Reading: Luke 13
Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Luke 13:20-21 NIV
Recently I have had the privilege of praying for people in our central city through a ministry called Healing on the Streets. The folks we pray for are passers by who stop to talk, respond to our invitation for prayer, and are brave enough to take a seat and allow two or three of our team to gather around and pray for them, in full view of other shoppers.
I believe that in those few brief minutes of prayer, the folks we pray for truly come into contact with the presence of God.
And so I love this thought that the kingdom of God is like yeast. I like to think that during those short encounters people have with God, a deposit of the “yeast of the Kingdom” is given to them.
And just as yeast, when the conditions are right, will cause dough to rise, so the yeast of the Kingdom, when the conditions become right, can bring to a person life and restoration and the joy of a relationship with God.
Every invitation I make to pray for someone is an opportunity to give that person an encounter with God. For some that encounter will be profound; for others, it may simply be a curiosity. But no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time, the kingdom of God is like yeast! Who knows what effect that little deposit of yeast might have as the Spirit does his work.
At work, at school, on the street, at the mall, or with family and friends, I will always have opportunities to offer to pray — opportunities too precious to miss.
Lord Jesus, please give me opportunities to share the yeast of the Kingdom. Help me to see and respond to the needs of those around me, in practical ways, but also by offering to pray. May I be gentle but bold, and always motivated by love as I ask the question, “Can I pray for you?”
Reading: Luke 13 – 14
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.
But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12-14 NIV
What would it have been like in the days of Jesus to have the disabled come to your place for tea? As in many places in the world today — with no fancy wheelchairs to travel in, or state-funded caregivers to assist — such guests may well have required a high level of personal assistance, not to mention tolerance and humility on the part of the host, and a willingness to overcome natural reservations and spiritual taboos.
On the surface of it, the cost of hosting such a group would seem high. And, as Jesus points out, there was no likelihood of the favour being returned. For those of his audience who felt “above” those disabled folks, it would have represented a step down…
And for the disabled, despised and rejected by men as they were, and familiar with suffering, how would it have been for them to be in the presence of these “respectables”, these esteemed ones of that society? How would they have felt? Because they themselves were most certainly not esteemed.
All of which sounds curiously familiar…
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Isaiah 53:2b-3 NIV
Isaiah describes it perfectly: Jesus put aside his majesty to become like those he came to save. The very same ones he would have me invite for dinner…
Jesus saw people as they really were, and he still does. He sees me as I really am. No matter what I choose to clothe myself in — respectability, wealth, position, social acceptance, an air of self-confidence — Jesus looks right through those things to see what is in my heart. And he asks that I release to him those garments that have been my source of dignity, and instead put on a new set of clothes…
“Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14
There is something about those clothes, and the change of heart that is required to wear them. Somehow, they seem more suited to serving in, whoever the guests might happen to be…
Lord Jesus, please help me to see people as you see them. Help me not to suffer from a superiority complex, but instead, please work humility into the very fabric of my being, that along with all of God's children, I might be dressed well — ready and willing to love and serve.
Reading: Judges 13 — 15
Because he was very thirsty, he cried out to the Lord, “You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?”
Then God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived. So the spring was called En Hakkore, and it is still there in Lehi. Judges 15:18-19 NIV
Samson was a one-man army. Often, he is depicted as big and muscular, but if that were the case, why would people have asked him, “What is the source of your strength?” It would have been obvious. No, his strength was not natural — it was a “superhuman” strength given to him as the Spirit of God enabled him.
In the story in Judges 15, Samson had been doing the Lord's work. (Who would have thought that singlehandedly taking on a foreign army armed with nothing but the jawbone of a donkey constituted doing the Lord's work?!!)
Now Samson wasn't exactly the most noble of heroes, but God had chosen him even before he was conceived to be the means of rescuing his people from the Philistines. And it seems Samson's lack of maturity didn't put God off.
But doing the Lord's work — even when done in his strength — can be tiring, even exhausting. How did Samson respond in his moment of exhaustion? He cried out to God. And how did God respond? He opened up a spring of refreshment, and “When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived.”
Walking in obedience to God can be hard work, even though I be led by the Spirit. If I'm following Jesus, I should expect at times to feel tired, overwhelmed, maybe even exhausted. Even Jesus experienced the weariness of ministry.
But God knows what I am capable of. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.“ (Psalm 103:13-14).
