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.
Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure. Ephesians 1:4-5 NLT
God chose us long before we ever thought about choosing Him. He has made it possible for us to be holy, fully accepted and in the closest of relationships by accepting what Jesus has done for us — there’s nothing to earn.
Everybody has a need to belong. And to belong to the family of God, with heavenly privileges and standing — it is not just belonging, it is being esteemed by God and the company of heaven!
Two threads run through the Bible which at first sight seem to be contradictory.
One is the idea of election, or being chosen. That is mentioned here. Even before creating the world, God chose people like us (He operates outside our rules of time and place) to be holy, like Him, and with Him.
The second is free will — God did not create man as an automaton, He did not create us to be boringly, unthinkingly subservient, either. So the choice of predestination also brings with it the element of our choice and our response to Him. We are free to be as independent as we like, although independence taken too far doesn’t play out well, it becomes close to a definition of, or root cause of, sin.
The children of Israel were God’s first chosen people, and they were set apart from other nations to know God and live by His ways. The code of conduct He gave them through Moses seems complicated and pedantic to us, but these were tribal, nomadic people with an oral learning tradition, and surrounded by evil influences where life was cheap and belief was superstitious. They had freedom to live well before God, or to make mistakes and there was grace to learn from them.
That’s the background to what Paul writes here, to people who had no historic reason to consider themselves chosen unless they were Jewish, and even then the fulfilment of their ‘chosen-ness’ had come in Jesus Christ. God has always intended the Jews to be the people who would demonstrate a knowledge of the true and living God, and lead others to know Him. Now Paul is writing to a church assembly which is multicultural. All can share an understanding of the historic background, going back to creation itself. But now Jesus has made a way through the barrier of sin which kept people apart from God. Through Jesus, and only through Him, all can share in fulfilling God’s desire for people created in His image to choose to be His.
Receiving what Jesus has done
He has chosen us to be those who choose Him, and to have His life in us, connecting with the huge privilege of sonship which was always the intention. Through personally deferring to Jesus and trusting Him with our lives by asking Him into our hearts, we can be counted blameless and holy by grace — receiving what Jesus has done.
This is very different from trying to live a holy and blameless life. Christ in our heart changes us, so we want to live as those who are His — and are enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit in us.
Over the centuries the relationship of Christianity, us knowing God personally through Jesus, has been institutionalised. Relationship is difficult and unpredictable, and so the ingenuity of man has constructed various systems to achieve a holy and blameless life with priests, rituals, monastic and celibate setting apart and various legalistic adherences to words of Scripture — all of which fall short of the spirit behind the words, which is all about the relationship.
By contrast, sonship is the ultimate relationship. There isn’t a higher aspiration. If we have that, we are freed from the need to work to achieve it, and freed to live in this new identity.
God chose you before birth, called you and revealed Himself to you. For what?
What is your destiny, your special purpose in His plan?
To God, you are chosen, you are special, unique even. How would He introduce you?
No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord. Isaiah 54:17 NIV
The world’s hatred of what is right and true can be real enough, but God’s love is far greater, and if we know we are His, He is for us1. This “heritage of the servants of the Lord” translates for believers into the new covenant in Jesus, which is founded on even better promises2
In our society generally, murder has provoked strong public reaction and a demand for severe sentencing. Strangely, murder of a person’s reputation is not seen in the same way, although strongly forbidden throughout the NT gospels and letters.
Yet false witness is such a fundamental evil it is called out in the Ten Commandments3. In the NT we find slander paired with malice as evils to avoid, and the fact that almost every letter to churches warns against this, shows it to be common even in Christian communities4.
Sooner or later we will encounter the reaction of someone who feels threatened or just jealous, in harsh and untrue words. Everyone who aspires to leadership tastes the bitterness of betrayal from someone who should have been counted a supporter.
Moses faced this on a number of occasions, notably in Korah’s ‘insolence’ (NIV)5.King David endured this from one of his sons who would gather support from travellers entering the city gate, by suggesting that his justice was better than his father’s6.
Today, politicians and sometimes civil servants face the subtle and difficult to defend attacks of ‘briefing against’.
Unlike physical assault, or direct confrontation, slander evades debate or defence. It is also the favoured tactic of the devil whose name, Satan, means accuser or slanderer7.
If we belong to Jesus, or even if we are on a righteous path, we are a target and the enemy of our souls, making use of suitably compliant and undiscerning people, will use this weapon to discredit or if possible, destroy what is God-given. It is “the heritage of the servants of the Lord” — it goes with the territory, as we say.
However, if we are the Lord’s and submitted to Him and His way, lies will be revealed, truth will come out and God’s order will prevail. Not immediately — there has to be a process of turning and realisation. The kingdom of God is no spiritual dictatorship, even if at times we wish it was! There are the twin currents of freewill and grace flowing, and those who have been deceived and used by Satan need every opportunity to find the way back into God’s will. But the promise of Scripture is that the weapon of evil words will not prevail and those assaulted by them will be enabled to set the record straight so that truth can bring healing to all.
Who has talked about you untruthfully to others? Who has been a false accuser? Now do the very hard but powerfully Jesus-like thing of forgiving them — extending to them the grace that God extended to you when He invited you into his kingdom. Not waiting for an apology, or confronting them personally — this is between you and God.
Father, You know what has been said (outline the accusation and how it made you feel). Now I choose to forgive (name them) without condition. Whatever compensation would be fair, I cancel it. I thank You for Your grace to me, and so I extend grace to (name them) And I choose to call down Your blessing on them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.