Reading: Psalm 130
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Psalm 130:1-6 (NIV)
To wait: To remain inactive or in a state of repose until something expected happens; to be available or in readiness; to look forward to eagerly.
When the psalmist talks here about waiting for the Lord, it's clear that no one else will do. No one else can satisfy the cry of his heart. If God doesn't come through for him, he is sunk. There is no plan B. I'm reminded of the lyrics of a Hillsong United song:So I look to you So I look to you No one else will do No one else will do
It's often when I'm at my lowest that I get to truly appreciate how much I need God. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice.” Because when all I delight myself in ceases to satisfy and the things I lean on give way, it's then I see with clarity my absolute need of God. Even those closest to me can't truly satisfy the deepest desires of my heart, but only the One who holds my very soul in his hands.
And yet, God is not 'the god of instant gratification'. He allows me to become hungry so I will come to his table. He allows me to become needy so I will seek provision from his hand. He even allows me to become desperate so my floundering feet will discover that he really is my Rock and upon him I can stand. Otherwise I might put my faith in what cannot deliver and my hope in what is doomed to fail.
But God can deliver, and in him my hope is secure. And so I can rest in that hope, I can “Be still and know that God is God”, and I can say with the psalmist:
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.”
Father, you are good! I can trust you when my circumstances seem bleak and help isn't forthcoming, because you will never fail me. Help me to rest in your love as I wait for you, and never to lose my hope in you.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31 (NIV)
Reading: Jeremiah 17:19 – 23:8
But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. Jeremiah 20:9-10 (NIV)
Poor Jeremiah. No doubt he's smiling now, but you really have to read “Jeremiah's Complaint” in Jeremiah 20:7-18 to appreciate how miserable he was. Yes, he was on fire, but everyone just wanted to put him out.
The people of God had lost their first love. “Yes yes, Lord,” they said, but their hearts were far away, worshiping other gods and letting justice fall by the wayside. And so it fell to Jeremiah to bring God's dire warnings to the people. They, however, appreciated neither the message nor the messenger, and had Jeremiah beaten and put in the stocks.
It's hardly surprising then that Jeremiah found himself feeling angry and depressed, and apparently reluctant at times to share what God gave him. Had the people listened and accepted God's message, it would have been a completely different story. How satisfying that would have been for Jeremiah, how rewarding to see the nation turning back to God. But instead, he was shunned, just as God was – the servant like his master.
Nevertheless, Jeremiah was no Jonah. He couldn't run away because he simply couldn't hold God's message in. It was like fire in his bones, and no matter how much he was mocked and ridiculed, no one could put the fire out, not even himself.
It's reassuring to see that even some of God's “major prophets” struggled. As I get to know Jeremiah from his writings (Jeremiah and Lamentations), I find myself liking him very much. I would like to have been around to encourage him and stand with him. Even in the midst of loneliness and difficulty, his passion for God was unquenchable.
But in the midst of his anguish, I see that Jeremiah did two things: He committed his cause to God, and he took his complaints to God. I can do the same. There is simply no point in running away, or in seeking solace elsewhere. God is the only one worth running to, and the only one who can truly meet me at my point of need.
Thank you Lord for Jeremiah. (I'd like to meet him one day!) As I walk this earth, please help me to never let go of you, and to always seek you first when I'm troubled. Hold me fast in that day so that like Jeremiah, I might finish the race, and finish it well.
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 3:21-25 (NIV)
Reading: Jeremiah 1
“Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 1:17-19
When young Jeremiah looked at himself in the mirror that evening, after having received the above calling from God, what did he see? A fortified city? An iron pillar? A bronze wall? I suspect that rather, he saw a stunned young man, one who was more than just a little afraid, and who would gladly have run away from this terrifying assignment.
