Singing in the Storm

I heard a song recently with lyrics something like this – don’t quote me! “I’m going to sing in the middle of the storm!” and this idea of singing in the midst of trouble has stuck with me.

When we find ourselves in times of trouble, it can be all too easy to let praise take a back seat. Our prayer life, if not full of complaining, turns into a set of demands to deliver us out of this trial. It is, of course, not wrong to ask the Lord to take difficulties away, we also must realise such trials have a purpose. No trial, no triumph.

This idea has had me reflecting on James’ words from his letter:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.

James 5:13 (NIV)

James puts it succinctly – if you’re happy, then sing, and if you have a problem, pray! What truly great advice! So simple, yet very profound too. We too often turn to complaining rather than prayer, and when we do find ourselves happy, we become occupied with the things of this life and don’t give God the attention He deserves.

What about singing in the storm though? James suggests praying in the storm, rather than singing right?

Clearly, the answer is yes, but I wonder if we are sometimes a little too clear cut. In the storm, it is entirely right to pray, as James advises us. Pray and pray, and keep on praying. But prayer is not simply asking God for things. Prayer is far greater than that, and our prayers should be made up of more than just definite requests (petition). I have said it before i’m sure, but our praise must always outweigh our petition when it comes to prayer.

So, once we’ve asked God for help in the middle of that storm, we turn to praise and thanksgiving. While the wind is blowing, and the rain is thrashing down, let’s raise our voices and worship Him. If the storm gets louder, so do we!

What storms are you facing right now? Pray about them by all means, and once you have, lift up your voice in song. You probably won’t feel like it, and it may be difficult, but as you turn your attention off of the storm and onto our wonderful God, you will find harbour.

Someone once said, “Don’t tell God how big your storm is, rather tell the storm how big your God is!”

Have a blessed day!

Words Can Be Atom Bombs

Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow
is one who gives false testimony against a neighbor.

Proverbs 25:18 (NIV)

You have likely heard the schoolyard or playground phrase “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” But is this true? I think not! Sticks or stones may indeed bruise our body, or in a severe case, break our bones of course but words can wound as well. How many people took a physical beating at one point and are now totally recovered, yet those same people carry deep scars from vicious or poisonous words in their past.

A single fist may bruise an eye, but a single word can start a war if spoken at the right (wrong?) time.

If sticks and stones can break our bones, then words are atom bombs!

The writer of the proverb above likens false testimony to that of real life weapons. He clearly compares clubs, swords and arrows to that of spreading falsities about one’s neighbour. When we hear the word “testimony” we may automatically think of a courtroom. While this is certainly the place to tell the truth, we can give false testimony about our neighbours in any setting. It is every bit as important to be truthful in the court of opinion and on social media as it is in a court of law.

Jesus tells us, in Matthew 12:

But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.

Matthew 12:36 (NIV)

If there was ever a Scripture to make us shudder, then this would be it! We speak often, and how much of it is “empty words”?

The Bible has a huge amount to say about our words, and Proverbs in particular talks of the important of how we speak. James, in the New Testament, is often thought of as the Proverbs of the NT, and he too warns of the power of words. It is hard for me to state how critical this subject is. Jesus was so careful about what He did and did not say, remaining silent at crucial moments.

Although the thought terrifies me, I toy with the idea of recording myself for an entire day and listening back to the conversations I have had. What would that reveal? Would I hear myself building others up and encouraging them? Or would my words be careless, inflicting wounds without thought?

Would you wish to be recorded for a day, and have to listen to it back? Let each of us take an inventory of, not just our words, but our tone as well. Often we communicate more in the way we say things than in what we specifically say. Instead of an entire day, why not just take stock for an hour. Make notes or record yourself, then pray over the results.

Are there words in your past that you deeply regret? Such words cannot be changed, but you can learn these lessons and avoid the dangers in future.

Like the psalmist, ask the Lord to set a guard over your lips.

Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.

Psalm 141:3 (NIV)

Remember, words are atomic bombs that can devastate a life. They are also a wellspring of life that can create and build up.

Watch your words today, and every day! Lord, do help us to speak out only good things to the people in our lives. Guard our mouths so that we utter nothing in anger or haste that will harm and wound. Holy Spirit, watch over our words this day and let them point people to You – in Jesus’ Name! Amen

Lent 2021

For Lent this year, I was asked if my devotional book – A Journey with Jesus – could be used in our church. It is a real honour to be asked, and humbling too. I wrote the book many years ago now, and at that time for a specific church I attended. Since then, I updated the material and published it for use by anyone. Although it is written with Lent in mind, it can be used any time of the year.

It is my intention to record a weekly video message to go along with the daily readings from the book. If you want to follow along, then let me encourage you to get yourself a copy of the book from Amazon here – A Journey With Jesus. As you will see, it is available in both paperback and Kindle format. If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, then it is totally free to read. There is also a large print copy available for those who prefer it.

