Our Example of Suffering

Due to ongoing COVID restrictions in our area, our church is holding a shorter, socially-distanced service in the building, followed by an online service straight afterwards. In the “live” services at the moment, we are working through a series on the “canticles” of the Bible. In case you are not familiar with the term, a canticle is simply a hymn, typically focussed on a specific biblical text.  

It was my privilege to be able to share a few thoughts this morning on the canticle called “The Song of Christ the Servant” based on 1 Peter 2:21-25. Here follows a written version of what I said this morning in church.  

21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 

22 “He committed no sin, 

    and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 

1 Peter 2:21-25 (NIV)

I want to share a few thoughts with you today about the subject of suffering… and believe me, I know it is perhaps not the most exciting of subjects!  

If I asked you whether Christ was your example, I would imagine many of you would say a definite “Yes!” Christians the world over look to follow the example of Jesus and live as He did. Yet, if I asked you to follow Christ’s example in suffering, I would expect there to be at least a little hesitation.  

None of us enjoy suffering, and it is something we try to avoid at great cost. In our canticle today though, we see that Christ suffered for us, and that we ought to follow His example. Does that mean we are to seek out and jump straight into suffering wherever we can? I think not. Rather, I think we need only to live and sooner or later, suffering will find us in one form or another.  

As Christ said: 

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. 

John 16:33 (NIV)

As long as we live in this world, we will indeed face troubles and suffering. I am not trying to be negative here, but it is a sad fact of life in this fallen world that trouble will come. Specifically though, for the Christian, we will no doubt suffer for the name of Christ. This is the thrust of Peter’s point here. The world did not and does not recognise Christ, and we, His followers, will always suffer for bearing His Name in this world.  

So, if we must suffer, how are we to act while enduring it? These words from Peter give us some ideas.  

For You 

Christ did indeed suffer, but it was not for Himself, it was for you. When we suffer, we must do so for other people and for our God.  

Whenever we put someone else first, we are making a sacrifice of some kind or another. When we act in a way that prefers others to ourselves, we are denying ourselves for their sake. Perhaps it may only be in some small way, but to put others first, we must put ourselves behind.  

In a greater way, we are to suffer for Christ.  

Peter says, in the preceding verses of 1 Peter 2: 

But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 

1 Peter 2:20 (NIV)

There is no credit to us if we suffer because we’ve done wrong. If we break the law of the land, we can hardly claim any hardship for suffering. Yet, if we do what is right before God, and still suffer because and for our faith, then we are commended before the Lord.  

As it says in verse 22, Jesus committed no sin and yet was punished. He did not deserve the suffering He faced, but we, who cannot claim to be without sin, somehow feel we should be exempt from sharing in the sufferings of Christ. For many Christians living in the Western world, we have faced little in the way of persecution in recent times. That tide is turning it seems, and as we choose to live in a godly way, we will indeed face persecution from the world around us.  

So, if we must suffer, let us do so for Him, and for those around us. Let us show by example, that we suffer for the cause of the Gospel and for the benefit of others.  

Do Not Retaliate  

When Jesus was threatened, He did not threaten in return. When Christ was insulted, He did not respond in kind. Rather than using His authority and power to strike down those who abused Him, He chose instead to repay evil with good.  

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 

Romans 12:21 (NIV)

This is the example we are to follow when we likewise suffer. We are not to repay evil for evil, but good. When we are threatened or insulted because of our faith, we must not insult or threaten in return.  

That is not to say we should allow ourselves to be abused or mistreated for any reason at all, and where we can, we should flee from those who would harm us.  

Trust in Him Who Judges Justly 

When we suffer at the hands of others, we long for justice. An eye for an eye! We may cry! Yet, if we are following Christ’ example, we cannot retaliate against those who hurt us. Instead of doing so, Jesus trusted Himself to the One who judges justly – that is, God the Father.  

In the midst of deep suffering, it can be difficult to trust in God. We want to understand why we are facing the trouble we are, and we beg for Him to change it. This is not wrong.  

Yet we must learn to place our complete trust in God. When we are wronged, it is not our place to punish others. We cast our care onto the Lord, and we trust that He – the Ultimate Judge – will one day put right every wrong.  

God is indeed Sovereign, meaning He is in total control. That is a difficult doctrine to swallow during times of suffering. Why, we ask, would God allow such things to happen to us? Such answers may come, or they may not, but either way, we must learn that all God does is for His ultimate glory. God’s primary interest is not our comfort, but His glory. So, if we suffer, we do so for His glory, and we are glad to do so.  

