Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Eternal encouragement

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.         2 Thess. 2.16,17

These words are reflective of a similar prayer in Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica. It is interesting how God gets His message across to us, repeating where necessary – though maybe in slightly different words. I believe when God really wants us to get hold of His truth He makes it absolutely clear to us. The feeding of the five thousand is found in all three synoptic gospels as well as in John’s writing. God’s message here is abundantly clear to me. He is saying: “I will feed you. You need look nowhere else. Come to me and allow me to nurture and sustain you. Know that I am the one. Indeed, I am the only one who can give you the food that you really need.”

Likewise, for me, with these present verses! I recall several times when I have felt the need to talk over a situation or a state of mind with someone. Sometimes I may be looking for direction. At other times I might be needing encouragement. On such occasions I have considered who I might turn to. Some come to mind, then I think ‘They wouldn’t really understand’ or ‘I couldn’t tell them just how I feel’. Of others I might think, ‘No, I’ll end up ministering to them.’ These thoughts are neither conceited nor condescending. But rather, I feel, the truth of the situation. There is nothing so special or different about me that others can’t help, for there have been many times and instances of others helping and blessing me. I feel like I am still in the process of God growing me in the grace to allow others to minister to me and bless me.

But when these special times arise and I truly see no human resource that is suitable, I receive this constant reminder from God; “I am your source. I am your shield and your strength. I am the rock on which you stand, your very help in time of need. So, come to me. Do not delay. I’m waiting for you.”

It’s not as if others wouldn’t understand or couldn’t help. Indeed, there is likely much good they could do for me. But God is reminding me of the special place He has assumed in my life. Yes, this is His action. He has put Himself in place to be my first port of call. He wants me to turn first to Him. Indeed, He delights in this.

And these words from Paul reinforce this for me today. Paul’s use of the reflexive pronoun is emphatic. Jesus Himself is there to give me encouragement. My Father, God, has given me eternal encouragement. I see this so clearly encapsulated in John 3.16. The Father and the Son, and dare I say working in harmony and unity with the Holy Spirit, will encourage me in any and every situation, and will strengthen me in every good deed and word.

Holy Father, Righteous God,

I ask You to forgive me for those times when I look for other humans to aid me, when all the time You are ready to minister to my every need. It’s not that I don’t need others, but my answers, healing and direction will only come from You.

I thank You that You use others to speak to me. I pray that You will continue to do so. But I pray always that what I hear from them will be Your word for me and not theirs.

I thank You also for Your boundless grace that allows me to come to You. I know I am not worthy, yet You receive me through Christ. Thank You, Jesus, for what You’ve done for me, and for all that You continue to do.

I pray also to the Holy Spirit, the presence of God here on earth, and here with me as God’s comforter and strength. Gracious Holy Spirit, I surrender myself into Your keeping. I ask You to guide me into all truth. May every deed and word of mine be good in the eyes of my Lord God. Let me hear clearly whatever You would have to tell me. Let me be willing to go where You lead and to do what You show me.

Gracious loving triune God, I love You. Father, Son, and Spirit, I am devoted to You. May I be who You want me to be. May I live in the fullness of who I am in You. Be my strength and shield, comforter and guide, lover and friend.

Lead me forward in Your ways. Correct me please when it is needed. May my life be a sweet aroma to You. Take me on, in love,
                                    In Jesus’ Name I ask.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Dreams fulfilled

Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the one who sold grain to all its peoples. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.     
Gen. 42.6

Joseph recognised his brothers but they did not know him. About twenty years had elapsed since they last saw each other. It has taken, then, a long time, but Joseph’s dream comes to pass. As a young boy he had dreamt of his brothers sheaves of grain bowing down to his. His revelation of this dream to them had contributed to them ganging up on him, and selling him into slavery.

