Reading: Psalm 131
My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Psalm 131:1-2 NIV
“Song of Ascents” is a title given to fifteen of the Psalms, 120–134. It is thought these songs were sung by worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals (see Deuteronomy 16:16), or by the priests as they ascended the fifteen steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.
These songs were not for God's benefit, but for the singers' – to prepare their hearts and minds to enter into the presence of God. This particular song (Psalm 131) was written by David, who seemed to have discovered the secret of intimacy with God.
And what was his secret? Come like a child. In practical terms, that meant putting aside his pride and all efforts to make himself something he wasn't. He knew he couldn't impress God, and he knew he didn't have to.
Instead, he had learned to cultivate that beautiful child-like attitude of surrender and trust that God so enjoys as we come into his presence.
I too need to cultivate that same attitude of surrender and trust.
Cultivate: Break up (soil) in preparation for sowing and planting; promote the growth and development of; foster.
Father, I see that there is such a beautiful simplicity about pleasing you. I want that same attitude that David had, that beautiful child-like attitude of surrender and trust that you so enjoy.
Lord, I give you permission to break up the soil in my heart, that it might be made soft and tender. If there is any stoney attitude or hardness of thinking that needs turning over, please expose it and help me to deal with it.
Is there anything you want to sow and plant in my life? I invite you, please have your way. And I ask you to grant me the wisdom to always remember the way into your presence.
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18 NIV
Reading: Lamentations 1 – 5
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:19-24 NIV
It is often said that talking to yourself is the first sign of madness! But here in Lamentations, in the midst of difficulty and affliction, Jeremiah is doing just that – talking to himself.
It's as if the part of him that speaks and directs is able somehow to separate itself from the circumstances of his physical body and then, from that removed position, encourage and direct the rest of his being.
Like “time out” in a sports match, Jeremiah gathers himself to recall, to remind, to refocus, and ultimately to rekindle his faith in God's unchanging love. He knows what is true so he speaks it out, to himself.
That voice that God has given me – the one I use to talk to myself – it has power! Just as Jeremiah and the psalmists and numerous other Bible characters talked themselves through doubt and difficulty, so I can keep myself on track by speaking to myself truth and self-encouragement.
Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death…” So when it comes to speaking to myself, I need to speak life!
I can make declarations based on Scripture, and statements born from faith. I can instruct myself according to what I know from the Bible.
In Ephesians 4:29, Paul says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” It hasn't occurred to me before, but this principle applies just as much to the way I talk to myself as it does to the way I talk to others!
Negative self-talk should never cross my lips. It only gives the devil a foothold to accuse and discourage me. Nor should feelings or circumstances determine how I talk to myself, since they so easily change. Truth, on the other hand, is solid and unchanging. What do I know about God? What does God say about me? These things I can declare.
All this serves to remind me how vital it is that I read my Bible and declare it with my mouth, and keep on declaring it. As I speak and declare to myself the truths in God's Word, my faith will grow, my confidence will rise, and with God's help I will achieve all the plans and purposes that he has for my life.
Lord God, you are so good. Everything you do is perfect. Thank you for your written Word, and for the voice of your ever-present Holy Spirit. I offer to you now my own voice, and pray that just as you purified Isaiah's lips with a coal from your alter, you will purify mine. May they always only ever speak life, both to me and to others.
“Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.” Psalm 103:1 NIV
Reading: Matthew 26:57 – 27:31 (NIV)
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matthew 26:63-64 (NIV)
It's interesting to reflect on the challenge that the high priest made to Jesus. He said, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” The reply he got was exactly what he wanted. He knew that Jesus was compelled to tell the truth, and he welcomed it, not as truth, but as a succinct unambiguous claim of identity: “Yes,” Jesus said, “it is as you say.”
With this statement, Jesus had nailed himself. But Jesus didn't leave it at that. He added a powerful prophetic statement to leave them in no doubt, and to lay down a warning: “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Anyone there who really was open to the possibility that Jesus might in fact be who he said he was would have cause to swallow hard about what they were planning to do. It was a stark warning, but it fell on hard hearts. The company present would kill Jesus, and his words would come back to haunt them.
There was perhaps one man in that gathering who did have fresh cause to reconsider his opinion of Jesus. Malchus was the servant of the high priest. He had been there when Jesus was arrested on the Mount of Olives. It was he who had his right ear cut off as impetuous Peter lashed out with his sword. And, it was he who looked up to find that the very one they had come to arrest was reaching out his hand, and touching him, and he was healed. It was a moment he would never forget.
I wonder if in that moment, something softened in his heart? Enough to give him reason to pause, and consider afresh, “Could this man actually be who he says he is?”
