I am upset.
You just don’t treat people like that.
I am upset.
You just don’t treat people like that.
Psalm 82:1-8 ·
Acts 27:13-44 ·
2 Kings 18:1-19:13 ·
July 9 Day 190
Trust in the Lord
One of the biggest obstacles to faith is the suffering of the innocent. It is usually one of the first questions raised in an Alpha small group: ‘If there is a God who loves us, how come there is so much suffering in the world? How come there is such injustice and oppression? Why are there so many disasters and such turmoil in the world? Why is there so much evil?’
There are no easy answers. Yet God is able to meet us in the midst of suffering and struggles (see BiOY day 25 and 26: Why does God Allow Suffering? Part 1 and Part 2). Extraordinarily it is often the people who have gone through the greatest suffering who have the strongest faith. They testify to the presence of God with them, strengthening and comforting them in the midst of their pain. Betsie Ten Boom, as she lay dying in Ravensbruck concentration camp turned to her sister Corrie and said: ‘We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.’
Faith involves trusting in the Lord. The people of God in the Bible looked out on a world of suffering. But they trusted in the Lord despite what they saw. The passages for today teach us something about trusting in the Lord in spite of these circumstances.
1. Trust in the Lord in the midst of injustice and oppression
How do we respond to all the injustice in the world? The psalmist trusts that ultimately God will put things right: ‘You’ve got the whole world in your hands!’ (v.8b, MSG).
It is a great blessing to live under a good system of justice. It is a terrible curse to live under corrupt and incompetent judges. But ultimately, God will call them to account.
The psalm starts with the affirmation that ‘God presides’ over all other expressions of power (‘gods’) (v.1). The psalmist trusted that God is ‘president’ – he is in ultimate control.
As The Message puts it: ‘God … puts all the judges in the dock. “Enough! You’ve corrupted justice long enough” ’ (vv.1–2). But faith in God’s ‘presidency’ should never lead to complacency or passivity. The psalmist sees that all is not as it should be; that those in power have allowed the unjust to thrive (v.2). He is passionate to see the world changed.
God who addresses all in power saying, ‘Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked’ (vv.3–4).
The psalmist longs for God’s judgment, a time when things will be put right; injustice will be removed and there will be deliverance from, for example, corrupt governments. He prays: ‘Rise up, O God, judge the earth’ (v.8a).
While we too hope in God’s final judgment, we anticipate that justice by acting now on behalf of the poor and oppressed. We should raise the same challenge to those with power, ‘How long will you defend the cause of the unjust?’
Lord, thank you that you preside over this world. Thank you that one day, justice will reign. You will put things right. In the meantime, help us to act with the same compassion that you have, to defend the cause of the weak and fatherless and maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Help us to rescue the weak and the needy.
2. Trust in the Lord in the midst of disaster and turmoil
When things go wrong in your life are you sometimes tempted to panic? I know that I am. If everything is going well in our lives, it is relatively easy to trust in the Lord. However, there are times when we face major challenges to our faith. Amongst his many challenges, trials and sufferings, Paul was shipwrecked three times (2 Corinthians 11:23b–25).
In today’s passage, we read of one of these times. At first it looked as if Paul had been wrong in predicting disaster as the weather was perfect for the journey (Acts 27:13), but then a hurricane began (v.14). It must have been a terrifying experience. Luke writes, ‘[they] finally gave up all hope of being saved’ (v.20).
Yet, Paul kept on trusting in the Lord, telling those on board to ‘have faith in God’, that God was still in control and that he had promised to rescue them (vv.23–25).
It took this disaster for them to listen to Paul. Extraordinarily, Paul the prisoner appears to be in complete charge. He tells them, ‘you really should have listened to me’ (v.21, MSG). He is the one who stops the sailors jumping ship (v.30).
This is a great example of leadership without position. The best leaders are able to lead by influence and persuasion.
The turmoil gave Paul an opportunity to speak about his faith. He takes the opportunity although he must have been suffering greatly from hunger and the effects of the storm.
Paul saw himself as belonging to God (‘the God whose I am’) and being his servant (‘whom I serve’). But God was not only his owner and master; Paul trusted God and had a deep assurance of his love. He knew that God wanted the very best for him, as he does for us today.
Paul assured them, ‘Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head’ (v.34). And, ‘after he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat’ (v.35).
In spite of disaster striking, God was in ultimate control: ‘The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan’ (vv.42–43a).
God gave Paul favour in the eyes of people as well as in God’s own eyes. The centurion ‘ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety’ (vv.43b–44).