Live for Righteousness 

The canticle concludes by pointing out what Christ’s suffering has achieved for us. He bore our sins in His very own body, He took the wounds that we deserve, and by doing so, He made a way for us to die to our sins and live for righteousness. Put simply, He paid the penalty for our sin, and by trusting in His work, we gain righteousness – that is, right standing with God the Father.  

Verse 25 uses the analogy of sheep. We were once lost sheep, wandering around at risk and in danger. But because of what Jesus did for us, we are reunited with our Good Shepherd, and will rest under His protection for all eternity.  

Christ’s suffering was not pointless, and neither is yours.  

Christ’s suffering was not in vain. His wounds, death and resurrection not only achieved your salvation from your sin, but the pinnacle of all glory unto God.  

If, when we suffer, we do so as Christ did, then we too can bring glory to God. When people around us see how we suffer, when they see that we do not return threats and insults, but instead trust in God’s justice, then they will want to know more about this Christ and what He has done.  

Let your suffering be a banner which draws many to Jesus. Amen!  

Willing to Pray

A while ago, I did a short series of blog posts on the subject of prayer. I’m sure if you search for “pray” or “prayer” in the search box, you’ll come across them. The first in the series was called “What is prayer?” and you can find it here if you’re interested.

In recent days, I have felt something of a burden to pray. Reading that back, I wonder if that’s really a good way to put it. A “burden” sounds like a heavy weight or chore, and it has not felt like that at all. Rather, it is an immense privilege to pray and what I have felt is a stirring of the Holy Spirit to pray more – much more – than I have been.

Truth be told, I’ve started to reflect on my Christian walk of late. On the back of the lockdown in the UK, it has been an extremely busy time in many different respects. Being honest with you, my prayer life has suffered. I run from one thing to the next, seldom stopping to pray over what I’m doing, and essentially crashing at the end of the day without taking time to converse with God about the events of the past 24 hours. Sound familiar at all? I’m sure I’m not alone.

Yet, the book of James tells us that:

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

James 5:16 (NLT)

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces tremendous results… wow! Notice it is no throw-away prayer, but an earnest one. Earnest means sincere or serious in effort, it is not some half-hearted attempt. I could not honestly describe my prayers of late as earnest… can you?

Yet we see how powerful prayer can be! Prayers have great power indeed, and not because we’re so wonderful, but because God is. Prayers produce tremendous results!

How quickly I forget the power of prayer. How unconsciously I slip into not praying and not seeing the wonderful results which James speaks of. I am humbled as I write this, and ask our gracious God to forgive me and to remind me each and every day of the power of prayer. How dare we go one solitary hour without petitioning heaven!

King David was a man of prayer:

I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
hear me when I call to you.
2 May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

Psalm 141:1-2 (NIV)

David continually cries out to the Lord, and expects a swift answer. he compares his prayers to that of sweet smelling incense, ever present before God. May my prayers be as sweet before the Lord, and I pray He will indeed come quickly to my aid when I call on Him.

So, I need your help… please do pray for me, of course, I always seek your prayers! But also, please do let me know how I can pray for you. If you send me a request, I will certainly pray for you and it will help me get my mind off of my own business and on to the things of God.

You can contact me via the Contact page, replying to this post or by commenting on any of the social media feeds. I look forward to hearing from you.

Prayer is indeed a powerful thing to do. I have said it before, but prayer must never become a last resort in our lives. In both good and bad times, prayer ought to be our very first step. It is not about getting all that we want from God, but about living life with Him.

I leave with you these words from the Apostle Paul, which I am sure you know well…

Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

Words to live by. Amen!

Course in Christian Studies

This week I have started on the Course for Christian Studies. This is a two-year course designed to help Christians understand the Christian faith more deeply and to also act as a gateway into various forms of ministry.

For me, I’ve tried to study the Christian faith myself over the years and so hope these early weeks of the course won’t be too stretching for me! We shall see! Theological training is important, and week one of the course is entitled “You too can be a theologian!” Properly handling the Bible and understanding matters of doctrine is important for all believers.

I have wanted to get involved more and more in the life of my church. My gifts largely centre around teaching, and while I have been very fortunate over the years to be able to teach in a variety of ways, if I want to do more in my church then I do need to obtain more formal training. I understand this, and it is wise that those in positions of authority or teaching are properly equipped.

I have been praying a lot about my own ministry and its future. I am certainly keen to explore more formal ministry further, and completing this course is a great first step. Through it, I hope to learn al ot but to also meet other believers on a similar journey. Also, I hope it will help me to more fully understand God’s will for my life.

As I progress on the course, I will try to write about it from time to time. I won’t give you a blow by blow account, but hope to keep you updated on my progress and the things I am learning.

This first course module is all about Encountering God. Those on the course come from a variety of churches and backgrounds, and so we begin by getting to know one another.

