The punishment you brought me through was the best thing that could have happened to me, for it taught me Your ways. Psalms 119:71 TPT
Life is not all plain sailing and threats and difficulties arise. God does not cause these but uses the difficulties to strengthen our relationship with Him, and get us exercising our faith.
The present fall and then rise in Covid-19 infections teaches us a fundamental principle: when everything is going well, we become more careless.
This is our experience of isolating or gathering, which is about being socially responsible — or negligent. How rigorous we are about maintaining a good sanitisation regime is about being practically diligent — or lax.
Psychology tells us that how we perceive the threat — increasing, or decreasing — drives how we react to and safeguard against danger.
So what happens in the spiritual realm? Our spiritual awareness, we could argue from Scripture, is an overarching influence that governs all of the other strands. The Holy Spirit in our lives doesn’t tell us how to live or what is morally unacceptable. That is much more the voice of religion.
But He leads our thinking, gives us prompts, nudges our decisions and gives us an inward witness of what is good or what might be a danger. But He can only do this when we listen. When we give Him space. When we ask. We have to make the running, ask the questions prayerfully, seek wisdom — and then it is up to us to put it into practice.
How much do we need His guidance? “All the time,” comes the ready answer, but of course our perception is that we need guidance more when difficulty threatens and less when the going seems easy. And that’s the danger, right there. Complacency and self-sufficiency are what lead us away from faith, from seeking God, being open to His leading and — most damaging and sinful — from knowing our dependency on Him
What is God teaching you about His ways through the difficulty you are battling with right now? How could you use this to encourage someone else to exercise faith?
Then call on Me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give Me glory.”
Psalm 50:15 NLT
God is already close for us to turn to Him — it’s all on us to call.
From the first day at a new school onwards through life, knowing that there is someone looking out for you is good. Just that person being there is one of the big factors that governs whether we feel secure or not.
In adult life, being part of something bigger than oneself has traditionally helped to balance that sense of isolation. In the past century, many people spent part of their lives in the armed services, and the sense of belonging to something bigger carries on with the Royal British Legion, reunions and other connections. It was an age of belonging and identifying — with a political party, or within a trade union or professional association.
For many, belonging to their local church was as much part of their local identity as it was spiritual. Where club membership is an important part of the culture, church can easily be treated as another club, with its committee rewarding long involvement with a title.
The present age is individualistic and a distrust of institutions has made people wary. It is no longer an age of belonging. Nor is it an age of formality. At times, the two went together, the institutional identity, the respectful titles. Now, politicians and pundits alike appear on television in ‘smart casual’. Older readers might remember (or be aware anecdotally) how early BBC television presenters wore evening dress!
That facet of something bigger and grander than oneself has disappeared. But it’s not all bad. The need for a personal connection with a personal, loving God is all the greater. Jesus — simply known without formality or the packaging of an institution or organisation — has made it possible for us to know who to call when we are in trouble, who will rescue us, and who we give the glory to. And not just possible, but more desirable than ever before.
How is your sense of belonging and safety changing, and where is God in it?
O LORD, do not stay far away! You are my strength; come quickly to my aid!
Psalm 22:19 NLT
God is our strength, and any of us who believe in Him enough to turn to Him, can simply ask for His help.
These words were written as a prayer by King David, the renowned godly, worshipful and generally righteous leader of Israel. He saw Israel become prosperous and secure, as never before. Yet — perhaps because of His dogged devotion to God — he attracted some vicious opposition. Good dispels evil, but it also attracts the attention of evil. There is a prophetic picture in this psalm which is a remarkable fit with the circumstances of Jesus undergoing crucifixion. According to Mark and Matthew, His last words were the opening words — the context of today’s verse — which are: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” What is happening in heaven can seem disconnected with what we are experiencing on earth. Prayers, even desperate ones, can appear to be unheard and unanswered. But David, in our verse, puts “Do not stay far away!” together with what he believes and trusts: “You are my strength”. When we cry out to God and nothing seems to happen, it is good to be reminded that this is normal! The gospel accounts of healings and deliverances are very compressed accounts. They can read as more instant than they are. There is usually a time element in there. Sometimes Jesus asks His question again. Sometimes He prays again. Sometimes the salvation occurs as the person starts to journey back. We don’t have a full picture of /how long/ Jesus was with the sufferer. Faith is like a bungee rope which connects our appeal with receiving heaven’s response. For a time it just pulls out. You have jumped off Clifton Suspension Bridge in your harness and it feels like free fall, far too long in free fall! But this is normal. This is where faith is generated, and does its work. This is where the bungee takes up its tension. Where are you, in your feeling of ‘plunge to disaster’ right now? Is it the terrifying weightlessness of free fall? Or are you starting to feel the restraining pull of heaven’s support? What matters is not wavering from our declaration: “God, You are my strength”. Especially when it really doesn’t feel like it.
For a prayer based on this verse, go to this page on www.glowweobley.com
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.
Ephesians 1:7 NIV
A little more interpretative in the New Living Translation:
He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins.
Ephesians 1:7 NLT
There’s one act of the heart for us — to believe — and four things that happen without us doing anything more. The grace of God forgives us and puts our lives right and gives us new life and new identity — because of what Jesus has done on our behalf.
A recently-released film, Outside the City, by Christian filmmaker Nick Hamer, explored the life of Britain’s only Cistercian Trappist monastery at Mount St Bernard, Leicestershire over a three-year period. During this time they invested in modern brewery equipment and began to brew their own niche brand of bottled ale. By contrast with this specialised activity, the rule of life they follow values quietness and reflection. There was a scene in the refectory where instead of conversation the Abbott is reading from the Rule of Benedict, and we hear (approximate quote): “Be sparing with your words… for if your words are many, their emptiness is great.”
Churchgoing in the UK is in sharp decline, in the traditional denominations at least, and one thing often cited is the association of worship services with unwarranted wordiness. We may fall into the trap of too many words and too little meaning, but Paul didn’t. In this one verse and about 20 words he sets out five massive foundations of Christian faith:
Being joined to Christ — our new life “in Him”
Redemption — the NLT puts this plainly as “He purchased our freedom”. If someone else paid the fine for a prisoner’s offence, or purchased the freedom of a slave from the owner, that person was described as having been redeemed.
Through His blood — the OT principle was clear, that without the shedding of blood there could be no forgiveness. The worship of God through priests offering sacrifices foreshadowed the one, final and conclusive sacrifice made by Jesus Christ in the Cross for our sins, past, present and future. His blood remedies our sin and makes the personal relationship with God possible, no priests required.
The forgiveness of sins — much conventional religion makes a meal of striving to be forgiven, when that forgiveness has already been granted to all who truly believe in and receive to their hearts Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
The riches of God’s grace. What we cannot earn, Christ earned for us. What we cannot achieve, we can receive in and through Him. Most man-centred philosophy revolves around merit — whether or not we deserve a particular reward. That is the basis of the pass mark or grade that operates in school, graduate and professional qualifications, driving tests and promotion boards — and produce shows and ploughing matches! It’s what we are used to, but God deciding to treat us according to His love, not our performance, is difficult to accept. Because accepting us all we can do, to respond to what He has done and the love He has already shown.
For someone who has taken that step of faith to say ‘yes’ to Jesus, it all comes down to just two words — “in Him”. Our being joined, spiritually, with Christ Jesus and His righteousness is a kind of transfusion of God’s life and good motivation.
It upsets our ordinariness. And (something no religion can do) it frees us from needing to prove or earn any moral achievement.