to be open and obedient.

          Now what is interesting, and what we so often forget, is that those words in James follow other verses and really should be seen in the light of those verses: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:2-4) The context for needing wisdom is the context of trials, of difficulties, where our faith is tested as God works the process of sanctification out in us, that develops perseverance – stick-ability – and that will develop maturity. In those situations, and they crop up again and again in life, we need wisdom, we need God to teach us how to handle the difficult situation.

Elsewhere the apostle Paul wrote, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Cor 10:13)  A temptation is the other side of the coin from a trial. God brings a trial and He may allow Satan to bring a temptation but the truth is, says Paul, that whatever temptation comes it is common to us all and God won’t let us be pushed further than that with which we can cope. Moreover (as we seek Him – implied) He will provide a way so we can stand in the face of it. It, so often, is simply knowledge (realization of what is happening) and understanding (coming to see the issues clearly) and wisdom (knowing what to do) that will see us through this test, this trial, this temptation.

But back to our starting place, we will only be able to do this if we have learnt to have a teachable heart, or a teachable spirit. If we have learnt that God knows best and God has the answers for us, then we need to be open to receive those things from Him, we need to let Him teach us. In the previous study we noted the Lord who corrects or chides us and teaching includes us being corrected and taught the right way to go. Solomon wrote, “A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” (Prov 15:5).  Discipline is simply training and it is a foolish person who does not have an open heart to be taught. The heart is indeed deceitful (Jer 17:9) and so our inner self so often denies that we are not open to be taught, but when we do that we do it by making excuses that the form of correction that we see coming is coming from a person who is also less than perfect (because God so often uses people to teach us). But these are just excuses and they deceive us and cover up our lack of being open to being taught, to be trained, to being disciplined, to being corrected, and to being shown a better way to live than the way we are on at the present.  We need to be taught, and if anything rings true here, we need to go to the Lord for His wisdom as to how to deal with our lack. May it be so.

5. Trials Prove Faith

Meditations in 1 Peter : 5 :  Trials Prove Faith

1 Pet  1:6,7 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 honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

The changes that have taken place in the West especially, in the past fifty years, have brought new pressures to Christians. Possibly the biggest pressure has come through the philosophy of materialism which has been bolstered because we have gone through a time of unparalleled affluence and technological change. This has had a number of effects but one of them is that we have entered into a new level of peace and comfort, which we have almost come to believe is our natural right. The only trouble is that we still live in a Fallen World and don’t seem to cope so well when things don’t go well.

Peter, like James in his letter, brings us right down to earth in terms of practical faith. He has just be saying how wonderful it is that we have this inheritance stored up for us once we leave this planet. That is why he starts here with, “In this you greatly rejoice”. It is really wonderful that we have this assured future. But then we stop looking up, and we look around us and we realise that all is not quite so wonderful here today! Oh no, Peter is very realistic when he speaks of us having to suffer “grief in all kinds of trials.” That paints the picture with big bold black strokes! You are going to have grief! Why? Because in this Fallen World we are going to experience things going wrong, which Peter refers to as ‘trials’.

James, in his letter, had exactly the same understanding: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (Jas 1:2,3). Do you see the language used by both of them: grief in all kinds of trials” and trials of many kinds.” It’s not just the odd, occasional thing going wrong; it’s a world that is Fallen and where things go wrong all the time!!!!   Be realistic! We get sick, we have accidents, we do things wrong or badly or not as well as we could, and that has consequences; other people are nasty and say or do bad things, and so it goes on. If that seems a black picture of the world, it is, but the truth also is that the Lord is with us in it and, as we’ve recently noted, His power and wisdom is available for us so we don’t have to feel bad about it all.

There are two ways we can respond when ‘things go wrong’. The first is to sag and get full of gloom and doom and be negative. When this happens we also tend to be in a place of generally weak faith. We become anaesthetised and spiritually weak at the knees, and fruitful is the last way we could describe ourselves. In other words we just go down under whatever it is.

The second way we can respond is to view whatever it is as a test or a trial of your faith, knowing that God has equipped you to cope with just such things. That is the positive approach in line with what the Bible teaches. This is what Peter says is going on when you suffer grief from the many and varied trials that come along. He says that it is so that, your faith– may be proved genuine.” You think you have faith, you say you have faith, but how do you know that you really do have faith? The answer has to be only when it is tested and shown, and that happens when things happen that require us to rely upon what God has told us. So often in these meditations we have noted that faith comes by hearing what God says and faith is responding to what He has said. So when the trial comes along, do we believe what He has said, that His grace is sufficient for us (2 Cor 12:9), and it is all sufficient for all we need (2 Cor 9:8) and that He will meet all our needs through Christ (Phil 4:19), so that we can do anything He puts before us (Phil 4:13)?