Nothing could stop God from saving Paul and using him to work out his purposes and save lives.
Lord, thank you that you preside over history and over the elements. Thank you that you can protect us even when disaster strikes. When things go wrong, help us not to be afraid but rather to keep up our courage and to have faith in God.
3. Trust in the Lord in the midst of evil and distress
2 Kings 18:1-19:13
It is such a relief to read, at last, about Hezekiah who ‘trusted in, leaned on and was confident in the Lord’ (v.5, AMP). As The Message translation puts it, he ‘put his whole trust in the God of Israel … And God, for his part, held fast to him through all his adventures’ (18:5–6).
When Hezekiah became king, one of his first actions was to destroy all the things that prevented the people from obeying God (vv.1–4). Perhaps there are things in your life that are a barrier to you obeying God. Although they may seem vital, there is nothing as vital as obedience to God. God wants to help us to obey him – just ask him and he will honour you as he honoured Hezekiah. ‘And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook’ (v.7).
In 701 BC Hezekiah faced a very powerful enemy in the form of the king of Assyria who mocked and ridiculed him. We read about these historical events not only in the Bible but also in other ancient accounts. In Sennacherib’s account of these events he writes, ‘As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke.’ He speaks arrogantly about Hezekiah being overwhelmed by ‘the terror inspiring splendour of my lordship.’
Sennacherib scorned Hezekiah’s dependence on the Lord (vv.20,22). ‘Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord … he is misleading you when he says, “The Lord will deliver us.” ’ (vv.30–32)
Somehow Hezekiah must have won the respect of his people because they followed his instructions: ‘But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, “Do not answer him.” ’ (v.36).
In the face of his powerful enemy, Hezekiah prayed: ‘He tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord’ (19:1). A delegation went to the prophet Isaiah and told him, ‘This is what Hezekiah says: This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace … pray for the remnant that still survives’ (vv.3–4).
Isaiah’s response was, ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard’ (v.6). Not only did Hezekiah himself trust in the Lord, but he also persuaded the people to trust in the Lord.
Over the years, I have written beside this passage a list of the challenges we have faced. It is amazing to look back over the years and see the way in which God has delivered us in so many areas. Each year I try to write by this passage the challenges of the year ahead where we need to trust in the Lord.
Lord, thank you that you even preside over our enemies. Thank you that we can trust in you in all circumstances. Thank you that in the day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, however powerful our enemies are, we can trust in you.
Lord, thank you so much for the way in which you do deliver us and rescue us. As we go forward, we trust in you, we depend upon you as we face new challenges. Help us to cling to you, lean on you and never cease to follow and obey you.
Trust in God when things don’t look good:
2 Kings 18
2 Kings 16:1-17:41
July 8 Day 189
Listen to God
Listening is very important. Some people are very good at it. It was said of President John F. Kennedy that he made you think he had nothing else to do except ask you questions and listen, with extraordinary concentration, to your answer. You felt that for that moment he had blocked out both the past and the future in order to listen to you.
Listening to God is one of the keys to our relationship with him. ‘To listen’, means to hear attentively, ‘to pay attention to’. Prayer means giving God our full attention. This is the sense in which the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated ‘listen’ in each of today’s passages are used.
1. Listen to God speak to you through the psalms
We all experience physical hunger which can only be satisfied by food. We also have a spiritual hunger which can only be satisfied by listening to God. Jesus said, ‘People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4).
‘Listen, dear ones’ says the psalmist (Psalm 81:8a, MSG). God warns the people of the dangers of not listening to him, and the blessings that follow when his people do listen to God.
The words of God satisfy our hunger. God promises, ‘Open wide your mouth and I will fill it’ (v.10). If we listen to him he says, ‘You would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you’ (v.16).
On the one hand, he says, ‘Hear, O my people, and I will warn you’ (v.8a). God wants the best for us, and wants to warn us of the perils of ignoring him. He continues, ‘But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices’ (vv.11–12). The result of not listening to God is that he gives us over to the consequences of our own actions (see also, Romans 1:24,26).
On the other hand, he promises that if we do listen to him he will act on our behalf: ‘If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly I would subdue their enemies’ (Psalm 81:13–14a).
Lord, thank you so much for how deeply satisfying it is to hear your voice. Thank you that each day we can listen to you and be satisfied as with ‘the finest of wheat’. Help us each day to listen to you, to pay attention to what you say, and then to trust you to act on our behalf.