One activity involved noting down words we use for and about God. These included:

  • Lion of Judah (see Revelation 5:5)
  • Lamb of God (see John 1:29)
  • Comforter (see John 14:16 (Amp))
  • Advocate (see John 14:16 (Amp))
  • Judge (see Psalm 75:7)
  • And so many more…

God is everything to us, and so one single name does not fully convey Who He is. The Bible refers to God in a huge variety of ways. Some you will relate to, and some you may find more difficult.

We can no more define God than we can measure the distance between east and west. God is beyond our comprehension, and we are shown various dimensions of His character throughout Scripture. And yet, paradoxically, we can know Him. We can know the unknowable. The Almighty God came down as a Man, a human being just like each of us, and He lived a life like we live.

It is a mystery that the God of the Heavens has made Himself known to us through His Son. The God so far above us connects with us on our level. He meets us where we are.

Who is He to you? I will be spending some time this week thinking about this question. Have I put Him in a box, and have I limited Him? Do I know Him as I ought to, or do I concentrate on the bits I want to? I rejoice in His salvation, but do I submit to His Lordship? Have I painted a picture of Him in my mind which is not true, and if so, how can I really learn Who He is from the Bible?

The course this week has challenged me to think about this. I do not wish to limit God, nor do I want to know Him only in part. He is Saviour and Friend, but also Lord and Judge.

We can know God through the Bible, but it tqakes effort on our part. We must study the Scriptures and learn about Him. Not just gathering facts about Him, but understanding Who He is through relationship. I may know my wife’s date of birth, hair colour, shoe size or telephone number yet these are just facts about her and tell me little of who she really is. Likewise, I may gather pieces of data about God and still totally miss Who He is.

Only through systematic study of Scripture can we fully know God as He is revealed to us. Let us leave behind any preconceptions or traditions, and see what the Bible really has to say. I pray that the Holy Spirit will help each one of us do that.

I hope this has been of interest, and I’ll post more about the course over the coming weeks and months.

Potatoes, Eggs and Coffee

I recently heard an interesting illustration I thought I would share with you today.

If you take some potatoes and put them in a pan of boiling water, after a short while, they will become soft and you can even crush them. Take that same pan of water, but instead, add eggs. After a time, the eggs, unlike the potatoes, will go hard. Finally, if you added coffee beans instead to that very same pan of boiling water, this time wonderful flavours and aromas of coffee will begin to emerge.

The point – we are react differently to times of trial. In our illustration, the rolling hot water represents a time of testing for us. If we are like the potatoes, we will become softened and ultimately crushed by the trial. If like the eggs, we would become hard and impliable. Or finally, we could be like the coffee, using the trial to produce something new and wonderful.

Which are you?

In the Bible, James says this:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

James 1:2-3 (NIV)

Consider it pure joy James, come on! Who of us can ever face a time of great difficulty and be joyful in the midst of it? A Christian can, drawing on the strength of God.

No trial is enjoyable, let’s be honest, but we endure it because we know it has a purpose. Here, James points out that our testing and trials produce perseverance. There is a reason for the trials we face, even if we do not see it at the time.

James asks us to be joyful, and not happy. That is an important distinction. Happiness comes from the word “happenstance” meaning circumstances. We are happy when all of our circumstances are how we want them. Joy is not so dependent on such fickle things. Joy is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Galations 5:22-23). We have joy not because our present circumstances are good, but because we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts.

Fruit must be cultivated and developed. I am no gardener, but we do have a small group of fruit trees. I’ve lost several over the years due to not properly taking care of them. The more I care for the tree, the better the fruit I get and the more abundant it is. If you lack joy, is it because you are not taking care of it?

I do not know what trials you face right now, but I do know you have a choice about how you handle them. Don’t let them crush you like the potatoes, nor let them make you hard like the eggs. Use them, don’t waste them! Lean on your Heavenly Father to get through them and be like the coffee, letting those times of difficulty bring out something new in you.

And do let me pray for you. Leave a comment below or on the social media links and I’ll be glad to pray for you and your situation.

Are you a potato, egg or delicious cup of coffee?

Help Me Do This Right

I once heard of a pastor who sadly lost his wife to cancer. In the midst of this tragedy, he knelt down and prayed. “Father God,” he said, “help me do this right.”

What this wise man meant was that he knew the pain of grief might tempt him to act badly at times. His prayer was a request that God would help him be a great witness for Jesus, even in the midst of suffering.

I have thought much about this prayer of late. I recently applied for a new job, and although not facing a tragedy like this pastor, I found myself adopting his prayer. “God, help me do this right. If I get the job, then please help me do it to the best of my ability. If I fail to get it, help me act right even in disappointment.”