If you don’t have a copy of the book, then the weekly video messages will still be of interest (I hope!) so please do not feel excluded.

Lent is an interesting time and I am always fascinated by how people use the time. Some fast, while others do not mark it at all. I have always been a fan of trying to use the time to read a book or study in some way. Do you mark Lent in any special way? Do comment below if you do.

However you spend the season of Lent, I pray that it is a time where you draw close to God. If you fully devote yourself to Jesus this Lent, imagine how different your relationship with Him might be in 40 days time? Imagine how you might have grown, or how He might have guided you. Any day is a good day to focus on the Lord, but Lent gives us a good excuse to do so. Don’t waste this time but embrace it! I pray you are extremely blessed as you encounter Jesus this year.

Eternity in the Balance

I listen to a series of podcasts called “Stuff You Should Know.” It is a general knowledge podcast, with each episode selecting a theme and then giving an overview of the subject matter. Episodes can range from astrophysics, to nature, to history and occasionally ventures into religion too. I recently listened to an episode about the subject of “hell.”

In the episode, the hosts talked about the different religious views on the afterlife, with some attention given to the Christian view. While some of their general themes were correct, they did not well describe a true biblical view. For instance, they gave the overview that if you live a good life, then you go to heaven, and if not, then you go to this place called hell. This is a commonly held belief of course, but is in no way biblical. For what is a “good life?” How good is good enough? The Bible shows us that none of us are good enough, and all are destined for hell without the intervention of a Saviour – and that Saviour is Jesus Christ.

The hosts talked about the idea of “eternal punishment,” but suggested that most now felt this was extremely excessive, and that it is way out of proportion to punish someone for all eternity for a few mere sins on earth. Let’s return to this point later on…

They then discussed beliefs which they “preferred,” namely universalism and annihilationism.

I have seen a couple of slightly different definitions of universalism, but the general point is the idea that all people ultimately end up in heaven. This can come about in a number of ways. Either they could go straight to heaven for living a good life, or they could be sent to “hell” or “purgatory” to serve their time. Once they have completed the penalty, they are then promoted into heaven.

To some, this idea also carries the view that all religions lead to God. Perhaps we worship in a variety of ways, but ultimately, we all find our own way to God and so into His loving arms.

Annihilationism on the other hand is the idea that good people go to heaven, and “bad people” do not go to some form of punishment, they simply cease to exist – they are “annihilated” hence the term. This, too, the hosts of the podcast said seems favourable to that of eternal punishment.

A couple of points to note. Firstly, what we “prefer” has no bearing on what is true. I might prefer the sky to be a nice shade of green, but it remains blue. I may prefer to start work at 10am every morning, yet my boss will “prefer” to employ someone else if I do! Just because we prefer to have things another way, does not make them so. Preferring there not to be an eternal consequence of our sin does not mean there is not one. We must face reality.

The second point is this. Universalism and annihilationism are not supported by the Bible. In Luke 16, Jesus tells the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. I did a short series on this parable a while ago, and you can read the first part here – The Rich Man and Lazarus Part 1.

Jesus said:

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

Luke 16:22-26 (NIV)

From this, two things are apparent. Firstly, the rich man is awake, aware and conscious in the place of torment (see verse 24). Secondly, we see that there is a chasm, divide or separation between the two places such that no one can travel between the two (see verse 26). Without any other biblical evidence, we see that neither universalism nor annihilationism can be true.

The rich man has no means of traversing between the good and bad places of the dead (whatever name you give them) and this means he cannot and will not end up in heaven. We too see that he is not destroyed, but rather continues to exist in that state of eternal torment.

There is other evidence in the Bible which add to this and Jesus Himself taught many things about life after death, and you cannot bend those teachings to lead to either universalism or annihilationism.

What does this mean then? If these two theories are not true, then we must look again at the frightening reality of eternal punishment. As much as we do not like he idea, we must consider it to be true alongside all else that Jesus taught.

Returning to the point that the hosts of the podcast made, that is, that eternal punishment is grossly out of proportion. How do we defend this point? If they are correct, then God is surely unjust to punish humanity for all eternity for their sins on earth?

I think part of the problem is that we fail to understand sin. We think of sin like we do crimes; there are big crimes and smaller crimes, and therefore bigger and smaller punishments. If we break the speed limit, then we get a fine. If we intentionally murder someone, then we spend a long time in prison or in some places, forfeit our lives.

Sin is not merely a crime against God. There are no big sins and small sins. Sin represents a total break in our relationship with our Holy God. God’s holiness is such that He cannot relate to our sinful selves. Sin puts a chasm between us and God, and it matters not how far we jump across – near or far – we can never reach the other side. The only way to bridge the gap is by having someone act as our substitute. That Someone is Jesus Christ.

