7. How to Prepare (2)

Meditations on Isaiah 40: No.7. How to Prepare (2)

Isa 40:3a,4  make straight in the desert a highway for our God, Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.”

We are considering all the obstacles to be removed and the most direct route to be achieved as spoken of in the verses above. We noted so far some of the obstacles, unrighteous attitudes, words and behaviour, that act as obstacles that need to be removed on this ‘Holy Way’, and then thought about being those who yearn for the Lord to come, making a direct path. Now we need to perhaps consider some of the things to be dealt with, that we see in these verses, and consider what they do and why they need dealing with. We have considered the idea of a straight highway implying a need for a hungry heart that yearns for God to come quickly, so now let’s pick up on the ‘ground features’ of verse 4, the details, and see what they say to us.

“Every valley shall be raised up.” Valleys are low places on the earth and speak of the low times of our lives or perhaps, to be more precise, the low feelings we have. When we have allowed the enemy to pull us down we no longer feel we are the glorious children of God that we are in reality. Low self-esteem (and especially low spiritual self-esteem) is an enemy and obstacle to seeing the glory of the Lord come. We need to take hold of the truths of who we are, we need to raise up these valleys so that the highway of faith can allow the coming of the Lord.

Now before we press on with each of these we need to remind ourselves of something we considered before – that these could be words of declaration from heaven, declaring the sovereign will of God that will be executed, and so we need to see each of these as God’s intentions; He is working to do these things, so taking that first one, He is working to lift your faith and impart those truths into your heart.

“every mountain and hill made low.” In this context mountains are major obstacles that obscure vision. You just can’t grasp the panorama of God’s plan, purposes and intents when there is a big mountain obscuring the view. ‘Hills’ in this context are smaller vision obstructions that we take for granted, and that is the difference here between a mountain and hill; the mountain we are very much aware of but the hill we take for granted and just live with. The ‘mountain’ dominates us. Addictions are mountains, failing relationships tend to be mountains, mounting debts are mountains. They are things that fill our view, dominated our subconscious thinking at the very least, if not our conscious thinking, and they are things we feel are beyond us. We know they should not be there, but they are, and we don’t know how to remove them.

How to overcome mountains? It’s a long-term process, I suggest, to build faith and it comes by you spending time with God in His word and in prayer, and when we have the opportunity on a Sunday with the people of God, giving ourselves wholeheartedly to worship and when opportunities arise, receive prayer. When Jesus said, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you,” (Mt 17:20) he was speaking about faith actions and faith comes from hearing and faith grows. It has to exist, and it only needs a mustard seed portion, but it does need faith. David overcoming Goliath is an example of overcoming a ‘mountain’ (see 1 Sam 17) and we should learn from him.

Overcoming and removing ‘hills’? The first thing is to recognise them. They are part of the landscape but not blatantly obvious. We remove them the same way as mountains. Remember, anything that diminishes vision – too much TV, too much computer games, too much sloppy reading and so on. Don’t tolerate it.

“rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” Rough ground is stony and hard and rugged places are tough going. They speak to me of hard-heartedness, set in my ways, refusing to be open to correction. If these things remain, they will hinder and prevent the coming of the glory of the Lord.

If that’s what you want, then accept the misty, grey, unchanging life of dark places, little vision, little excitement, but realise that that is not what God wants for you and He is there just waiting for your heart change that says, “Lord, I want more, I want vision, I want life, I want to see you!” When you can say that genuinely, watch out, He will be there!

 

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30. Dream On

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.30

30. Dream On!

Matt 2:13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt . Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

There are two forms of belief that are equally bad. There is the belief that there is no God, the belief of atheism that flies in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, but there is also the belief that there is a God but He stands outside of this world and has nothing to do with it. Now although all Christians, hopefully, would deny the latter belief, many in fact live as if it were true. In how many churches, and in how many Christians, is there the belief that God talks to his people? Again, many will say that He does, but live like He doesn’t! That is tragic, so we must look at these verses carefully.

Already we’ve seen dreams as a form of guidance twice in the Christmas story. Joseph is with Mary as the result of a dream. He committed his life to her on the strength of a dream. The wise men didn’t go back home via Herod as the result of a dream. Now Joseph has another dream, warning him to take the family south, out of the country into Egypt, before Herod comes searching for the child.

Now consider this more fully. How easy would it have been for Mary to say to Joseph, “Oh, don’t be silly, you’re just worrying unnecessarily. It’s probably because of what those strange men from the East said. Let’s just go home.” How easy it is to write off or find reasons to counter such things. This is the thing about divine guidance; most of the time there is room to doubt it. That’s what faith is about. It’s about responding simply to what God says, and that requires a belief, first of all, that it was God speaking. This is what makes the Christmas story so uncomfortable – when you stop to think about it. It’s about people who get tenuous guidance and base their lives on that. It reminds us that Christians are called to life by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7) and as one well-known preacher said a number of years ago, “Faith is spelt R-I-S-K!”