Just as God chose Samson before he was even born to rescue his people, and gave him the strength required for the task, God has work for me to do — as an individual, and together with his people. “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10). And when God calls, he also equips.
So in those moments when the cost of following Jesus weighs heavily, relief is to be found not in complaining, or in giving up, but in crying out to God. He is my source of refreshment. He is the one who “makes me lie down in green pastures; [who] leads me beside quiet waters, [who] restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2-3a). It is to him I must turn.
But I am not just blessed by God for my own benefit. I am “blessed to be a blessing”. God may call me to be a spring of refreshment for others — for those who are working hard for the Lord, in his strength, but are simply in need of rest and replenishment. What a privilege it would be to be the answer to someone else's prayer for help.
Thank you Lord that in you, I can find both strength and refreshment. Help me not to rely on my own feeble efforts, but to draw my strength from you. In my moments of weariness and exhaustion, I will turn to you. And may I also be a conduit for you, to provide blessing and refreshment to others.
See also, But Those Who Hope in the Lord…
Reading: Acts 3
Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk. “Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. Acts 3:6-7 NIV
Faith is the key that unlocks the power of God. The account of Peter healing the crippled man is a great example of faith in action, and there is much to learn from it. But I find myself asking, why had this crippled man not already been healed by Jesus? Is there a less obvious lesson about faith in this story?
For three years, Jesus had travelled the land healing the sick and preaching the good news of the kingdom. We are told in numerous places in the gospels that all who came to Jesus were healed. In fact, all that were brought to Jesus were healed.
Consider the following accounts:
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralysed, and he healed them. Matthew 4:23-24 NIV
Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick… Matthew 12:15 NIV
When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. Matthew 8:16 NIV
And when the men of that place recognised Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed. Matthew 14:35-36 NIV
When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Luke 4:40 NIV
Two things stand out to me in the above verses:
- People brought their sick to Jesus, and
- Jesus healed them.
Presumably, the crippled man who sat every day begging at the temple gate in Jerusalem had not seen Jesus (who actually spent very little time in Jerusalem during his ministry years). But so many sick people had been taken to Jesus. And this man had friends who brought him to the temple gate every day to beg. Could they not have brought him to Jesus? What role could their faith have played in getting this man healed?
Third party faith is important! How many people in Jesus' day were healed not so much because of their own faith, but because of the faith of their friends and family in bringing them to Jesus?
My faith can release the favour of God upon the lives of others. But I don't have to depend solely on my own faith. I can pool it with the faith of others to achieve more than I could ever do alone.
Faith can be tested, and sometimes shaken, but it can also be bolstered by the faith of others. One person's faith can sometimes bolster the faith of a whole group! We truly do need each other.
It's so important, therefore, that I join regularly with others to pray and share encouragement. Alone, I am limited. But in the warm glow of a faith community, my faith can grow and flourish as collectively we open the way for the power and love of God to be released.
Jesus, I ask that you would release power to heal as we pray! I ask for fresh gifts of faith, and opportunities every day to step out and act on that faith, that you would be honoured in the world you came to save.
Reading: 1 Thessalonians
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV
I've always wondered how it is possible to “be joyful always”. If I'm feeling grumpy or stressed or irritable, I sometimes say to myself, “Right, I'm going to hum a tune about joy.” And I do. “Break forth into joy, O my soul, dee dee, de de dee, de de dee…” Somehow it helps!
I also remind myself of Philippians 4:6 “Don't worry about anything, instead pray about everything. Tell God your needs and don't forget to thank him for his answers.” So I do that, and it too certainly makes a big difference.
But what else? What can I do that will reliably turn on the flow of joy in my life?
There's an interesting turn of phrase in the verses above — “Give thanks”. Thanks are something I give — like a gift or an offering. A sacrifice, perhaps.
Sometimes, thankfulness just wells up all by itself in response to the good things that are happening. In my “lesser” moments, when the emotions that well up are rather less constructive, thanks are only given if I make a deliberate choice to do so.
Fortunately, there is always something to give thanks for, and always the capacity to do this. I can never “run out” of thanks. I can give thanks at will, and never exhaust my supply.
I don't think it is coincidence that “Give thanks” sits right beside “Be joyful always” and “Pray continually”. These three habits are not only complementary, but each one makes the other ones possible:
- Giving thanks in all circumstances helps me to be joyful always.
- Giving thanks in all circumstances means that in good times and in bad, I will find myself praying continually.
