Fear or love

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by events and am disoriented –

… the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. [Psalm 46:2-3]

In such times I am comforted by the Lord as I look back at times of rescue and reflect on his care. There is a joy at odds with the circumstances.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. [Psalm 46:4]

Things don’t necessarily end as I want, but I have confidence that I will look back knowing my Father has brought good and that it has been a blessing.

God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. [Psalm 46:5]

So, in dark times I look forward to break of day, that moment when Jesus Christ appears with his grace. This brings me back to v1 –

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though …

Anticipating Jesus’ grace there is a choice not to fear. Fear wells up as I presume events will follow a natural course. Jesus is bigger than events!

Instead I choose to hold onto Jesus’ peace that floods in when I recognise and surrender to his sovereign control.

Allowing fear, I strike out in selfishness and hurt people. Choosing God’s grace and peace, love flows into me and out to others.

How God works

When God doesn’t act as we expect it can shake us and leave us questioning him. In Job’s case, the Lord’s long awaited answer was-

 “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.  [Job 38:2-3]

Instead of clarifying Job’s theology, the Lord asks questions. Questions that waited till Job and his friends had exhausted their own explanations.

When God isn’t doing what we expect, are we willing to wait quietly for his questions?

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. [Job 38:4]

The Bible’s rich insights about life enable us to live well. However, much is shrouded in a mystery that challenges our propensity to make pronouncements.

Am I willing to walk humbly with God into the good works he has prepared for me to do with the limited understanding I have?

Have you made daylight spread … to bring an end to the night’s wickedness? … The light disturbs the wicked and stops the arm that is raised in violence. [Job 38:13-15]

In our humanity we want to overcome the darkness through methods of ministry, whether through prayer or action. If then the Lord acts dramatically, it will be claimed as the work of our ministry. If he fails to act there is frustration.

Such reactions expose the superficiality of my knowledge of God. Can I learn more of who he is from his surprises?

Refined understanding of Scripture

God’s word is refined in me till it is proven flawless.

And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times. Psalm 12:6NIV

In the Bible clay pots can symbolise people while silver and gold can symbolise that which God works into our hearts as we live by faith. In this Psalm we are clay crucibles in the furnace and God’s word within is challenged. When things go wrong, we question our understanding of what God has said. If we persevere with him, his word will prove true, yet the process refines and deepens our understanding. For example, take the verse-

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. Romans 8:28NIV

When tragedy strikes, I am challenged to question my understanding of what God means by ‘good’. I wrestle with God concerning reality and how it challenges my understanding of what his truth is and what he means by it. I may have to endure grief as I let go of simplistic theologies. The outcome however, is a deeper knowledge of God himself.

Allowing my understanding of God’s word to be honed by life while upholding it as flawless, I come to a depth of understanding of who God is and what his word means that has integrity and is honest to the whole of Scripture. This is the silver that he is refining within us.

Asking out of need

When I am in need and I see people having the resources then I am tempted to speak in a way that will ‘help them’ answer my need. Some of this is right, the Lord often brings together those with need and those with resources, but what of the attitude –

Neighbors lie to each other, speaking with flattering lips and deceitful hearts. May the Lord cut off their flattering lips and silence their boastful tongues. They say, “We will lie to our hearts’ content. Our lips are our own—who can stop us?” (Psalm 12:2-4 NLT)

Whenever there is a need there is a temptation to deceit. If I puff up my proposal, those who hear may be more inclined to give. If I can tempt them to think more of themselves than they ought to, then maybe they will commit more to my need.

This attitude forgets God’s sovereignty. The Lord wants us to do our best in presenting our message. To flatter is a step too far. Flattering lips betray a deceitful heart, a heart that despises God. We forget that the Lord may have other purposes for the resource. if our deceit captures it, then other, weaker children of God can be left suffering.

The challenge is that flattering tongues sound plausible. Advocates of this approach master the silver tongue, that is why they become advocates and our joining in justifies their stance. Our protection is to walk in step with God, reflecting on what is said with a quiet heart.

Preparation for spiritual warfare

Our culture seems to sap spiritual life from us, we slumber in entertainment, we are ensnared through poor choices. We long for the Lord to bring victory in our day, but when Jesus rides out for victory who will be ready to join him?

The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.”-(Psalm 110v1)

In heaven the Father and Son await the right moment to overcome their enemies.

Meanwhile, on earth we call out, “How long O Lord till you deal with this secular society opposed to you?”

The Lord will extend your powerful kingdom from Jerusalem; you will rule over your enemies. (v2)

We are currently in retreat with the church haemorrhaging people, especially youth, and gaining few converts, yet ultimately we have this hope, the Lord will extend his powerful kingdom through his people.

When you go to war, your people will serve you willingly. You are arrayed in holy garments, and your strength will be renewed each day like the morning dew. (v3)

In the mean time, the Son sits at the side of his Father while his people are being prepared for the eventual battle of victory. That preparation work is very different from what we imagine. The questions to be answered at that time will be –

  • Who have shown themselves to be willing troopers?
  • Who joins the Son in holy garments?
  • Who is daily renewed in strength?