But fortified cities don't run away. Iron pillars and bronze walls don't quietly sneak off to hide. And today, God had said it himself: “I have made you a fortified city…” It seems Jeremiah was given no choice, no chance to think about it, and no opportunity to wait until he was a bit older and wiser. It would be Jeremiah and God vs everyone else, starting now.
God isn't afraid of throwing me in the deep end, because nothing is too deep for him. So long as he is with me, it doesn't matter if the whole world would seem to be against me. It doesn't matter how daunting the task before me seems. Nothing is daunting to God. If God appoints me, mine is simply to trust and obey.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Thank you for the opportunities that lie before me, Lord. I choose to trust you, and when the time comes that I find myself out of my depth (no doubt that feeling will come again!), help me to trust you then too, and to find my strength in you. I ask for wisdom to know your will, and that you would open my ears, so that like Jeremiah, I might hear your voice clearly.
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: Ephesians 6:10-24
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood… Ephesians 6:10-12 (NIV)
Every so often, we all need a good pep talk to sharpen us up and renew our confidence. Here Paul is doing exactly that. He focuses on two things:
Firstly, he urges me to stand firm with my eyes wide open. I'm in a battle! I have an adversary, and need to be ready and alert to his schemes. Secondly, Paul does everything he can to instil confidence in me by reminding me that I already have everything I need to fight this battle. I can stand firm because I know the truth. I have been saved and made righteous by what Jesus has done for me. My faith allows me to fend off Satan's attacks whilst at the same time sharing the good news with others not yet saved.
The Word of God is not only transforming my own heart and mind, but is a weapon I can use myself in my struggle against evil, to attack and to defend. And, I have been given state of the art communication capabilities now that the Holy Spirit is living in me. I can truly get things done through prayer because of my position in Christ.
It's really about confidence, and knowing who I am in Christ. Everything is there. God's incomparably great power is at work in me (Eph 1:19 ), and all the things I need to help me stand firm and strong in my faith have been given to me already.
It's as I stand in this position of confidence and God-given strength that I am truly able to love, to be joyful always, to enjoy peace that surpasses all understanding, to be patient and kind and good, to be gentle with others and trustworthy, and to enjoy the security of having self control. These aren't the sort of things I imagined on a battlefield, but the Spirit of the Lord isn't here to bring death and destruction, but rather, life and freedom. No wonder Paul urges me elsewhere, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21
Thank you Jesus for the victory you won at the cross. Help me now to stand firm, in confidence, and to bring your love to the world in which I live. And for all those who face persecution and hardship as they serve you, please strengthen them, fill them anew with confidence, and release joy in their spirits as they hold fast to you.
Reading: Revelation 21-22
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. Revelation 21:6-7
The word “overcome” features often in the book of Revelation, as well as in John's gospel and in his 1st letter. In Revelation, in the letters to the seven churches, the phrase, “To him who overcomes” occurs seven times, each time preceding a promise. In the final of these, in Revelation 3:21, Jesus promises, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
Overcome: To get the better of in a struggle or conflict; conquer; defeat; to prevail over (opposition, temptation, a debility, etc); to gain the victory, win or conquer. Some verses:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 1 John 4:4
This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. 1 John 5:3-5
Life is not going to be easy. I might as well get used to the idea that the great struggle between good and evil features me. In my own everyday life, I will be challenged to overcome evil with good, to prevail over temptation and opposition, and to “conquer the world” by holding true to my faith. There is no room for giving up or being pathetic. But the strength and mental toughness I require to overcome evil with good comes not from being “hard”, or from my own great virtue or valour. Rather, it is founded on those intangible but eternal qualities of faith, hope and love. By these alone will I overcome and receive the very great rewards Jesus has promised to me, and to all who overcome.
Jesus, I want be an overcomer, to walk in your footsteps and see evil being overcome by good. Your kingdom come, Lord Jesus. Please strengthen me for the challenges I face, and strengthen all your children who face opposition around the world. Grant them your favour, strengthen their faith, and fill them with the joy that comes from serving you.