2. Listen to God speak to you through the apostles
Paul was God’s messenger. God spoke through the apostle Paul. Those who were listening to Paul in this passage had the opportunity to listen to God.
When Paul was sailing to Rome, the centurion ‘instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship’ (27:11). His failure to listen to Paul was almost disastrous.
In the first part of the passage we see Paul in chains before Festus and Agrippa. He was telling the good news about Jesus, his death and resurrection. Festus said, ‘Paul, you’re crazy! You’ve read too many books, spent too much time staring off into space! Get a grip on yourself, get back in the real world!’ (26:24, MSG). Some people have always thought, and still do, that Christians are just ‘a little crazy’.
Paul’s response was, ‘I am not insane … What I am saying is true and reasonable’ (v.25). He did not reply, ‘Yes, it is all a bit crazy but I believe it.’ He refused to accept the suggestion that his beliefs are irrational.
Paul argued that there is a rational basis for faith. There are good reasons to believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Our faith is ‘true and reasonable’. We should not be afraid to present logical and reasonable arguments. We need intelligent presentations of the gospel.
Today, there are many prominent atheist voices in the West arguing that faith is irrational. Like the apostle Paul, we must resist this suggestion. Many reasonable scientists and philosophers have also been faithful Christians.
One powerful document that argues that faith and reason are not opposed but complementary is the papal encyclical called Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason). Pope John Paul II was a professor of philosophy. In this encyclical he shows how faith and reason go together. St Augustine said, Crede ut intelligas (‘Believe in order to understand’). We understand in order that we may believe. And we believe in order that we may understand. This is the virtuous circle of faith and reason.
Before I became a Christian, I had listened to the arguments and the reasons for faith. Not all of my questions had been answered. Nevertheless, I took a step of faith based on what I had heard about Jesus. The moment I took the step of faith it was as if my eyes had been opened and I understood much of what I had not seen before.
Reason alone is not enough. It will only take us so far. However, when we are trying to persuade people as Paul was, to follow Jesus, it is important to explain that the message about Jesus is ‘true and reasonable’.
Agrippa’s response to Paul was, ‘ “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Paul replied, “Short time or long – I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains” ’ (vv.28–29). Paul was not ashamed to pray that people would become what he was (Galatians 4:12).
Paul did not mind whether people became Christians through a crisis (‘short time’) or through a process (‘long’ time). But he did all in his power to persuade them to become Christians, as he had.
The civil authorities recognised that Paul had done nothing deserving death or imprisonment (Acts 26:31), yet they found a rather pathetic excuse for not setting him free (v.32). This must have seemed so unjust and unreasonable and must have been deeply frustrating for Paul.
Yet here we are, nearly 2,000 years later, listening to the words that Paul spoke on that occasion, and through them having the opportunity to listen to God.
Lord, may we become like Paul in his faith and passion. May we seek to persuade people with arguments that are true and reasonable. As we tell the good news about Jesus may people have a sense that in listening to us they are listening to God.
3. Listen to God speak to you through the prophets
2 Kings 16:1-17:41
God allowed Israel to be taken captive and led away into exile because they refused to listen to him.
Joyce Meyer writes, ‘Do you ever get careless about doing what God has asked you to do, letting sin creep into your life? Do not let our enemy, the devil, lead you into the captivity of sin and disobedience; it leads only to destruction.’
The history of this period in the book of 2 Kings could be summed up in the words ‘not listen’: ‘They would not listen … They would not listen … ’ (17:14,40). As we saw yesterday, all the problems the kings and the people of God faced were the result of not listening to God.
God spoke to his people through his servants the prophets. ‘God had taken a stand against Israel and Judah, speaking clearly through countless holy prophets and seers time and time again … But they wouldn’t listen’ (vv.13–14, MSG).
This was the reason they went into exile. ‘The exile came about because of sin: The children of Israel sinned against God … They did all kinds of things on the sly, things offensive to their God, then openly and shamelessly built local sex-and-religion shrines at every available site’ (vv.7–9, MSG).
‘They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do” ’ (v.15). The result of not listening was that the people of Israel lost the presence of God and were sent into exile in Assyria: ‘he thrust them from his presence … the Lord removed them from his presence’ (vv.20,23).
Like us, so often, they had not been ruthless enough about sin in their lives: ‘They honoured and worshiped God, but not exclusively … They don’t really worship God – they don’t take seriously what he says regarding how to behave and what to believe (vv.32,34 MSG). ‘They didn’t pay any attention. They kept doing what they’d always done’ (v.40, MSG).
