Reading: Jeremiah 2-3:5
“ ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the first-fruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them,’ ” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 2:2-4 (NIV)
Israel was once enamoured by God, but their love had grown cold. This same accusation is made by Jesus in Revelation 2 to the Church of the Ephesians: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.”
Even worse, Israel had taken up with other gods, gods of stone and wood who could not help them. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13). In losing their first love, something else had taken its place, something that could not possibly satisfy.
I need to hold fast to God. As in a marriage relationship, feelings of affection sometimes well up in what we call 'love'. Often, however, love consists of actions purposefully carried out as the outward expression of a commitment made. To make decisions that line up with this internal commitment, even when my feelings betray me – that is love.
Consistently choosing to act in ways that protect and value my commitment to God and my relationship with Him is my outward expression of love and my true worship. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1) So love and worship go hand in hand.
Thank you Father for reaching out to me, not as a distant and inaccessible God, but as one who is close and intimate. Help me to always act in accordance with my commitment to you, and may my love for you never grow cold, but forever burn bright and clear.
For more on this topic, you might like to read my previous post Jesus – My First Love. Same theme – completely different part of the Bible!
Reading: Revelation 1-2:7
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. Revelation 2:4-5 (NIV)
God is interested in my love ('agape' in the Greek). Yes, my good works, my obedience, my perseverance under hardship – all these are important, if not vital. But my affection toward him is the number one thing. “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:29-30).
My love for God is what energises my relationship. It determines how I relate to God, what I do, how I think, how I respond to things, how I spend my time. Take the love away and it becomes just a set of practices.
The love Jesus describes is not just a feeling. “Repent,” he says, “and do the things you did at first.” To repent is to “think differently i.e. reconsider, or change your mind.” To do the things you did at first implies that my love needs to be out-worked, revealing itself in my actions.
It is possible for me to let my relationship with God slip, so that instead of the passionate all-consuming fervour and hunger that I once felt, it becomes just a set of religious practices, making me not much different than a Rotarian or a volunteer with an aid organisation.
What should absolutely define me is my love for God – expressed in the way I seek him, and make time with him my number one priority; expressed in my worship of him, and the conversation I have with him. And of course, expressed in my obedience to him, placing everything that I have into his hands. Love is like a fire that I need to regularly feed so that it burns strong and hot!
Thank you Lord Jesus that not only do you know me, but you love me, and you actually value my love for you. What an incredible privilege! I choose to delight in you. Help me to draw close to you, and I pray that you would reveal yourself to me, that I might truly know you and love you.
See also: First Things First
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.
Reading: Philippians 1
For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. Philippians 1:29 (NLT)
The “privilege of suffering.” The phrase could easily have been penned by poet Rupert Brooke who, during WW1, wrote idealistically of the 'glory of war'. But whereas Brooke died from infection en route to the battlefield before having faced a single day of active combat, Paul was certainly a man familiar with suffering, and even as he wrote was chained up in a Roman prison because of his faith.
Unlike Brooke, Paul doesn't speak of the 'glory' of suffering for Jesus, but rather the privilege of suffering. Elsewhere he speaks of “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Phil 3:10), and Peter speaks of “participating in Christ's sufferings”. (1Peter 4:13)
But Paul does say that if we share in his sufferings, we will “also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17), and Peter says, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1Peter 4:13)
Paul even goes so far as to say that he wants to know the fellowship of sharing in Christ's sufferings! (Phil 3:10). He has reached such a level of trust in Jesus and love for him that his greatest, most heart-felt desire is that “Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21)
When Jesus suffered for me at the Cross, his work was complete. There is nothing left still to be done to put me right with God. He died on the Cross “as me”, and I now live forever under the favour of God, a “co-heir with Christ.” But until the day when God puts all things right, I can expect to encounter suffering for being a Christian. In a sense, I am suffering “as Christ”, as his ambassador.
Jesus, thank you that you did not turn away from suffering, but instead you let love and obedience determine your path. For the joy set before you, you “endured the Cross, scorning its shame…” I also want to walk a path of love and obedience. Please grant me courage to be your ambassador, to share you with others, to carry your love and grace to the world in which I live.
Help me Lord to be bold without being obnoxious, and sensitive without being timid. Like you did, Jesus, help me to look beyond any suffering I might face to the joy that is before me, and even now to live in that joy as I serve you, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (NIV)
See also, To Him Who Overcomes
Reading: Psalm 102
Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. Psalm 102:2-3 (NIV)
Right at the beginning of Psalm 102, the writer pleads with God, “Do not hide your face from me…” What is it about a person's face that is so important? Of the five senses, touch is the only one that doesn't rely on the face. The face is where we see into a person, like a window into the person's thoughts and feelings. But a person's face is also a window through which they can look to see into us.
To hide your face from someone speaks of cutting off communication with them. But even if we can't see a person's face, we may still be able to hear their voice. And so we see that God draws us to himself even when we are far from him, calling us to turn from our sinfulness and come into his very Presence. The final verse of the psalm reveals once again, as all through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, what God's intention for us is: “The children of your servants will live in your presence…” (vs 28).
When Jesus won victory over sin and death at the cross, he did something wonderful – he opened up a window between me and God. It's a window through which I can see God – his thoughts and his feelings, and his holiness – and through which God looks into me. Yes, “everything is open and laid bare” before his eyes (Heb 4:13), but before, his face was turned away from me because of my sin. Now my sin is gone. I have been made holy by the completed work of Jesus on the cross. Now, God's face is turned towards me.
I imagine myself walking up to a wide open window and talking with God as he leans on the smooth wooden sill, his face turned towards mine. The sun shines and a warm breeze gently blows. This is why I was made – to commune with my awesome and approachable Creator.
Thank you Jesus that you have opened up for me this window of opportunity to come close to you, and see into your heart. May the window always remain open, and may the sill be worn smooth from time spent leaning on it and talking with you.
Reading: Jeremiah 8:4 – 9:26
This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. Jeremiah 9:23-24 (NIV)
More than anything God wants us to know him and understand him. To know him means also to know what pleases him. Here God spells out three things that please him: kindness, justice and righteousness, “… for in these I delight.” The people of Jeremiah's day would have known this, but what they knew differed from what they valued, as revealed by their actions.
What determines a person's values? In this passage, God implies that if we can but know him and understand him, our values will begin to line up with his.
Values could be defined as those things that I hold as valuable, things that delight me and in which I take great pleasure. The more pleasure something brings me, or that I believe will bring me in time, the more time and energy I will likely invest in it, and the more I'll be prepared to spend or sacrifice to obtain and safeguard that thing.
I suspect that some of the things I believe to be important and good have yet to become true values for me. I'd like them to be, but my actions betray me. The passions that motivate and delight my God have yet to fully grip my own heart. But that, more than anything, is what I want – to delight consistently in the Lord, and to live a life impassioned by those values that delight and impassion him.
Lord God, the only way for me to really understand you and know you deeply is for you to open your heart to me. Thank you that you are changing me from the inside out. Lord, those things you hold dear, I want to hold dear. Once again, I open my heart to you, and invite you to have free reign in me, that I might live a life passionately devoted to you.
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4