Reading: Psalm 139
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:7-11 (NIV)
The presence of God is not like a WiFi hotspot. I can go wherever I like, even to furthest-away places imaginable, and still be connected. And, I can go way beyond my comfort zone and be no less supported by God than if I was right here in my sweet spot. Yes, “even there [in the farthest reaches of my world], your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
The problem is, my sense of confidence is still partially founded on my own limited skill set rather than on God's infinite power. I know this to be the case because I have a “comfort zone”, and when I go beyond it, I get anxious.
If I really had fully accepted the truth of God's constant love and presence, I wouldn't have a comfort zone. Instead, I would feel comfortable everywhere. I would certainly still have a “competence zone”, but beyond that I could nonetheless rest in the knowledge that “even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
As it is, my competence actually comes from God anyway, whether I'm working within my own gifts and abilities or not.
So the current situation is this: The all-knowing all-powerful God of the universe loves me and is with me 24 hours per day, but my sense of competence and security is still, to some degree, based on my own limited natural abilities. Hmm…
When I'm considering, “Can I do this thing?”, my default setting is to measure the task against the “possibility-limiting hurdle” of my own capabilities. But when I do this, it simply shuts me down, squashing my trust in God and capping the level of my obedience. I will never step into all that God has for me with this approach.
Clearly my default setting needs to be changed! What if I ask the question, “Can God do this thing?” The answer will invariably be “Yes!”, which really opens things up! Getting over my own inadequacy puts me in a much better position to decide what I should do. Because fear will no longer be part of the equation, nor my own limitations, but rather, God's enabling presence. What a refreshing place to be!
Lord God, I want my confidence to be totally in you. I want to live the life of faith. I confess that fear has sometimes limited my obedience to your promptings. Please help me as I say, No more! Fear, be gone! Holy Spirit, I give you permission to lead me. Wherever we're going, whatever we're doing, I am willing.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)
Why not read the whole of Psalm 139! It's such a good reminder of God's constant presence, and of his intimate love and concern for each one of us.
Reading: John 14
Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. John 14:10 (NIV)
“Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work”. When Jesus walked on this earth, the relationship he had with his Father was in many ways like the relationship that I can now have with the Father. God (by means of the Holy Spirit) is living in me, and doing his work. That includes both his work in me and his work through me.
In John 5:19-20, Jesus reveals how the “through me” part worked for him: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.”
When praying for others, I often just begin praying without giving thought to what God might have in mind for the situation. I suspect things would go a lot better if first I stopped to focus my thoughts on God. “Lord, what are you wanting to do here? What would you like me to do?” I could do this at the time, and even before hand. “Father, what jobs do you have for me today?” For upcoming events or opportunities, I may even choose to fast and pray as I seek to know God's plans for the situation.
Although I don't always find it easy to hear clearly from God, making the effort to listen and to “see” what my Father is doing will surely help. Then I will be able to say with Jesus, “I can do nothing by myself, but only what I see my Father doing, because whatever the Father does, I do too.”
Father God, please open my eyes to see what you are doing. I don't want to work on my own, separated from what you are doing. I belong to you, and I offer myself for your work, to do whatsoever you have in mind – for this moment, for this day, and for the times ahead.
See also, Apart From You, I Shall Do Nothing
Reading: Luke 7:1 – 8:18
“And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.
“No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.
“So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” Luke 8:14-18 (NLT)
In Matthew 5, when Jesus talks about not hiding a lamp under a bowl, he is encouraging me to 'let my light shine before men'. But in Luke, the 'lamp under a bowl' illustration is used in a different context, being just one part of a longer passage on listening and responding to the word of God. (See Luke 8:4-18).
Jesus starts with the Parable of the Sower, about how four different types of “soil” respond to the word of God (the “Good News about the Kingdom of God” which Jesus is “sowing” as he travels around). He then uses the lamp under the bowl illustration to say that God has no intention of hiding his light from me. One day, all will be revealed, but His clear intention is to increasingly reveal his light to me now.
In view of this, Jesus challenges me to consider carefully how I listen. Because, “To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” So this whole passage is really about God's initial and ongoing revelation of himself to me, and how I respond to that revelation.
“To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given.” What a wonderful promise! The more I seek to know and understand God, the more God will reveal himself to me. The more I meditate on his word, the more understanding I will be given. God doesn't reveal all of himself to me at once, but in greater and greater measure as I seek him and respond to him. And the closer I get to the light, the brighter it becomes. “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Proverbs 4:18).
The result of all this will be fruitfulness, “a crop that [will be] a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Luke 8:8).
Lord God, I am hungry to know you more! Thank you that your purpose is to reveal yourself to me. I want this! I don't just want to know about you – I want to know you personally, and deeply. Please draw me closer in my walk with you each day, and as I get to know you more, may my mind and my heart be transformed, and that transformation be outworked in my everyday life.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13
“For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:8
For more on listening and responding to God's word, see What is SOAP? and Nourishing the Inner Man – George Müller inspires me!