Life throws many tests at us. Today, I want to focus on two major ones.

The Test of Failure

How we act when we face times of failure says much about our character. When we do not get what we want, or when disappointment comes knocking, it can be very difficult to act in a godly manner. It can be all the more trying when we set our hearts on something, don’t get it and our friend or enemy gains it instead.

Take my job opportunity example above. Imagine you were applying for your dream job, and yet your colleague, who isn’t all that good in your opinion, gets the job ahead of you. All the hard work you put in, and they step right into it. How hard it is to be civil in such a situation!

When we try, and try hard, and yet fail, it can be devastating. When we feel that way, we may start to feel like the world owes us something and so we take out our anger, disappointment or frustration on those around us. In such times, we can totally ruin our witness for Christ.

Jesus deserved the glory, yet was nailed to a sinner’s cross. He did not call down curses on those who had done it, but rather asked the Father to forgive them.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Luke 23:34 (NIV)

None of us will face such a trial, thank God! Yet there is much to learn from our Saviour’s example. Had the story ended at the cross, then many may have called Jesus’ ministry a failure. Not so! In reality, the cross and the empty tomb alike, were the greatest success of eternity!

If Christ faced such a trial and acted with humility and mercy, then we must also follow His example and act in godliness when we face our own minuscule trials (in comparison).

Draw on Christ’s strength in times of failure. Ask Him to help you act and speak well in the midst of it all.

The Test of Success

The other test I want to mention is the test of success. Like the test of failure, it too offers a great temptation to abandon our humility and godliness. In some ways, the test of success is far harder to pass than the test of failure.

In times of failure and disappointment, we tend to turn to God, knowing that we absolutely need Him. In times of success however, we can start to believe our own hype and foolishly think we succeeded under our own merits or wits. When all is well and times are good, God can be forgotten. One off the major reasons for trials in our lives is to get our attention. Tests make us realise how much we need our Father God!

You have probably heard a number of stories of celebrities or entrepreneurs who started from humble beginnings, but were later inflated with pride and arrogance. Success in this world is often fleeting, and so these people come crashing down.

Few of us reach these dizzy heights of “success” in our everyday lives, yet many of us are blessed with promotions at work, election into church leadership, or taking a key role in the PTA or school governor’s board. Yet success can inflate our ego or puff us up. With success comes responsibility, and often success draws the eyes of others who will certainly notice if you don’t walk the Christian walk.

Be a Good Witness

Success or failure shows off our character. It displays to the world who we really are inside. If we claim to be Christian, then the world will soon point out our tiniest fault.

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:20 (NIV)

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.

Acts 2:32 (NIV)

The prayer, “Help me do this right…” is so simple yet so powerful. I find myself praying it more and more. “Father, help me be the best dad I can be…” “Dear Lord, help me manage my employees well…” “Jesus, as I minister in your Name today, please help me do it right…”

What are you facing today? Do you need to pray this little prayer too? Heavenly Father, whatever we do today, let us do it right! Help us to be a good witness to Your love and faithfulness. When people look upon us, let them see You and what You have done for us. In the mighty Name of Jesus, Amen!

Love or Jealousy (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

If you truly love someone, then it is impossible to be jealous of them

Jealousy is an ugly thing. It is not something we talk much about today, and yet it is a prevalent problem in our society.

To be jealous of someone is to want what they have. Worse, it is to think that they don’t deserve it and that we do. At the heart of jealousy is selfishness. We look on what others have, want it, and our attention is all on ourselves. It may cause us to bitterness, it may cause us to act to undermine the other person, or in extreme cases we may even steal or destroy the very thing we want to prevent them from having it.

None of these are acts of love.

To love someone – to truly love them – is to want the absolute best for them. It has nothing to do with what we do or don’t have, it is just about them having the best. If we love someone and want them to have the very best they can, then it is impossible to be jealous of them. Even if they have the very things we want, that is all overridden by our desire for them to have the very best.

To love is to put them first. It is to put their needs ahead of our own. It is to focus on them and not on ourselves.

The cure for jealousy is love. I put it to you that if you are jealous of someone today, then you perhaps don’t love them truly.

Is there someone you are jealous of right now? What steps can you take to love them better?

Have a great day!

The Rule of Six

Here in the UK, the government have now introduced a new rule known as “The Rule of Six,” which means that outside of work or other specific situations, no more than six individuals should meet together. This is an attempt at preventing further spread of COVID-19 which is on the rise across the country right now.

Some have questioned the new rules, accusing the Government of having no science to back this up. While true, there are no scientific papers to support the idea of six people being anything other than an arbitrary number, it is more a practical decision. Previous rules were somewhat confusing about who could meet and when. The premise of the Rule of Six is to simplify things. Sadly I don’t think it has achieved that.