In Egypt he began to prosper but then took an enormous set back when Potipher had him imprisoned. A glimmer of hope came when he correctly interpreted the dreams of the baker and the cupbearer. The cupbearer was released. Joseph had asked him to remember him and commend him to Pharaoh. The glimmer of hope waned as the cupbearer forgot about Joseph.

But God did not forget. Pharaoh experienced two very striking dreams. Was God at work here? All the magicians and wise men of Egypt could not interpret the dreams. Then the cupbearer remembered Joseph. He was called and he gave a correct interpretation. Pharaoh then raised him to a position second only to Pharaoh himself. The famine, foreseen in the dreams, occurred, which brought Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to seek help, and into audience with their brother. He occupies an exalted position. They are begging aliens, bowing in homage before him. The ways of the Lord are truly mysterious!

There is a time for everything and, in time, God’s plans are fulfilled in human lives. I marvel at this story. I take notice of Joseph’s commitment to God and the faithfulness of God to Joseph.

Lord God,

I rejoice in both wonder and awe at the ways in which You work, the means by which Your plans are outworked and Your purposes achieved.

Your Word does not tell us directly much about Joseph’s faith. It is not mentioned in the same way as Abraham’s faith is identified yet I’m sure he was a man of great faith. I thank You for this.

I ask You to show me further teachings from the story of Joseph. I ask for more revelation. I pray that my mind will be open and receptive, not only to understand cognitively and intellectually but also to receive the spiritual insights that I need. I open myself up to You. I ask You to take me deeper, further. I ask this in Jesus’ Name.                                 Amen.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Keeping His word

“...See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name...

Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live in the earth.”
 Rev. 3.8,10

The single word that comes to me from the message of Jesus to the church at Philadelphia is “obedience”.

God commends the Philadelphians for keeping His word and not denying His name. They have kept His command to endure patiently. They are commended by Him for their actions.

It may not have been easy for them to exercise this obedience. He acknowledges that they have little strength, but the issue is not about strength. I do not need to be strong in order to be obedient. Indeed, in my weakness I will find His strength.

I see also a covenant at work in these verses. God, in so many words, commends the Philadelphians for honouring him. In turn, He will honour them. He will protect them, keeping them from the hour of trial. For me, this beautifully illustrates the relationship that is described by God, several times in the Old Testament Scriptures:

            “You will be my people, and I will be your God.” (Ezek. 36.28)

What applied to the church at Philadelphia applies equally to the church of God, and to me, today. God does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Praise His Name!

I want to be weak in me and strong in Him. I seek to keep His Word, to honour and not deny His Name, and to keep His commands. I seek this, not for any obvious reward, but because I want to. But knowing that God himself enters into covenant with me excites and delights me.

God placed before the Philadelphians an open door that no one could shut. What might that door have led to? It could well refer to the doorway to eternal life – ever open to the faithful in God. It might also have referred to opportunities that God was placing before them to minister for Him. I pray that both these feature in the doors He will open for me.

Lord God,

I declare you to be my God and my Lord. I ask to be numbered among Your people. I ask also for Your strength to affirm me. Let me live in the confidence of who You are, and who I am in You. Overshadow my weakness with Your strength.

I pray that I may live to honour You. I seek to keep Your Word, to acknowledge and exalt Your name, and to abide by and fulfil Your commandments. I commit to these things but I ask also for Your help. I cannot succeed on my own, but with You all things are possible. Help me, please.

I ask You to take me where You will, to have me do anything You want done but, more than anything, I want to be with You, to know You and to be enjoyed by You.

Dear Lord, take me forward in You, in Jesus’ Name I ask.                                              Amen.

Saturday, 19 January 2013


But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.           Gen. 45.7

These words carry the substance of great prophecy. Was Joseph in fact foreseeing the great deliverance of God’s people through the exodus from Egypt?

Another major theme that he hints at in these few, almost careless, words is the remnant. I’m not sure if this is the first mention, yet it is extremely potent.