Jesus lived the perfect life. He committed no sin, and yet was punished as a sinner. He bore the punishment that each of us deserve, and He bridged the gap between us and God. Only by accepting Him and what He did for us, can we be free of the penalty of sin.

Sin deserves eternal punishment for at least two reasons that I can fathom. Firstly, eternal punishment is merely the only other option to being in the presence of God. You are either in and enjoying His presence or you are not; the latter is what we call hell. The second reason for eternal punishment is not the sin itself, for Jesus dealt with all sins, but instead for rejecting Christ and His work. God became a human being, lived perfectly and yet suffered and died as a sinner. For us to refuse to accept that is to – for want of a better way of putting it – to reject the cross. It is to make Christ’s death of no value, or to suggest He died in vain.

Another danger of teachings like universalism is that it makes us complacent. If, ultimately, all go to heaven, then there is little driver for us as Christians to share our faith. Truth be told, if all go to heaven no matter what, then there is little point in us living out our faith in any way at all. We can live however we want to, and it won’t matter, because we’ll all end up in the same place in the end…

The take home message for us is this: there is a heaven to gain and a hell to avoid – at all costs. We, as Christians, must never be complacent and must share our faith with as many as we can. There is but one way to heaven, and His Name is Jesus Christ! All must put their faith in Him to get to heaven. We must turn from our sin and turn to Him! There are no shortcuts or alternatives, only Christ!

Our Christian lives must be driven by a sense of urgency. Even if Christ does not return in our lifetimes, we must live like He will. We must live like we only get one chance – because we do! When this life is over, there is no do-over, no reincarnation, no winding back the clock. The time to share our faith is now, and we must pray like life depends on it, because it does!

We do not know what hell is really like. There are glimpses in the Bible, but it is open to some interpretation. Is it actually a place where fire burns, for instance? It could well be, or it could be that such fire is a symbol for judgement. Either way, the Bible makes it very, very clear that hell is no place you want to be. Eternal safety is found only in the Father, and we can only reach Him through His Son Jesus.

If you do not know this Jesus I speak of, then make the effort to find out who He is today. Read the New Testament in the Bible, perhaps starting with the books of Mark or Luke. Find out who Jesus really is, and put your trust in Him. Please do get in touch if you make that choice for Him today, as I would be honoured to pray for you.

If you are a Christian already, and know Jesus, then please let this post spur you on to serve Him with your whole heart. Time is short, and eternity hangs in the balance.

Why water into wine?

It was my pleasure to stand in for our local vicar at short notice this week. In this video, I share a few thoughts about why I think Jesus turned water into wine from John 2.

For some technical reason I do not understand, I was not able to upload the video directly to this post. However include a link below to the video on Facebook. Hope you enjoy!

https://fb.watch/3d1lSFD0DE/

Stir One Another Up

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,

Hebrews 10:24 (ESVUK)

During this protracted time of lockdown and COVID restrictions, it can be hard to stay motivated. Last week, for instance, I had a lot on my mind and found most things something of a drag. We do need to overpower such feelings at times, and do what we need to, but they can also be a signal of the need to rest or reflect.

Here in the UK, we have at least six weeks of “stay home!” to look forward to. It can feel constrictive and limiting, but let us not forget to be grateful we have a home to be locked down into.

When we find ourselves stuck in a rut, we have to choose whether to dig ourselves in further, or to stir ourselves up and out of that position. Our verse for today from Hebrews encourages us to do the latter.

Consider

The first thing we are told to do is to “consider.” To consider means to think carefully about something, particularly in regards to making some kind of decision. Like so many things in life, very few things occur by accident. We must be intentional about how we live our lives, and not just go with the flow.

Here, we are instructed to consider – to consider how to stir one another up. This requires effort on our part. It requires us to engage the brain, and to focus not on our own needs (or our own “rut”) but to pay deliberate attention to others. Use your mental energy not to grumble about how tough the lockdown is, but on ways you can support and encourage others.

COVID restrictions do limit what we can do – that’s the point of them! But it does not mean we can do nothing. Even if we are completely out of ideas, God is not, and we can seek Him and His guidance to know what we can do – in our situation – to stir one another up.

Love and Good Works

Stir one another up? To do what? The author of Hebrews is pretty clear here. We stir one another up to love and good works.

When I first began to write this post, I separated these out as two sections; one for Love and one for Good Works. But as I come to write it now, I realise that you cannot separate the two. As James points out in his letter, how can one demonstrate their faith without good deeds? Likewise, how do we demonstrate our love for one another? By performing good works towards each other.

So how do we stir one another up in this way?

In some ways, this blog sets out to try to do that. I am hoping that you are encouraged by what you read here, and it will indeed stir you up to love and good works. If that’s true for you, why not share it with someone else who might enjoy it?