This faith, says Peter isof greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire.” What a comparison! Gold is of immense wealth and value, but gold when it is refined by fire can actually be destroyed, whereas our faith when it is refined by difficult circumstances becomes stronger.

But there is more. When we come through our trial and our faith is proved genuine, we see that it may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Our faith can bring glory to God. Jesus taught that: “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) i.e. the way we live our lives can point people to God and bring glory to Him. This is what Peter is saying as well. Your real faith will reveal Jesus to the people around you. That is the possibility for your life and mine. As we respond to what the Father has said, and continues to say, and our faith is shown to be real and based upon Him, others can see and understand and realise that He is real and we are what we are because of Him. May that be so!

9. Temptation

Meditations in James: 9 :  Going through the Door of Temptation

Jas 1:13-15 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Trials, tests and temptations are all expressions of the same thing.  Trials, we might say are simply the general descriptions seen from our perspective when life gets difficult. Tests are the same thing but seen from God’s perspective. God allows trials to act as a test of where we are in terms of spiritual maturity, and as a means of strengthening us. Temptations are the same things but seen from Satan’s perspective as a means that he can use to cause our downfall. Every test actually involves a temptation, even if it is just the one to give up.

James, you will remember, is very mindful that the people of God are now scattered in the world, dispersed to be light and salt in fact, and is aware that living in the midst of the world we thus live in an environment that is sometimes hostile and very difficult. He wants to call us into a place of awareness of what is going on. In fact this call is really not seen so clearly anywhere else is the Bible. He wants us to be clear about trials, tests and temptations and now moves on to clarify our thinking about the temptation aspect of all this.

Look, he says, when you are tempted, don’t blame God. God NEVER tempts us because temptation is a prompting to do wrong – and sometimes we fail and give way to it, and God doesn’t ever want us to do wrong. God is always working to lead us into righteousness, into doing what is good and right. When there is a trial, and there is a temptation aspect to it, that temptation aspect doesn’t come from God. Yes, God uses the trial and the temptation but he never brings the temptation part of it, because that part always has a different origin. To see that origin, let’s go first back to the Garden of Eden. The very first temptation came to a sinless couple, Adam and Eve. He prodded them to take unilateral action, separate from God, disregarding what God has said, in other words to be disobedient. They chose to respond to him and temptation became sin.

Now because we all are tainted by sin, which Paul refers to in Christians as our old nature,  if we allow that old nature to remain, then we become vulnerable to the whispers of the enemy who suggests that we give way to that old nature and do our own thing regardless of God. Thus in the midst of a trial, when we are feeling pressurised and weak, that old nature that James calls evil desire, rises up in self-centred concern and submits to the suggestion from the enemy. Some people wrongly say, “Satan made me do it!” No he didn’t; you simply made an act of will to submit to his suggestion. He has no power over a Christian unless you give him it. Because there was an areas of your old life that has not been put to death, you were vulnerable at that point and temptation rose up, either from within that old nature or by Satan whispering to you, and you either had to battle with it and overcome, or give way and sin. No wonder Paul uses such language as,do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” (Rom 6:12) and Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature (Col 3:5)

But temptation is like a doorway that appears before you in your life and if you go through it, it has consequences, dire consequences! James spells it out. He starts out each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. That is the temptation, your unsanctified desires, desires of the old nature that you have not put to death, tugging at you to pull you off course, enticing you away from what is good and right. It is like a doorway of temptation stands there inviting you to go through it, leaving the holy ground that you’ve been called to, to step outside the kingdom of God and do the same as the occupants of the dominion of darkness (see Col 1:13). When we do give way and go through that doorway, we sin. When we do wrong we have two paths immediately ahead of us. The first is the path of repentance back to God: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9). The other path is the path of self-justification and blame of others (see Adam & Eve – Gen 3:12,13) and because the sin has not been properly dealt with, it makes us more vulnerable to further attacks or temptations from the enemy, and the eventual consequence of ongoing sin is death.