Joseph sees clearly that it is by God’s plan that he is in Egypt. He also sees God’s plan embracing two specific events – the preservation of a remnant, and the occurrence of a great deliverance. We see, from a place of retrospection, the enormous significance of both these themes for the whole people of God, first the Israelites/ Jews and then the Christians.

I am in wonderment of the enormity of God and the intricacy of His design and its outworking. In what appears disastrous in some respects, God meant Joseph’s life and his varied experiences for good. I can see how this good was not simply for Joseph and his family but, indeed, for the whole of humanity.

Lord God,

You are truly wonderful beyond any comparison. I exalt and magnify You. I praise and worship You to the highest heavens.

I see, whether correctly or simply imaginatively, how Your plan for Joseph has had such a far reaching effect. I believe this is Your way. You work in each of us not only for our own good but also for the benefit of others.

I submit myself to the fullness of Your plan for me. I pray Your purpose is to touch and help many through Your working in my life. I surrender and give myself to Your way, in the glorious name of Jesus.                                                                                     Amen.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Forgiving... and remaining

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgives you.                     Eph. 4.32

We have been forgiven in Christ. This is the fundamental truth of Christian living. We are sinners who have been forgiven. And we are invited, nay exhorted, to follow Christ. We need to forgive, freely and without fear. Forgiveness frees us into the fullness of a life in Christ.

As I adopt a lifestyle of forgiveness and cultivate a forgiving nature (for I believe I can choose to do this) so other aspects of my nature will change and grow. I will find myself seeing others with the compassion of Christ (this might take time), and I can look more kindly on others (this will need practice). But I remember that all things are possible with God, and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. This surely is the key. I press in to Jesus. I seek and ask for His strengthening of me. I receive from Him. Indeed I look to be infilled with the fullness of His presence in me.

John reminds me of my interwoven-ness with Christ. He is the vine and I am a branch of the vine (John 15.5). He chose me (I get excited at this), and He appointed me to bear lasting fruit (John 15.6). If I remain in Him and He remains in me, I will bear much fruit. And, indeed, apart from Him I can do nothing (John 15.5).

I am aware, right now, that Jesus exhorts me to remain in Him first. His words are:
“If a man remains in me and I in him.” (John 15.5)
I do not wish to play semantics with this phrase, but it clearly indicates that as I remain in Him, He will remain in me. It looks like the choice is mine. Do I wish to seek Him out to remain in Him? Do I want to follow Him and allow Him to exercise full reign and control in my life? Do I truly mean it when I say ‘not my will but Yours, not what I want but what you want!’ Do I mean all in these things? You bet I do! And why? The answer is simply that I am nothing without Him. He is my all, my reason for living. Without Jesus I have no purpose in life. I might as well be dead, and this is horrific to me, for I don’t want to be dead and without Jesus. No, living without Christ is not an option. I will live with Him, for Him and in Him. And with Him living in me.

This is also a state of being. Like so many other mortals I have, for a long time, been fixated with a state of doing. And God has made it so clear to me that He wants me to ‘be’ before I do anything. As ‘I am’ then He will occasion the doing. I can only truly be when I am in Him, and he is fully in me.

Lord, Mighty God,

I come to You in all the fullness of surrender that I can muster. You are everything to me and I lay myself humbly and expectantly at Your feet. I glorify You this day. I rejoice in the sunshine that is without and the revelation that is within.

And what is this revelation? I think it’s the wonder of the true realisation that I am your child. I am Yours! I shout with joy in my total release of myself to You. Take me, my God, and let me be, let me truly be – a living, vibrant, true, real, and effective witness for Jesus.

I am the branch that is grafted firmly into the vine. I seek the life-giving force, the Spirit infilling that comes from the Jesus vine. Feed me, nurture me, grow me.

There may be a price to pay. Make me willing, Lord. In Your holy power change me, and use me if You choose. I ask all these things, believing, in Jesus’ Name.                                  Amen.