- Praying continually makes it much easier to give thanks and be joyful, because the goodness of God is always set before me.
- Being joyful makes it natural to give thanks.
I am sure that God appreciates my thanks. I'm also sure that he himself doesn't actually need them. But for me, giving thanks in all circumstances is a key to unlocking joy. When I give thanks, I receive joy!
So here is a paradox. When I give thanks, I am the one that benefits! The more I give thanks, the more I benefit!
Here then is the answer to my question. How can I be joyful always? By giving thanks in all circumstances. Yes! I can do that.
Thank you Father for this truth. I feel like I have just found an essential piece of the jigsaw puzzle of life. Please help me to make thankfulness my constant habit, and may joy always follow in its wake.
See also, And the Antidote to Stress is…
Reading: Psalms 140 to 150
For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation. Let the saints rejoice in this honour and sing for joy on their beds. Psalm 149:4-5 NIV
…the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. Psalm 147:11 NIV
When the day is done, and it's time to pause from all my chores, what is it that comes floating to the surface of my mind? And what is the emotion that triumphs over all others as I lay in my bed at night?
I'd really like for it to be joy. And here is just one more reason for joy to well up: The Lord delights in me! What an honour! Not only does he know me, but he enjoys me! Even while I lay sleeping, God is thinking about me.
And, he delights not just in me as an individual, but in us as his people — the whole family of those who have put their hope in his unfailing love. As we grow together in love and maturity, we are for God a source of very great pleasure!
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.
God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. Ephesians 1:3-8 NLT
I find it so satisfying when I wake in the night or early in the morning to turn my thoughts toward God. It has become my regular habit. Now here is one more reason to feel joy in the quiet watches of the night — God takes delight in me!
I don't have to be someone I am not. God delights in me just as I am, and takes great pleasure in seeing how I am coming along as his Spirit continues his perfecting work in me. It's so good to be on the receiving end.
Knowing that God delights in me also makes me want to please him. And, it inevitably draws from me thankfulness. God is so good — sometimes all you can do is just soak it up.
What a wonderful privilege Lord, to bring you pleasure. My wife perhaps will not appreciate it if I “sing for joy on my bed” as the psalmist suggests, but Father, you can wake me any time you like, and I will relish the opportunity to rejoice in this honour — to bring you pleasure. Thank you so much!
Reading: Philemon 1:1-7
I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers… Philemon 1:4 NIV
Paul is such a tender-hearted bloke towards his children in the Lord. I've never noticed it before, but in the majority of his letters, once formal greetings are out of the way, he just can't help himself from telling them how thankful he is — for them, and for what God is doing in their lives. Just listen to him…
Philemon 1:4-5 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.
Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.
1 Corinthians 1:4-5 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus…
Ephesians 1:15-16 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
Philippians 1:3-6 I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel…
Colossians 1:3-4 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints…
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.
2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.
2 Timothy 1:3 I thank God … as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.
Paul is just like a proud parent brimming with joy as he sees his children growing in their faith. They're not all perfect, of course. The “foolish Galatians” are not doing so well when Paul writes (see Galatians 1:6). Nonetheless they are all in his thoughts and prayers.
I suspect too that Paul is feeling that same excitement that a gardener feels when the seed he has planted sprouts up through the soil and begins to grow. He is intensely interested and concerned for that seed. But although he did the planting, he knows it is God who brings the growth. Which is perhaps why Paul feels so much delight when he sees growth happening.
And who shares that delight with him? All of heaven. Together, heaven and earth celebrate in the wonder of new life.
This week, I had the privilege of helping someone invite Jesus into their life — someone I had been praying for. It was such a wonderful occasion, and I was so thankful! I couldn't stop myself from thanking God over and over. Since then, I have had the double joy of seeing the same thankfulness welling up in the man who was saved.
I can so relate to Paul when he says, “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers…” It just wells up. I feel as though the great celebration that happens in heaven for every soul saved has somehow spilled out of heaven and enveloped me, and I want more of it!
Thank you so much Lord for the privilege of this experience — to be able to bring someone into your family. I offer myself to you as a planter of seeds, a tiller of soil, and nurturer of new life. I want to be your agent of blessing, bringing many more into your kingdom. May I? Holy Spirit, just give me the word!
Reading: Luke 11:1 – 12:11
There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.