Reading: Jeremiah 23:9 – 35
We have obeyed everything our forefather Jonadab son of Recab commanded us. Neither we nor our wives nor our sons and daughters have ever drunk wine or built houses to live in or had vineyards, fields or crops. We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed everything our forefather Jonadab commanded us. Jeremiah 35:8-10 (NIV)
Jonadab had commanded his family never to drink wine, and not to settle but instead to live as nomads. “Then you will live a long time in the land where you are nomads.” (Jeremiah 35:7). Since the time that promise was made, “The descendants of Jonadab son of Recab [had continued to carry] out the command their forefather gave them…” (35:16). They believed the promise, held firmly to it, and met the conditions attached to ensure it continued to be fulfilled.
A Promise: A declaration that something will (or will not) be done or given; an express assurance on which expectation is to be based.
God brought this particular family to Jeremiah and held them up as an example of how all the people of the land should have responded to God's promises and the commands that accompanied them.
The promise that comes immediately to mind for me is one that Jesus makes:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 (NIV)
The promise is that I will bear much fruit. But what is the condition? “Remain in me”. The last phrase particularly stands out: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” In other words, anything that I do “apart” from Jesus (separately; without involving him; on my own) will be fruitless, and not worth the time or effort spent on it.
The opposite of 'apart from' is 'together with'. In using the example of a branch connected to a vine, Jesus is describing a continuous and unbroken togetherness. This is the relationship he wants with me, and my fruitfulness is conditional upon it. There is no “apartness” in the equation; instead there is a continual conversation of prayer. In 1Thessalonians 5:17, Paul describes it in two words : “Pray continually.”
I resolve, with the Spirit's help, to bring everything to God in prayer: To bring him every need, to thank him for even the smallest blessings, to make every job whether big or small an offering of service to him, to seek his guidance and be always listening and ready to respond to his voice, and to enjoy the constant presence of the Holy Spirit in me.
Jesus, I thank you for this wonderful promise in John 15:5. You say to me, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” And so I ask for your grace as I make this declaration: “Apart from you, I shall do nothing.” May this become a motto for me. Please help me to do my part in developing that continuous and unbroken togetherness you seek, and may everything I do be done in your strength and your grace.
See also Walking in “Promise Land”
Reading: Luke 5:17 – 6:49
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers.
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:43-45 (NIV)
I am intrigued by the idea that goodness can be “stored up”. Jesus tells me here that “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart…” God also “stores up goodness” as seen in Psalm 31:19 (NIV): “How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you.”
Goodness: The state or quality of being good; moral excellence; the beneficial or nourishing element of something; kindly feeling; generosity; essence; the best part of anything.
What an amazing thought, that God has stored up “the best part” for me! He knows exactly what I need and what delights me, and has something beneficial and nourishing ready to give me at just the right moment. And he has placed in me this same capacity to store up goodness, ready to share “at just the right moment” with the people he would lead me to. What a privilege, to be like God!
Goodness is the fruit of the Holy Spirit's presence and work in my life as I submit myself daily to him. If goodness can be stored, I'd like my cupboards to be large! And the more often I can empty them by bestowing goodness on others, the more often God can fill them afresh. He never runs out of goodness.
Best there be a door not just on the front of the cupboard, but also on the back, for “inward goods”. Or better still, let's just make that an open hatch! And whenever I find myself on the receiving end of a particular blessing from God, whether that be a financial blessing, or a 'happy turn of events', or an answer to prayer, my first reaction after giving thinks to him can be to intentionally look for some way to share the blessing of God's goodness with someone else. Goodness in, goodness out.
Lord God, you have been so good to me. I love the idea of being able to share your goodness with others. Please continue to renew my heart that I might be a good man, and enlarge my capacity to be able to receive and share your goodness. I look not to my own supply channels but to you for all I need. And I pray that you would indeed bestow your goodness on me “in the sight of men”, that all may see what a good and gracious God you are.
See also, Before eBay or TradeMe, there was God…
Reading: Jeremiah 16 – 17
Tags: confidence, fruitfulness, trust, faith, security, peace, resilience
“But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-9 (NIV)
We all need to have confidence in something. To have confidence is to be able to stand firm, to have roots and be anchored to something. Confidence brings security. Without confidence, we are like tumble weed, with no idea of where the wind might blow us next. That's not a nice feeling.
But confidence has to be placed in something. In Jeremiah 17, God describes the plight of someone whose confidence is rooted in something or someone other than him:
This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.” Jeremiah 17:5-6 (NIV)
“But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.” What a contrast. In God there is to be found hope. In him there is security and inner peace. In him we can flourish, resilient and fruitful even when the circumstances of life are difficult, because our fruitfulness doesn't depend on our circumstances but on God's faithfulness.
Trees don't normally uproot themselves and walk off to another place, but that's exactly what I feel like doing. I hate the idea of relying on my own strength and falling short of all God has for me. Living my whole life within my own feeble limitations would be abysmal, yet I still find myself far too attached to that safe and familiar ground. It's time to shake the dust off those roots and move!
Lord, rip me out and plant me next to a stream! I don't want to pray prayers that are so safe I could answer them myself. I want to pray in faith beyond what is naturally possible. I want to step out and do things that will only work if you come through. I want to bless others even as I face challenges of my own, because you are the source of my fruitfulness, not me. I want to see what you are doing and follow you.
Lord, may my confidence ever be found not in me, or my job, or in anything else, but only in you, and your wonderful promises to me through Jesus.