So, are there things in our lives that fit into the category of the things that Paul tells us to ‘put to death’,sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed (Col 3:5) and anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips (Col 3:8). If we tolerate these things they will be the means of our downfall. Yes, it is sometimes a difficult world and yes, temptations do sometimes come, but we can minimize them by getting God’s help to deal with these issues which, if left, make us vulnerable and cause our downfall. Ensure you deal with them. Don’t risk the alternative. You aren’t as strong as Satan would like you to think you are. The old nature, if not put to death, will rise up and bite you. Don’t let it happen. Go to God, confess it, and deal with it before Satan has any further opportunity to cause your downfall. Do it!

6. Doubting

Meditations in James: 6 :  No Room for Doubting

Jas 1:6-8 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

I think if we are honest, there are verses in the Bible that we hurry by because we either don’t understand them, or we have a feeling about them and don’t like what we feel. I’m afraid these verses are like that for me. Yet I wonder how many of us relish what we read here today? It’s those words he must believe and not doubt. I mean, it is easy to believe and not doubt when everything is going well but the context of this is what we’ve already looked at – trials!   But it’s more than ‘just’ trials; it’s trials that require perseverance because they go on and on, and they are trials that need wisdom to know how to cope, and it’s all about asking for wisdom that he is talking about here. In such situations it isn’t easy not to doubt.  Because of the whole nature of a trial your faith is being tested and your temptation is to doubt, but James is quite uncompromising: he must believe and not doubt!

We live in a day when much counseling is gentle and understanding but for the apostles the truth is something to be taken hold of and used, and so for them they haven’t got time to be gentle. James is so often right in your face. You want to ask for wisdom from God who gives generously without finding fault? Then don’t be half-hearted about it! Don’t let there be any room for doubting. Grab hold of the truth and believe it: God loves you, is for you and wants to give you wisdom to help you through. Believe it! No messing around, believe it! But it gets worse. He explains what a doubter is like. You’re like a wave in the sea that is at the mercy of the wind, so it gets buffeted about all over the place. Imagine a little boat on the waves or a cork bobbing around. They are both being pushed all over the place, changing direction all the time, driven by whichever way the wind is blowing. It’s a powerful picture and, says James, that is what the man who asks without faith is like.

It gets worse. This person is double minded he says. They say they believe but they doubt. They pay lip service to God’s word but when it comes to it they are driven by desires or other people or circumstances. When we come to the Lord, our motivation should be the truth of the word of God which has captured our hearts. We shouldn’t just pray because in trial we want peace, or because other people tell us we ought to pray, or because the circumstances are so annoying us we’re forced to pray. No, prayer should come as a natural expression of our relationship with the Lord, out of a sure conviction that He loves us, if for us, and loves to give generously and without finding fault.

If we don’t have that conviction then it will be those other expressions of ‘wind’ buffeting us that will have motivated us to pray, and they will all be self-centred, and as such our praying will be off-beam and we won’t get what we ask for. James is going to pick up this theme a bit later and develop it some more. Very simply, prayer should not be ‘driven’ by self-concerns but should be an act of faith, responding to the word of God and the prompting of His Spirit. When we pray in this way we will find the things we are asking for are in line with God’s heart, in line with His will, and because they are, He will grant them. How often Christians come to God with a ‘shopping list’ of things they want, instead of enquiring, “Lord, what do you want for me?”

There are times in the prophetic Scriptures of the Old Testament when the prophet or psalmist receives a word from the Lord about the Lord’s will and the next thing we find them doing is praying for it. The person who lacks understanding will say, “Why is he praying for what he has already declared?” and the answer is because he has heard that this is God’s will and he knows that the things to ask for in prayer are the things that are on God’s heart. The things that simply emanate from our hearts, that are self-centred, are so often wrong and we wonder why they are not answered!!!

Asking God for wisdom is coming to God acknowledging our lack and His ability to provide. This is a good heart position to have, but that is only stage one. Stage two is built on that good start. Yes, it is good to realize our own inadequacy and our own inability and it is good to realize the Lord’s ability, but stage two requires that we believe about Him what the Bible teaches, that God is good, God is love, and that God delights in giving to His children. There are those who wallow in half of stage one, that they are inadequate. That isn’t faith. It is semi-realism.