As we come near to the end of the year, the challenge that this story brings us, again and again, is will we be like these people in this story, will we simply respond to the simple word from God? In one sense, all else is secondary. It’s come up before in this story, and we need to hear it again – and again! Will we give ourselves to what God says? Sometimes we will hear His fresh word very clearly, and in those times it will be relatively easy to do His will. When we’ve had a ‘mountaintop experience’ and the presence of God has been very real, at that point it seems very easy to say, yes, I’ll go, I’ll do it! But what about those other times, the times that are, realistically, the majority of the times, when we are walking alone in the valley – for that’s what it feels like! At those times will our faith be expressed in keeping on faithfully doing the things He’s spoken in His word, the Bible, or the last thing He spoke to us at the last mountaintop experience?

Jesus once put it very simply: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). What he was saying was, when he returns will he find us full of faith, being who we’re called to be, doing what we’ve been called to do, with an ear open to heaven? Joseph heard God through dreams. That was the way the Lord seemed to use most with him. What is it or what will it be with you? Will you hear through His word, through the preaching, or through the quiet nudge of the Spirit? Dream on, read on, listen on, continue to be sensitive – or learn to hear through one or more of these ways. There’s nothing more important than hearing God – except obeying what you hear!

Shadow of Death

WALKING WITH GOD. No.43

Psa 23:3 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

Life in this Fallen World is a complete mix. There are mixes of people. There are some who are incredibly rich and have everything the rest of us could dream of. There are some who are poor and don’t know how they will make it from one day to the next. But there are also varieties of experience within an individual life. There are times when we are healthy and everything seems to be going well, times when we are happy and contented with not a worry in the world. Then there are times when our health deteriorates and we feel low and every step of life seems hard and difficult. And then it gets worse and before we know it we are walking in the shadow of death. Illnesses and accidents occur and what makes it worse, they come with no warning. It would be so much easier if we received a letter from heaven that said, “In two weeks time we have seen that you will be having a serious accident but don’t worry you will be over it in a month.” But we don’t and so we didn’t expect it and we don’t know how it will work out or how long it will take. The absence of those things makes serious illnesses or serious accidents such harrowing experiences. The walk through the valley of the shadow of death is not a pleasant one!

The description of this experience that we have just used, and which David uses in this psalm, is very graphic. A valley by definition is a low place with high sides where you can feel shut in. In a valley sometimes the sun is shut out and so there are shadows so that part of it seems in semi-darkness. David speaks of the shadow of death, a shadow of darkness that seems to hang over you, threatening to completely obliterate the light from your life, when death comes.

You may find in your Bible a note next to the phrase, valley of death, indicating an alternative rendering, through the darkest valley. It may not be death that threatens; it may be a variety of other things. In our nation we live in confusing times. The news recently was of a couple who were falsely accused of child abuse and for two years their children were wrongly taken from them. For two years they walked through a very dark valley, a valley filled with the darkness of frustration, anger, fear, anguish and so on. It was a horrible time. A woman can accuse a man of assault at work and before he knows what has happened he is suspended pending an investigation which may take months. Whereas we once had a society where you were innocent until proved guilty, there is now, in these sorts of cases, implied guilt until innocence has been proved, and those waiting times are times of immense darkness.

It may be that we have fallen and society is not forgiving. We have done something wrong, sincerely regretted it, asked forgiveness of offended parties, but still the Law is going to take its long, slow process, and while it does, we walk through a very dark valley. We wonder how we could have been so stupid, we wish it had never been found it, we wonder what will happen to us, and we wonder is there any hope of being ever able to walk an ordinary, good life again? These are some of the dark valleys that we find ourselves walking in, and in them we even despair of life itself. What help is there?

David had one hope, one help, “you are with me.” The presence of the Lord, the knowledge of His love, those were the things that kept David going. The concept behind the whole psalm was what upheld David – The Lord is my shepherd. David saw that in life, it was the Lord who led him and therefore if, in their walk together, it involved walking through a very dark valley, David would not worry because his shepherd was there looking after him, guiding him, providing for him, protecting him. As one of God’s sheep he knew the security that, although the place or circumstances of the walk may be temporarily dark, it was temporary and even while they walked it, it was as they walked it together. He was not alone and the One who walked it with him was much bigger than the circumstances and would see him through them.

Because such a thing is so common to the human experience, it is quite possible that you are going through a ‘dark valley’ time. Key questions! Do you know that you are one of God’s sheep, one of His children? Do you know Him as your shepherd who is there for you, looking after you in the midst of the circumstances, providing for you and protecting you? It is this knowledge that enabled Paul to instruct, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:18), but note what he says. It is not give thanks for all circumstances but give thanks in all circumstances. You can give thanks that God is there with you and as you put your life in His hands He will provide all you need in that valley to bring you through until you come out the other end. There will be an end, and until you get there, remember, you are not alone, The Shepherd is there with you in it.