Our family is a family of six, which means we cannot all meet up with any other person or group. Some point to the absurdity of being able to work with a group of seven people but then not being to go out to lunch with them.

It is all rather easy to criticise the Government in this situation. They cannot get it right for trying. No one wanted a lockdown, and yet they were criticised for not locking down sooner. There is obvious contradiction in their seemingly random approach, encouraging us to eat out one minute and stay home the next. I do want to point out what a difficult job the Government have and it is right that we believers pray for them continually.

This is all well and good, but not exactly my usual approach to blogging. Typically I stick to the Bible and leave politics out. I make no comment here on the new or previous rules, and so turn to the Scripture in our uncertain times.

Whether deliberately or otherwise, a great sense of fear was created around this virus. We have never locked down before, and many – rightly – understood this to mean how serious the situation was. The subsequent consequences to the economy pose an equal or even greater threat, so steps are being made to try to undo the damage. Fear is not so easily dismissed as it is created.

We were not created for fear. In fact, we see that fear was the very first negative experienced by Adam and Eve after the Fall of humanity.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool[c] of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”[d] 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

Genesis 3:8-10 (ESV)

Having eaten of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve realised they were naked. They were just as naked before, but now, for the first time, took their eyes off of God and turned them on themselves. Sin entered the world, and the first emotion they felt was fear. There is no evidence of fear prior to this.

The Bible has much to say about fear – far more than I can ever say in this one short post. Suffice it to say that fear is not what God wants for His people. Fear often stops us obeying the Lord or doing what we know is right. Sometimes we fear other people and so don’t fully serve God, frightened of people’s judgement or criticism.

Many places in the Bible tell us not to fear. It does not necessarily mean do not feel the emotion of fear, but rather, do not allow the fear you feel to stop you doing what you know is right.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)

So how do we conquer fear? How do we master it in these fearful times? I could write a whole book on the subject, but hope these few points help.

We must start from the point of understanding that God does not want us to be afraid. Fear is a very real and powerful emotion at times, but we must harness it, not allowing it to drive us but instead God’s Spirit. As you act and speak this week, ask yourself if the words or deeds are driven by fear or the Holy Spirit.

We must pray through fear. Fear is not an easy foe at times, and so we must stand firm in prayer and draw on the strength of God. If you are facing a particularly frightening time, then please do seek God more and more. Often the thing we fear becomes tiny and insignificant as we compare it to the splendour and majesty of our God!

My final suggestion is to think through the consequences or outcomes of what you fear. For example, a couple of weeks ago I faced a situation which was quite scary. I knew it was coming and was getting anxious about it. As I thought about it however, I realised if it did not work out as I wanted, there were virtually no consequences. at all. Fear and worry about it was a major waste of energy. We play the “What if?” game which can be mentally draining. Many of the things we fear though have little consequence, and even fewer have eternal ramifications.

The world we live in can be a frightening place at times, but you do not face it alone. Fear can be beaten, and we do so in the strength of our Lord. What do you fear right now? Talk to God about it and fight that fear!

Fear Nothing (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

Fear nothing, except God Himself

We are often afraid of many things in life. That fear can prevent us doing what we know is right. Often the fear of other people stops us doing or saying the things that God has prompted us to. Or worse, peer pressure leads us to do things we know are sinful.

The Bible has much to say about fear, and while I do not think the emotion of fear is prohibited in the Scripture, bowing down to it and letting it stop us certainly is.

When this life is over, and we stand before God, all those things we feared will seem rather insignificant. There is nothing to fear, except God Himself.

When we say “fear” these days, we simply mean things that we are scared of. Often people are afraid of spiders, heights or public speaking. This kind of fear is not what we were made for. God does not want His people to be afraid. Evolutionists explain fear as a safety mechanism, and yet we saw no sign of fear in Adam and Eve until after the Fall and sin entered the world.

Our Heavenly Father does not want us to fear Him in the sense of being afraid of Him. Rather, when we speak of fearing God, we mean a reverential fear. This is to highly respect God in His position of Sovereign Lord with the power of eternity in His hands.

Next to God, there is nothing worth fearing. If your fear is stopping you from serving God then cast it out today! Fear nothing, except God Himself!

How Long?

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

Psalm 13 (NIV)

How long, Lord! David cries out in the opening words of this psalm. How many of you have ever felt like that? I know that I have. We face trouble or trial, and we cry out to the Lord wondering where He is or what we’ve done wrong.

David’s words are challenging. He pulls no punches when he speaks with His God. Few of us might dare to speak to God with such fervour. He borders on irreverence it seems, demanding an answer from the God who has seemingly let him down.