Faith is the sure belief (because we’ve heard it in His word and by His Spirit) that God knows the answer to every problem, every difficulty, and God wants to give us the answers to the difficulties that face us daily. Faith also says, “He wants me to have His answers, so I can ask Him in assurance that He will give when I come with an open heart.” This person’s faith is anchored by the truth. They are not being blown all over the place; they are not firing up desperate petitions of all shapes and kinds. They know they have a problem and that God has the answer and that He delights in giving generously and without finding fault. They ask with assurance; they ask in faith. Let’s be those sort of people! 

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!

36. Frailty

Meditations in Job : 36.  The Frailty of Mankind

Job 14:1 Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.

When reading Scripture, it is important that we always examine the context and realise that words spoken in one context may have a different purpose than when spoken in another. We say this because similar words to those found here were spoken by Eliphaz (e.g. 5:7 man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.”) and Bildad (e.g. 8:9 “our days on earth are but a shadow.”) but in their case they sought to show that Job is part of the sinful human race and that he should repent of his sin. Now when Job says similar words he is asking the Lord why He bothers with frail mankind.

“Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” (v.1). This is his starting point and, as we’ve commented before, it is only half a picture, even though it is true. Living in this fallen world does mean that things go wrong and part of our life mission, if you like, is to learn to overcome difficulties.  “He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.” (v.2) The older you get the more you realise just how fleeting life is. You look back over the years and wonder where they have gone. As you look around you, you see people who seemed to be snatched away by death in youth or middle age and realise that life is indeed very frail. You read of floods, hurricanes, train crashes and so on, and realise that we are not the masters of our destiny.

He wonders why God bothers with us. “Do you fix your eye on such a one? Will you bring him before you for judgment?” (v.3) It’s like he says, “When I look at our lives in this fallen world, our weakness and frailty, I wonder why you should bother to play around with us; you know what we’re all like.”  He realises it is a fallen world and we are fallen people and so asks, “Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one!” (v.4) Because we are fallen, how can God make us pure. We are inherently sinners and so it is a constant struggle to be pure – that is why he had continually offered sacrifices on behalf of his family. We are in God’s hands, so what’s the point: “Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” (v.5) God can take us any time He wishes and indeed, He knows exactly how long He’s decreed we will be on this earth, so what’s all the fuss about! He concludes with a plea: “So look away from him and let him alone, till he has put in his time like a hired man.” (v.6)  In other words, please leave me alone and let me work out the time you have allotted me. There’s no point in anything else (implied).

Then he turns and considers the futility of death in humans. He compares us with trees: “At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant.” (v.7-9). That’s the truth; cut a tree down and shoots will come forth and life will continue, but that’s not how it is with us: “But man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more.” (v.10) When we get ‘chopped down’ and die, that’s it, the end!  “As water disappears from the sea or a riverbed becomes parched and dry, so man lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more, men will not awake or be roused from their sleep.” (v.11,12) In the same way that a water bed dries up, so when a person dies their life ebbs away and nothing is left.

Now as we’ve commented before, in the midst of his suffering, Job loses perspective and so only sees half a picture, and indeed, because he lives so early in human history he hasn’t the revelation of the Bible. What he has just said is only half true. Yes, we do life in a fallen world and we are inherently sinners and we will one day die, but there is very much more to the picture than that. We are creatures who are made in the image of God and although we are fallen, God has worked through His Son at Calvary two thousand years ago, to redeem us, so that we can be truly called children of God, so we can live out meaningful, purposeful and glorious lives for however long we have on this earth, with all of His grace that is available to us, and then we ‘emigrate’ and go to heaven to live with God for eternity. Now if you are unsure about this, please read back over this last paragraph for this is the clear and distinct teaching of the New Testament.

We may not always understand what is going on in life – and indeed some would say we never truly know what is going on this side of heaven – yet God IS with us and He IS for us, and His grace and wisdom and power IS there for us, to help us through. Yes we can blow it and we can mess up, but even in that He IS working for our good. Trials, tests, and temptations may come but His objective in allowing them, is to teach us to overcome with His help. So important was what I said in the previous paragraph, that I am going to conclude this meditation with it again, so please read it through carefully, for this IS the teaching of the New Testament:

We are creatures who are made in the image of God and although we are fallen, God has worked through His Son at Calvary two thousand years ago, to redeem us, so that we can be truly called children of God, so we can live out meaningful, purposeful and glorious lives for however long we have on this earth, with all of His grace that is available to us, and then we ‘emigrate’ and go to heaven to live with God for eternity. We ARE people of purpose, and as the Westminster Catechism starts out:“What is the chief end of man?  Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.”