Humility before God is the only way for us to know truth. It's being prepared to lose face by stepping away from our old attitudes toward Jesus in order to stand with the very one we had previously mocked. Or shunned. Or perhaps simply ignored. It's being able to come before him with hands empty and heart open to say, “I was wrong. And I need you.”
Father God, your approval is what I want more than anything. Ultimately, the opinion of others matters not. Only that you would forgive me, and accept me, and enjoy me. May arrogance be far from me as I thank you, and humbly accept your incredible gift of grace.
Reading: Joshua 15-20
In accordance with the Lord’s command to him, Joshua gave to Caleb son of Jephunneh a portion in Judah—Kiriath Arba, that is, Hebron. (Arba was the forefather of Anak.) From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites—Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai—descendants of Anak. Joshua 15:13-14 (NIV)
Joshua: Well, here's your promised inheritance Caleb – Kiriath Arba. The land is yours. Oh, and by the way, it comes with a few Anakites…
Caleb: No worries, Joshua, I'll sort them out.
And so he does. Caleb had been promised this forty five years earlier after spying out the land with eleven others. Only he and Joshua had believed that with God they could take the land. “So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.’” Joshua 14:9
Finally the time had arrived to claim that inheritance. “Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day,” says Caleb to Joshua. “You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.” Joshua 14:12
Caleb sure had spirit, even at a young 85. As far as he was concerned, the promise had been made, the land was his, and nothing was going to stand in the way of him claiming it for his own.
It strikes me that the promises of God often seem to come with “Anakites”. I wish that wasn't the case – I don't like big gnarly inconvenient obstacles parked all over my driveway. When I read in Isaiah 61 (for example) of those things that Jesus won for me at the cross, and then look at my actual situation (and those of others), it's clear that there are still a few gnarly old Anakites out there. Some of what has been promised to me through Jesus I have yet to claim. And I see others weighed down with burdens that, with his life, Jesus paid to remove.
Caleb is my teacher today. First and foremost, he took God at his word. Secondly, having spied out the land years earlier, he knew what had been promised to him, and had a clear picture of this in his mind. I too need to become completely familiar with God's promises, and then set about claiming those promises with the same spirit that Caleb had – one of faith and determination.
Thirdly, it's clear that although Caleb didn't focus on the Anakites, he did deal with them. As I deal with the “Anakites” in my life, and help others to deal with theirs, prayer is so vital, along with worship and time in the Word. By myself, I actually can't use these things, but with the ever-present help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, they are powerful in my hands. “The Lord helping me, I will drive [the Anakites] out just as he said.”
God my Father, I pray for the faith and courage of Caleb. Help me Lord to truly be a man of prayer, and to take real action as I claim what you have promised me. As I spend time walking and talking with you, as I converse with you during the moments of my day, and as I talk and pray with others, may “your kingdom come, Lord; and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;
so he got up from the meal, took off his kouter clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. John 13:2-5 (NIV)
The drama described here at the “pointy end” of John's gospel is like theatre. The scene is set. Judas, the yet to be revealed “villain”, is ready to make his move, but only Jesus, the central character, knows exactly how the drama is going to unfold. The “audience”, his disciples, have no idea.
So when the curtains open at the beginning of Act 1 of this 'final week drama', the disciples are astonished at what they see: Jesus, the hero of the drama, has stepped off the stage and come down to be amongst his audience. And now, one by one, he is washing their feet! (Including, but unbeknownst to them, the feet of the one who is about to betray him).
It was just the first of many twists in a plot which, though laid out in the Scriptures for hundreds of years, they were only seeing clearly for the first time now.
What a surprise it is to discover truth for the first time! What an astonishing Kingdom, where the king washes the feet of his subjects, where evil is overcome by good, and where greatness proceeds from humility.
As I picture the scene of this last supper, I see that Jesus would have had to get right down on his knees in order to wash his disciples feet. It's not hard to understand the reaction of Peter who initially balked at the prospect of letting Jesus wash his feet.
Such humility as Jesus displayed lays wide open even the hardest of hearts, piercing our very soul. I can find in myself only two possible responses – to run, or to bow down, offering everything to the One who offered everything for me.
And I see too another truth revealed, that if I follow the example of Jesus and humble myself to serve others as he did, then even the hardest of hearts can be opened to the truth found in Jesus. When I serve others with humility, the light of Christ will be revealed.
Lord Jesus, I am completely disarmed by the love and humility you have shown to me. I offer myself again into your hands. Help me to serve as you did. Please fill me afresh with your Spirit, and may your light shine through me that others would come to know you and love you, the most astonishing King of kings and Lord of lords.
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13:14-15, 17 (NIV)
See also The Noble Endeavour of Serving.
Reading: Matthew 1
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” —which means, “God with us.”