In the press we read of celebrities who mock our Lord. Stephen Fry is a well known example of this; only a wicked or evil God could allow such hatred and suffering in the world, he says. He boldly claims that he will demand answers from God when he stands before Him, if He even exists… Yet the sheer hubris of this is galling. To even imagine that we could stand before the Creator of all things and “demand answers” would be amusing if not so sad. We will demand nothing from God when we stand before Him. We will bow the knee, willingly or not, before the One who shaped the universe with His very words.

David asks God why He is hiding from him. He asks the Lord how long He will allow his enemies to triumph. In verse 3, David even insists the Lord answer him. IS David another Stephen Fry – certainly not!

Intimacy

So how can the psalmist speak to God with such words? Firstly, he speaks from a position of intimacy. David is not complaining about God to another person, rather is engaging directly with the God he knows and loves.

David can be so bold and so honest because he has relationship with God. This is not some foreign or unknown god, but the One who sticks closer than a brother (see Proverbs 18:24). Such words are not permitted between strangers. Imagine if I walked up to someone on the street I did not know, and informed them that I did not like their outfit. How do you think they would react? Not well! Yet, if I had a close friend, I might be in a position to offer advice or opinion (appropriately of course) without causing offence.

We, too, can be honest with our Lord. We can tell Him how we feel, and part of being in close relationship with Him is all about sharing ourselves with Him.

Security

Intimacy is not the only prerequisite for David being able to speak to God in this way. The other is security. David knows that God is not easily offended, nor is He likely to react badly to his uncovered feelings. The psalmist is secure in His relationship with God. He knows that God knows precisely what is happening, and won’t reject David for his cries of anguish.

David’s security came from his intimacy with God. Only one who knew God so well could be so vulnerable before Him. Similarly, we have that same security, and if anything, ours is even more secure. We have security in Christ. Unlike David, we know that God came down as a Man and bled and died for each of us. A God who would do that for us, Who has experienced the same pains that we face, will not turn His back on us or reject us.

Turnaround

Verse 5 of this little psalm sees a sudden turn around. David, having poured out his heart before God, suddenly shifts gears. The psalm turns on a single word – “But…” All of what David has said in verses 1-4 remain true, “but” David knows other truths as well.

Despite his circumstances, and despite his obvious pain, David places his trust in God’s unfailing love. This is no whimsical love that comes and goes with the wind, this is a love that never changes or shifts. David draws on that love to enjoy that security we discussed a moment ago. Despite the circumstances he faces, David knows that God’s love conquers all.

When we face such trouble and pain, we may well ask “Does God not love me anymore?” The answer to this question is that He absolutely does love us! He proved that love at the cross of Calvary. The trouble is indeed real, as is the pain, and yet God’s love is far more so. David can survive this trial by placing his trust in the unchanging love of God.

Alongside God’s love, David rejoices in the salvation of the Lord. David knows that he will indeed see God’s salvation; salvation from his enemies, from his sorrowful thoughts and from all the other things he mentions in the opening verses. Perhaps David had in mind an earthly salvation, that is that he believed God would save him from his enemies and worldly problems.

For us, we too can trust in God’s saving work. Because of what Christ did at the cross, we know that no matter the troubles of this life, all will be restored in the next. That is not to say our life here must be terrible and we’ll enjoy the wonders of heaven, but even if this life is indeed truly awful, we know that heaven is ample compensation.

David, having focused on the unfailing love of God and His salvation, responds by singing praises to God. We may not be able to sing in our church right now (due to COVID) but we can sing in our hearts and in our homes. If we turn our focus off of our problems and on to the Lord, then we can lift our voices in true joy and thanksgiving.

David does not minimise or dismiss his troubles, and lays them out before God. He does not stop there though, and having done it, turns to the goodness of God. We can do the same. By all means, be honest with God and share your feelings with Him. Once you have done so though, remember His love, salvation and goodness, and use it as a vehicle to shape your praise.

Thank God for being good to us all!

Prayer and Sovereignty

A couple of years ago, I was challenged about my view of God’s Sovereignty. I once believe that He did not control all things, but rather had delegated some control (for want of a better term) to humankind. Yet, a careful look at the Bible made me question this view, and ultimately dismiss it. God is in control of all things, directing and holding everything together.

You can read my posts on that subject here – Wrestling with the Sovereignty of God, and – The Sovereign God.

Taking the view that God does indeed have supreme sovereignty and controls everything that happens leads to some very difficult questions. The problem of evil for instance, how can evil exist within God’s will? This is a subject for another day, and is by no means a straightforward one.