What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. Luke 12:2-3 NIV
One day, everything that there is to know about us will be known by everyone else. All the good things in our lives — the deep things, the hidden things, the things that show just how good God has been to us — all these will be on display for his glory, a reflection of all that Jesus won for us at the cross. What a wonderful day that will be! What a celebration!
But what of the “not so good” things?
I find great reassurance in knowing this: There will be no shame on that day for sins confessed. They are forgiven and forgotten, for “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12).
But what about unconfessed sin? Is it possible that I could live my life as a follower of Jesus, and yet still harbour sin? Would I not have to completely ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit? And how could I live in such a place of deceit? Obeying that still small voice of the Spirit is the very essence of living the Christian life, “…because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)
But in actual fact, as I think about that day when “all will be revealed”, I find there is no fear within me. Instead, I am comforted by the knowledge that in God's sight, everything is already revealed.
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13).
What a wonderful arrangement! Whenever I turn my eyes toward God, if there is sin or a wrong attitude or something that needs to be put right, it is right there — “uncovered and laid bare” — all ready to be confessed, and forgiven. So long as I keep seeking his face, I need never be afraid of harbouring sin. Sin can't remain in his presence, so he helps me get rid of it, meaning I can always stand before him clean and forgiven.
And now, the priestly blessing in Numbers 6 carries new meaning. As God turns his face toward us, it is inherent in the blessing that he meets our sin with his grace, and replaces our shame with peace.
And when that great day comes when “all is revealed”, it will be for us a day not for shame, but for glory and great joy. Hallelujah!
Thank you Jesus that the fruit of your work in my life will one day result in much glory and celebration. I look forward to that day! I agree with what David said: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.” Psalm 32:1-2 NIV
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26 NIV
Have you tried SOAP? Using SOAP as you read your Bible is a great way to hear what the Holy Spirit has specifically to say to you. Why not try it? You can read about it here: What is SOAP?
Reading: John 18:1 – 19:27
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. John 19:25-27 NIV
I find myself captivated by this beautiful yet curious exchange between Jesus, Mary his mother, and John, “the disciple whom he loved”. I always think of the cross as the place where a “divine exchange” took place — Jesus' holiness for my sin; his good standing for my shame; his wounds for my wholeness; and much more besides. It is indeed a beautiful exchange which Jesus invites us to make with him.
But here, near the foot of the cross, another exchange is taking place. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is losing her dearly loved son, only to unexpectedly gain another.
Exchange: An act of giving one thing, and receiving another in return.
We usually focus — and rightly so — on how God gave his Son for us. This event, this sacrifice, is the very centre and foundation of our faith. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV).
But on the human level, someone else was giving over their son too. Someone who with great faith and humility had once said, “I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Many years had passed since Mary's declaration, but no doubt the words spoken to her at that time were again fresh in her mind as she stood before the cross:
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:30-33 NIV
Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:34-35 NIV
Here, now, these words were being fulfilled. And although it isn't recorded here, I like to think that Jesus wasn't just “taken from” Mary, but that even in the midst of her grief, Mary was able to “offer him” into the hands of God, believing that God would indeed fulfil the promises he had made to her all those years ago.
And there at the cross, the sweetness of Jesus' love for Mary is revealed one last time before he dies. Her husband Joseph was already dead, and it seems her younger sons were not in position to care for her.
But Jesus knew this. And in a beautiful and very personal reflection of the divine exchange that was taking place on the cross, Jesus offers to Mary a new son — John — to care for her, and comfort her, and protect her from shame. “Dear woman, here is your son. [John], here is your mother.”
(I think it inconceivable that John was surprised by Jesus' words at the cross. Rather, Jesus will have planned this with John well beforehand — that when his time came, John would take Mary into his family home and care for her. So when Jesus said to John, “Here is your mother”, he was really saying to John, “It's time.”)
It is indeed a beautiful exchange which Jesus invites us to make with him. And all the more beautiful because for each of us, that exchange will be different. We each having different things we need to bring to him.
Indeed, it's an expression of the sweetness of his love that he deals with each of us as individuals. He knows our name. He knows our every need. And his desire is that each of us will fully discover all that he won for us at the cross.
Lord Jesus, may that be my life's pursuit! What a privilege that I can stand in your presence holy and welcomed! But Lord, what else is in my heart? What else that needs to be healed and restored? How yet is the divine exchange to be worked out in me?
Today, I offer my life to you afresh, and ask that you would help me to discover and experience all the riches that you won for me at the cross. Let nothing of your sacrifice be wasted.