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV)
Joseph and Mary are such an inspirational couple. Having each received the most profound of revelations, and facing as a couple the certainty of public humiliation because of the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy, they each responded with a humility that is breath-taking.
In effect, by accepting God’s will for their lives, they were also accepting the promise of both humiliation – for a time – and glory. The same went for Jesus himself, who would accept not just humiliation, but also death on a cross, knowing that glory was coming (and joy!) And yet I wonder, were they humiliated? Is it possible for the truly humble to be humiliated by others?
There is something essentially different between humiliation and humility. Humiliation is a feeling, a feeling of shame and foolishness which comes when my pride and dignity is injured. The attitude of my heart determines how vulnerable I am to being humiliated, and perhaps also what is hidden in my heart. When I’m vulnerable, I open myself up to the possibility of being humiliated either by others, or simply as the result of my own actions. It might come as the result of being ‘exposed’.
Humility is not a feeling, but rather is an attitude of the heart. It comes from within, and is under the control of my will. As humility grows, pride diminishes, and I become less and less vulnerable to humiliation, which means that the way I feel about myself is no longer at the mercy of others. Instead, it is my core beliefs about what is true that set the tone for how I feel.
As a Christian I will feel less need to justify myself to others, because having God’s approval has become the most important thing. That may in fact define what humility is: The state of heart where I value the approval of God more highly than I value the approval of anyone else.
What strength of character humility brings! It enables me to endure much, and is the perfect partner for courage. In fact, I wonder if true courage may in its very essence be simply godly humility in action.
Thank you Lord God for the inspiring humility of Mary and Joseph. Their courage and their willingness to obey you in everything is something that I want in my own life. Please help me to be humble and brave, and to follow their example. I offer myself to you and ask that you would create in me a heart that is pure and trusting, and that you would work humility in me for your glory.
Reading: Mark 7-9
…on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:34-37
On learning that his disciples were discussing who was the greatest among them, it's interesting that Jesus doesn't rebuke them for this. Rather he explains to them what constitutes greatness in the kingdom of God, and it is clearly not what they were thinking. Greatness in the Kingdom allows no room for pride; rather, it stems from humility. It takes the opportunity to serve and delights in allowing others to go first. It is not self-promoting, but instead leaves God to promote as he sees fit. It seeks not the adoration of men, but rather, the approval of God.
Some of the greatest people in the Kingdom of God may be those whose deeds are unknown by the world, but, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” Matthew 10:26
I enjoy being recognised for doing something well. But being able to enjoy the moment with my Father in heaven, and then “chew the fat” with him afterwards – that is a very great privilege. Enjoying the warmth of his approval frees me from the need to have the approval and affirmation of others. To please him in everything I do, knowing that he sees all I do, and knows what is in my heart – this should be my number one priority. Whatever job he has for me is the job I will put my heart and soul into, whether that job be great or small.
Thank you Jesus for your wonderful example. Help me to delight in serving others, and in knowing that as I serve, I am bringing pleasure to you, my King. I look forward to the reward you have for me. My life is in your hands.
Yes, the title of this SOAP was rather grandiose, wasn't it! “Simon the Great!” I had a good laugh with God about this one. Have you tried using SOAP in your own times with God? It's a great way to listen to God as you read his Word. You can learn more about SOAP here: What is SOAP?
Reading: Philippians 2
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place… Philippians 2:5-9a (NIV)
In the curious “upside-down, back to front” economy of the kingdom of God, greatness is to be found in humility. Choosing to put others before myself and to be like a servant is not actually choosing second best. On the contrary, it is a noble endeavour, and finds me living with the very same attitude that Jesus had. Rather than it being a humiliating waste of my time, serving is a way that I can embrace the very purposes of God for my life and achieve more quickly one of my life goals, to become more like Christ.
Somehow, viewing servanthood as a noble endeavour makes an enormous difference to the way I feel about it. It begins to feel like a privilege. It somehow brings to me a degree of personal dignity that I could never experience if I was always the one being served. And, of course, it can bring dignity to those being served, especially those not otherwise esteemed in the world's way of thinking.
When servitude is forced on a person, they are belittled and deprived of dignity. But when serving is a choice, everybody wins – the served and the server. Of course, nothing worthwhile comes without cost, and serving can certainly cost. But even if my efforts are not acknowledged or appreciated by those I serve, God is always watching, and his reward will surely follow.
Thank you God that you are working in me, “to will and to act according to [your] good purpose.” (Phil 2:13). I offer up to you my attitude about serving. Please make it pure, and work humility and generosity into the fabric of my heart. Help me to put selfishness aside, as well as the temptation to grumble and complain, and instead, create in me a pure heart, that I might have the same attitude as the one Jesus had, and still has – the noble attitude of a servant.