Another question relates to prayer. If God controls and directs all things according to His will, then what role does prayer play? The Apostle Paul wrote Romans 9, where he discusses sovereignty, yet also wrote Romans 10 which encourages us to pray. Clearly Paul saw no contradiction.

I have been reading a book on sovereignty this week, and the subject of prayer was briefly discussed in a chapter I read last night. The author did not say what I am about to, but certainly inspired my line of thinking.

Prayer is not about getting God to do what we want. Rather, prayer is God asking us to align to His will and purpose.

Let me explain with an example: football (or soccer for our American readers!).

When I line up a shot in a football game, and kick the ball with all the precision and accuracy I can muster, and it goes towards the corner flag (not the goal), my teammates do not run forward, grab the goal and move it to the corner so that I score! Imagine that for a moment, and how silly it sounds!

Instead, when I play football, I must kick the ball towards the goal. The goal never moves nor does it grow or shrink. I need to get that shot on target and it does absolutely no good to shoot anywhere else on the pitch.

How does this apply to prayer? Well, often we pray and are expecting God to move. We give Him our list of wants, and we are waiting on Him to make it happen. This is akin to shooting at the corner, and expecting the goal to move.

As God is Sovereign, He will do His will and His will only. When we pray, if we are praying for something outside of His will, then it will never happen. Similarly, if we pray in His will, we can be certain it will come to pass.

Why pray then? If God will do His will alone, then our prayers cannot change that. If I pray in God’s will, it will happen, but certainly would have happened independent of me. Likewise, if I pray outside of His will, it will never happen no matter how elequont or frequent my prayers. Prayer is just a waste of time right? Absolutely not!

Take the Lord’s Prayer – we pray “Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” This is a prime example of a waste of breath if we are asking for God’s will to be done. If sovereignty holds, then God will keep His own will no matter what. Yet this prayer is not a request! We are not asking for God’s will to be done, as it certainly will be. Rather, we are praying in recognition and agreement with that! It is not a request but acknowledgement! God’s will is done on Earth as in heaven, and we rejoice of that fact!

God wants us to recognise the fact that His will is good, pleasing and perfect (see Romans 12:1-2). When we accept that, why would we pray for anything else other than His will?

Prayer is not about taming God and getting Him to do what we want. It is about humbling us, and changing our mindsets such that we want all that He plans to do. We pray, “If it be your will…” so that we recognise and accept that God’s will is best for us.

Understanding this, I’ll admit, very difficult truth, provides us with extreme security. We may want one thing or another, yet if it does not happen we know that it is because God did not will it. That means He has a different purpose in mind. Too many of us do not think about the long game, only about our immediate comfort.

I say all of this absolutely realising that many of us are going through some very difficult, even life-threatening things. How dare I say people facing such things are in the midst of God’s will? The objection usually comes down to the fact that no loving God could ever allow us to go through such suffering. I humbly submit that this is a human way of looking at things, and we cannot begin to fathom what God has in mind. I can say with 100% certainty that no matter what you are facing today, it is not because God does not love you. Jesus went to the cross and died for you, that’s how much He loves you! No matter what you are facing, do not let go of that cross and knowing your Saviour bled and died for you!

So, we pray in humble submission to God’s will and purpose. We pray to surrender to God and what He wants for our lives. We are free to ask for whatever we wish, understanding that only His will shall be accomplished.

I close with this. Prayer is not primarily about asking God to do things for us, it is about building our relationship with Him. Our praise and thanksgiving should always outweigh our petition. God is love, and He loves you, and He loves to hear your prayers and loves to answer them according to His good, pleasing and perfect will. Amen.

We’re Here to Serve God (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

As Christians, we are here to serve the Lord, not the other way around

I am certainly not against all television ministries, but an unguarded look at Christian TV might make you think that Christianity is all about getting the best life you can. Some falsely lead you into thinking that having a relationship with God will make all of your problems go away or that all of your dreams will come true. This is not so.

I do want to add though that God does indeed love us and want us to have good lives. He is a good, good Father and wants what is best for His children. However, God’s primary concern is neither our comfort nor our bank balance.

God is not a cosmic genie ready to grant your every request and wish.

God does not exist to serve us, rather quite the opposite is true. If the focus of your Christian life is to get whatever you can from God, then I suggest you perhaps care more about what God can give you than God Himself.

Christians are here to serve and worship God. Our time, energy, money and resources should be devoted to His service. We should go about our days not thinking about what we want to achieve, but seeking to serve Him and follow His lead.

This is a real challenge. Speaking for myself, I am only just realising the depths of my pride at times. Surrendering to Jesus as Lord is a daily (or even second by second) process. Few of us put and keep God at the very centre of our lives. I ask you though, is there anything more important?