Lord, help us to heed the warnings that you give us. Help us to listen carefully to what you say. Deliver us from secret sins. Help us never to get careless about doing what you ask us to do. May we never allow sin to creep into our lives, and when it does to ask for help quickly. Help us not simply to do what the people around us do. Rather, help us to listen to your voice, to enjoy your presence with us.
Love marriage and a baby carriage….
Yep it’s that time in a woman’s life when societal and behavioural factors/pressures meet – and the clock is ticking loudly.
All around me people are saying:
I need to settle down
I need to get married
I need to have babies
Not that I don’t want these things – just have not found the right person yet or perhaps the right person has not found me
But somehow it is more that than – I have not allowed my parents to pick the right person for me
I live in the UK and my parents travelled to this country almost 40 years ago to study. Somehow although their original intentions were to obtain their relevant qualifications and then return home – they stayed and raised a family, bought a home and pretty much settled here. However it seems their hearts are still at home. When it comes to choice of marital partners for their children the options are clear – it will be a person from their town and their background. On one level this makes perfect sense, family traditions and ties will be maintained and peace and harmony will reign supreme. On the other hand it does not take into account our personal choices and the fact that we are UK born and bred and have not been subject to the influences – language and culture of our parents country. This has to be an important factor when choosing a life partner. In a way what I am describing is my parents wish for a quasi-arranged marriage – in that the pool of partners is from a very small carefully chosen population. In a way I guess that is not a bad thing – sometimes too much choice is confusing but a choice it is.
I constantly wonder why I offer such resistance? I wonder if it is because I am now in my mid 30’s and although not the most mature and experienced person in the world when it comes to relationships, I still feel like I should make my own decisions when it comes to this. However I am constantly being told that I do not know what is best for me and any partner that I may chose will not be sanctioned by my parents. This puts me in a very difficult position. I sometimes feel like that I am resigned to being single /stateless for the rest of my life.
I sit in wonder at a male friend of mine – who although is from a different race and country is also UK born but has succumbed to his parents wish to meet a woman from a family and background of their choosing. He too is the same age as me but somehow has acquiesced and has started long-distance correspondence with a suitable person. Who knows where it might end but they have met and seem to like each other and I wish him all the best. I wonder why I cannot do the same – travel to my parents hometown and just pick a suitable person. It might be OK, I might learn the language, I would get used to the customs , surely it cannot be that bad ? I cannot after all escape my heritage.
Am I too stubborn? Am I too narrow minded? Am I looking a gift horse in the mouth?
Time and biology are not on my side.
But I also do not want to be hasty about things.
I want to make my parents happy but I also want to be happy myself.
I have dated people from my own background but it has just not worked out – fizzled into nothing. I am never really sure if it is me or them. One person told third party that I was too independent. I am not sure what make of that. Another person was repeatedly referring back to his previous girlfriend, why I do not know but it made conversation uninteresting after a while. And the last person that I dated who ticked all the right boxes – job, religion, background – just did not seem right. To this day I could not tell you want it was – but just a low level of discomfort and unease that I felt whenever we went out. I think it might have been the one sided conversations that we would have about faith and religion. I think I understood his take on life and faith but I always got the feeling that he never really got my side of things. He was always dismissive of my thoughts and opinions. I am not sure whether that is because they were irrelevant thoughts and opinions – he had a way of making me feel that way or whether he was just arrogant. All I know is that after a while I started to doubt myself every time I was out with him or on the phone to him. It did not make me feel too good. At the same time he seemed to be offering marriage and a comfortable life but somehow, somehow I could not take him up on his offer. For me it would require me not being myself but not in a way that would lead to self-improvement. Maybe I was wrong? He did suggest we write a book together which would have been interesting as we have very similar jobs and career aspirations. Maybe I missed a good opportunity? I often wonder. Now I hear he is married, travelled to his home country (he was not born in the UK) and found a suitable partner. I suspect his was the wise one. When we were going out he told me that he was aiming to get married before his was 40 (he was 39 at the time). He had a goal and he has now achieved it. He is now settled and probably his house is filled with the patter of tiny feet. Is it easier for men to do these things – just find somebody and settle down. Am I just too fussy? Am I forgetting biology and time? Am I passing up good things?
Days pass an I see my friends and colleagues posting pictures of their domestic bliss up on Facebook – another child, another anniversary, another birthday. I feel like I have not moved on – I am in the slow lane and they are in the fast lane moving on with their lives.