Spiritual Ruins

Many say, “Where is your God?” Many of God’s people are so distracted by the world’s pleasures that their spiritual lifeblood is being poured out. So, we pray –

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake! Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes! Let the groans of the prisoners come before you… (Psalm 79:9-11 NLT)

Throughout the Bible the Lord tends to work through weakness rather than strength. It was after years of slavery in Egypt that the Lord heard the cries of his people. It was at the low point of the time of Judges that the Lord introduced Samuel and David. Are we able to become real, recognise our place of disgrace in our society and call out to God?

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry for ever? … Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low. (Psalm 79:5-8 NLT)

The writer appeals to God for compassion. Often we appeal on the basis of the spread of the gospel.  We appeal out of insecurity instead of God’s mercy. Insecurity puffs itself up saying, “We are up to the task!” It looks to future glory for motivation. Humility recognises its weakness and looks to God to work both in us and in the world.

Glory shines out

I am tempted by passages of blessing to think God does great things because I am right with him. This can lead to a focus on myself rather than God ignoring my need for forgiveness and grace.

“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you. (Isaiah 60:1 NLT)

When we are called to arise it is because the light of the Lord shines on us.

Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you. (Isaiah 60:2 NLT)

When darkness covers the earth the light of his people stands out.

It seems the Lord awaits his moment to make his glory rise and appear over us. He waits his time for effect.  Are we willing to be patient for his work to be fulfilled? The final outcome will be amazing –

All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance. “Look and see, for everyone is coming home! Your sons are coming from distant lands; your little daughters will be carried home. (Isaiah 60:3-4 NLT)

In a dark world the light of God shines out far and wide across the world, it shines to every strata of society. In this dark world, the Lord makes us into a lighthouse so that his little ones, prodigals who have wandered far from the light of Christ, come to their senses and return.

God far away

I was awakened each night to pray leaving only a couple of hours sleep.  I became sick, losing weeks to poor health.

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. (Psalm 38:1-NIV)

I asked the Lord, ‘Why am I being persecuted?’  He showed me it was a rebuke.

Your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down on me. Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; … (Psalm 38:2-4-NIV)

I tried defending myself by going to bed earlier, but I awakened even earlier. Finally, I saw the issue:  I was defending myself from God.

My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly … I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart. (Psalm 38:5-8-NIV)

I had become resentful. It was not as if these were good times of prayer.  Was it worth the pain? Yet who am I to tell God what is productive or good?

All my longings lie open before you, … my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes. (Psalm 38:9-10-NIV)

The light was going from my eyes with the frustration of standing in God’s presence and nothing seemingly happening. It felt a waste of time.

Lord, do not forsake me; do not be far from me, my God. Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Saviour. (Psalm 38:21-22-NIV)

All I could do was call on God for help that this season would pass – as it did following these realisations.

Relational battles

There is a person blocking us in an endeavour we sensed the Lord directing us towards. It had seemed a case of praying and seeing how the Lord would protect his endeavour. Then Psalm 18 challenged me.

I pursued my enemies and overtook them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed … [Psalm-18v37-38-NLT]

The Lord entrusts the battle to us, a challenge of faith to someone who avoids confrontation.

You armed me with strength for battle; you humbled my adversaries before me. You made my enemies turn their backs in flight, and I destroyed my foes. [Psalm-18v39-NLT]

The Lord’s desire for destruction challenges my compassion. There is a reason-

Many caught in sin only apologise where caught. There is remorse but no brokenness that owns the guilt. All is explained away and fault is assigned to others. There is no humbling or turning their backs in flight merely withdrawal to a new defiant defensive position.

They cried for help, but there was no one to save them – to the Lord, but he did not answer… [Psalm-18v41-42-NLT]

The enemy’s defeat challenges their self-righteousness. Those who have stood in defiance presume God is with them. Defeat forces self-righteousness to acknowledge its presumption.

You have delivered me from the attacks of the people; … They come trembling from their strongholds. [Psalm-18v43-45-NLT]

The battle is not one sided. The enemy fights back and fights dirty, yet God delivers.

Surrender is not merely to us, but from the strongholds of self-righteousness. Through victory the enemy’s road to reconciliation with God is cleared.

 

Freedom for today

The offer of freedom to indulge our every whim is only as free as all the other offers we don’t believe. Those who taste its fruits become enslaved in dysfunctional relationships and addictive behaviours.

To these slaves, the Lord calls-

Sit in a place of honor. Remove the chains of slavery from your neck. (Isaiah 52:2 NLT)

How are we supposed to remove the chains? If it was down to us we would fail, but the Lord promises intervention.

I can redeem you without having to pay for you.” (Isaiah 52:3 NLT)

The price of freedom has been paid by Jesus. The question is, am I willing to take the challenge of faith that he presents.

Get out! Get out and leave your captivity, where everything you touch is unclean. Get out of there and purify yourselves. (Isaiah 52:11 NLT)

The way to freedom is easy. It only requires us to act on a choice to leave everything that has held us and everything that is unclean. It may seem hurtful and uncaring to those we leave behind, but the Lord justifies and he transforms the circumstances so that ultimately the road to freedom will be acknowledged as the road of love.

You will not leave in a hurry, running for your lives. For the Lord will go ahead of you; yes, the God of Israel will protect you from behind. (Isaiah 52:12 NLT)

The Lord offers to protect those who are willing to go with him and we follow him to a place of honour.

 

The Bible study for Isaiah 52