Are you in this to get what you can from God, or are you fully committed to serving Him? How might your plans for today change as a result?

God bless; you!

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

We take a little break from the book of Acts to consider this question today. Many individuals over the centuries have tried to answer this one, and the vast majority were cleverer than I am! I offer a few thoughts here which I hope you find helpful.

The argument often goes something like this. If God is supposedly all good and all powerful, then how can there be suffering in the world? If God can remove suffering and chooses not to, then He can’t be all good. If He can’t stop suffering in the world, then good He may be, but He is not all powerful. Suffering therefore disproves a good or all powerful God, right?

It is a compelling argument, and one that many have used over the years. The problem of suffering in the world is a tough hurdle for many to overcome. For most, it is sufficient to conclude that there is no God at all, or at least not one that is in any way interested in us.

The Bible totally disagrees with this view!

God is Good

God is a good God. It is easy to say of course, yet we see throughout the pages of Scripture it is true. There are many places in the Bible where God’s love and goodness are demonstrated, but all could be argued away by pointing to other Scriptures are wrath and judgement. In my view, God’s wrath does not diminish God’s love, but is in actual fact a necessary part of that. Love is not love without hatred of evil. Something for another day perhaps!

I can say with absolute confidence that God is a good God because of one single event. Jesus Christ crucified.

Jesus, who we believe was both God and man, sacrificed Himself for the world. If God was mean or distant, there is no way He would have come down as a Man, lived a perfect life and then allowed Himself to be executed in such a cruel and undignified way. Such a mean or distant God would not have cared about whether humans lived or died for all eternity. Such an uncaring deity would have simply washed His hands of us.

Not our God!

Our God is so good and so kind and so full of love for us, that He became a Man and took on the punishment we all deserve. Not satisfied to let us die in our sin and face eternal punishment, He gave up His very self to pay the ransom only He could pay. Praise this wonderful God of ours!

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (WEB)

No one who sees the cross and what it took for God to do that, could ever claim our Lord is not good or loving. Suffering is a very real problem, but the cross, if nothing else, tells us clearly that suffering is not on us because God does not love us. The cross has the final word. Even in the midst of all suffering, we can know for sure that God loves us, and He is good.

God is All Powerful

if you accept this, then perhaps suffering exists because God is simply unable to remove it from us. Good as He is, perhaps He does not possess the power necessary to withdraw all suffering from the world.

Again, the Bible simply cannot support such a claim.

We read in the book of Genesis in the Bible that God made the entire universe, and He did so by uttering a few words.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 (WEB)

We cannot comprehend the kind of power God possesses, and must still possess, to have created all that we know. Neither can we restrict this creation to just the physical, as there is an entire spiritual world beyond that which we can see and perceive with our eyes.

There is probably no other example which better demonstrates the kind of power we are talking about here. Yes, God parted the Red Sea before the Israelites, and yes, He made the sundial go back and even held the sun in the sky for a time (see 2 Kings 20 and Joshua 10) but do such astonishing miracles compare to the creation of all things?

Are we to say nothing of the resurrection of the dead? We see many examples in the Bible of those who were dead, and yet lived again. None more important than Christ Himself. Could a God who could do all of this and more ever be considered less than all powerful? I think not.

Conclusion

Where does this leave us then? If you accept the points above, then you accept that God is both good and all powerful. Yet, suffering still exists.

We must therefore conclude the following. If God is all powerful, it means He can remove suffering from the world if He wishes. As He has not, then we see that He has a reason not to do so. As we demonstrated above, if He is good as well as all powerful, then His reason for not removing suffering must likewise be a good one. And we do not know what it is…

I put it to you that God, being both good and all powerful, has His reasons for not withdrawing suffering from the world. Just because we cannot comprehend or understand it, makes it no less true or valid. God has no obligation to explain Himself to us.

I would love to be able to sit here and explain to you why you are suffering. If I did though, it would not in any way reduce that suffering. Someone will always ask, “Why me?” and yet, “Why not you?” For us to try and fathom such things is perhaps no small hubris on our part. We are not God, nor can we expect to understand all that He does and knows. Job lost everything, and he was not privileged to know the reason. When he encountered God at the end of the book, he was silenced before the Almighty daring not to even question the God who made him.

If you are in the midst of suffering right now, then these intellectual arguments probably don’t help all that much. Suffering can rarely be explained away, and especially not when we are personally facing it.

If that is you today, then I urge you to look to the cross. I cannot explain your suffering to you in any satisfactory way, but I can grieve along with you. The cross, if nothing else, shows you that the Maker of all things is not distant, but that He chose to suffer and die for you. He knows how suffering feels, and He will walk through it with you every step of the way.

God bless you.