My mother keeps asking me to go to Church. But for now my Church going days are over. Realised after five years that I was not going to met my future husband there. Although every body around me was getting married and starting families – I seemed to be pretty much invisible to the God-fearing men of my Church. Now my faith is eeked out in a very different way – mostly involving lots of prayer and trying to understand and forgive people, trying to be nice to people, trying to be as gracious as God is to me.
I keep thinking that God has not answered my prayers for a husband and a family life and for a long time I was very angry, very angry. Not quite shaking my fist at the sky but something close to it. But after a while I decided that I would have to concede that this must either be God’s plan, or I should be patient or I should take matters into my own hands. These options so far have melded into one. I made a decision but very soon came to learn that things were not always in my control and that I would still have to be patient. So even in my current circumstances I am still waiting on God to direct me- although sometimes I suspect I do not listen. God is meant to be like a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12) but sometimes I fear I am not still enough to listen. I get distracted by all the other voices around me. I get distracted by own thoughts and my views.
Perhaps it is time to listen and focus. Perhaps I should stop worrying about time and biology, after all my worry has not achieved anything – I am still unmarried, I still do not have a husband.
Maybe that will be my challenge for this week – I am not sure how I am going to achieve it but I will listen out for God.
[Olivia and Grace meet at a work conference]
Grace: Hi Olivia – that was a really good talk. How are you? I was going to call you last week but it got busy – you know how it is!
Olivia: I am well and yes the talk was good. I am well.
Grace: that’s great – let’s have some tea and a gossip before the next lecture.
[Grace and Olivia pour tea and milk into cups and sit down in the corner of the conference room]
Grace: So…what new?
Olivia: Not much – just ticking along
Grace: Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Olivia: I don’t know – feeling a little low these days
Grace: Really? I thought things had settled down? Did you talk?
Olivia: I wonder if I am being selfish staying in this relationship?
Olivia: well he is not 100% happy and I can’t seem to be able to make him happy
Grace: what about you? Are you happy?
Olivia: well I am happy when he is happy…
Grace: that’s not really an answer. Are you happy in this relationship?
Olivia: well at the moment there things that are putting stress on us?
Grace: well that’s normal – life is not perfect
Olivia: but I don’t know what to do to make it better
Grace: hmm – do you like being with him , enjoy spending time with him?
Olivia: of course I do – that’s the best part, but I can’t say that the feeling is mutual.
Grace: hmm…what are you saying?
Olivia: I wonder if he is unhappy when he is with me
Grace: only one way to find out
Olivia: I’m scared
Grace: well – the truth will declare itself soon enough
Olivia: that’s what I am afraid of
Grace: you have to face life as it – speaking of which, back to work!
[Grace and Olivia place their empty teacups on the table and return to their seats]
Not one to whinge and complain and given the current state of affairs in the world – this is totally unjustified. However I thought I had better note how this week has started in the hope that I can improve things on a daily basis.
I think I am burning out! Realised that perhaps I need to slow down when I was reading some papers for work and I started swiping the paper. It took me a minute to realise that I was not reading from my iPad but an actual piece of paper.
My calf is aching like crazy – I went to a step class on Saturday. I recently joined the gym – mainly because my boyfriend said I was fat. I am in fact not fat – 59 kg and size 8 – 10 with BMI 24 – I think makes me OK. I think my bulgy little tummy needs toning. So I have ignored the boyfriend but I have acknowledged the fact that I do little or no exercise and I have very little stamina and strength. I have in the past run two 5k runs for charity but they took me 45 minutes – hardly world breaking. Anyway I digress – I went to step class on Saturday morning – but when I got there I was informed that it was advanced class. It was the first time I had been but I thought “what could be so hard about stepping on and off a plastic box…”. Famous last words. 60 minutes later I changed my mind. Mostly I did not know all the moves, like everybody else in the class, but I was copying people here and there and I was exhausted. Now I think I must have pulled a muscle because I woke up on Sunday morning with an ache in my right calf. It’s sore and feels like how it feels when I get cramps in the night. I now walk with a limp.
Today – despite my best efforts I left work at 8pm in the evening. Central Line playing up so a staggered journey home. I am shattered. Too tired to cook and shop, my dinner tonight was scrambled eggs, bacon and alphabetti (pasta shapes in tomato sauce). Awful – cannot remember eating a meal like that since I was a student / trainee.
I am hoping this is a Monday evening thing.
The saving grace for this evening – tucked up on the sofa listening to jazz FM
Tomorrow will be a good day.