If you don’t have a blog or similar platform, then there’s a good chance you have a social media account of one form or another. Whatever flavour you have; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. how can you use it to be a force for love in the world? How can you encourage your Christian brothers and sisters through it?

I have said it before, likely more than once, but even if you can do nothing else, you can certainly pray. There is no one who does not need a healthy dose of prayer coverage right now, and you can be the one to have the immense privilege of kneeling before God and bringing their needs to Him. Pray through your church directory, phone book or for every person who sent you a Christmas card last year.

In our home, we have a set of lolly sticks with our friends, family and church family written on it. We select a stick at random and pray for whoever we draw. We trust God that whoever we pick out is in need of prayer that day.

I am certain there are a thousand other ideas you can come up with. This is where the “consider” part of the verse comes in. Set aside a short time and grab a notebook, mind map as many ideas as you can to reach out and encourage someone today. Even if you are not in a position to fulfil the idea yourself, post it online and see if someone else can run with your idea.

The best gift you can give someone today is Jesus Christ. Point them to Him in some way. Whether in or out of the church family, we can all bring someone one step closer to Christ with our love and good works.

I would love to hear some of your ideas today, so please do comment below or on any of the social media feeds. Imagine if everyone in the church came up with five ideas and shared them, and if we all did our bit, how much good could we do in the name of Jesus this week alone?

Meditate on this verse today, and let it stir you up this week

Prisoners of Hope

Last night it was announced that the part of the UK I live in (England) is returning to a full national lockdown. Cases of COVID have been increasing rapidly in recent weeks and so the Government have taken the decision to put us back into similar restrictions as we saw last March.

I had a look through my social media feeds last night, and the overwhelming feeling was “Here we go again!” And also, a fair few which said, “There goes dry January!” I hope this was largely tongue in cheek, but let’s not forget that these restrictions are extremely difficult for many families.

What can I say here that hasn’t already been said?

I do not want to debate whether lockdowns work or not, and no doubt you have your own views on this. Given the pressure on our health services, and the increasing cases, something had to be done, and I do not envy those who have to make such decisions. They must weigh the cost of harmful restrictions against the virus, and choose the lesser of two evils.

Let it be an opportunity for us to pray for our government.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV)

Lockdown: The Return

One post I read said that this new lockdown was much like the first, but with far worse weather! During that original lockdown, I took it upon myself to post on the blog every day. I did so as a way of encouraging those who read it with the Word of God. If we ever needed encouragement, then we do so again now!

The following verse springs to mind, which I want to share with you today.

Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

Zechariah 9:12 (NIV)

What is a prisoner of hope exactly? I believe it is someone who simply cannot escape the hope brought about by knowing Jesus as Lord. While this isn’t exactly what Zechariah was thinking of when he penned these words, I hope (pun intended) that I’m not taking too much liberty with the text here.

If we focus on our problems, or even pay too much attention to the big issues of the world, then we cannot help but feel discouraged and hopeless. If we choose to, we can find things to complain about or seek out concerns to worry over.

For Christians though, we have good reason to hope. We know Christ, and we know His salvation. We have heaven to look forward to, and the blessed forgiveness of our sin. We have had peace bequeathed to us and have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (see Ephesians 1:3). We have the privilege of prayer, the bountiful Fruit of the Spirit, and the immense joy of sharing the good news of the Gospel.

These are just a few of the positives we can focus on, and I believe we can do so to such an extent that we can truly describe ourselves as prisoners of hope. That’s not to say that we bury our heads in the sand and deny the existence of problems. We cannot deny that there will be trouble in this life, but we do not have to dwell on it with all of our time and energy.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:1-3 (NIV)

Let us be a people who focuses on eternal things, not on earthly matters. Let us live and function in the world of course, but let us also remember that it is not our forever home. I would venture to say it is impossible to be happy and full of hope without a genuine effort to keep our minds set on our Heavenly Father and the things of eternity.

What does the phrase “prisoner of hope” mean to you? How do you stay positive in difficult times? Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts. Equally, if you need prayer support right now, please do get in touch.

New year prayer

Here is a brief prayer I heard this morning, starting off 2021 in the right frame of mind.

Lord, in this New Year, may you give me everything that I need, and not necessarily everything I want.

May I surrender to your timing, and not rush or delay in my own plans.

No matter what happens, may I always take the time to thank you for your many blessings and not dwell on the problems of the day.

Holy Spirit, guide me in your paths and your ways. Help me to trust you in all things, and lean not on my own understanding.

May everything I say, think and do be for your glory, and let my life sing out your praise for all to see.

Thank you heavenly father for this New Year a new opportunity to serve you and share my faith with all who need it.

We worship you and pray all of these prayers in the mighty name of 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!

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!

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!

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!