Reading: Mark 1
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Mark 1:35-37 (NIV)
Jesus needed time alone with his father. But now, he was famous; everyone was looking for him, and on this particular day, the only way to find solitude was to “sneak off” early in the morning while it was still dark. Alone with God, Jesus could be himself. He could express himself fully without the need to consider the watchful eye of others, and without interruption.
This time of his was more precious than sleep. He had been up late the previous evening healing people and driving out demons, and now he was up early, before even the first light of dawn, communing with his father in the cool solitude of the morning.
Like Jesus, I need to spend time alone with God. Just as each week there is the opportunity for a sabbath, so each day I should “sneak off” for some alone time with God. What a privilege to have a “one on one” audience with the Creator of the universe! What an honour to be able to enter his presence without an appointment and be welcomed.
Jesus was so hungry for time with his Father, he would choose it over sleep if necessary. Daniel was hungry for it too. Even after becoming chief administrator of the whole Persian empire, he still managed to sneak off three times every day to pray. As for me, no day of mine can be too busy to forgo this privilege. I too am hungry, and God has prepared the table…
Thank you so much Father for the privilege of being able to come into your presence. Thank you Jesus for your example. Help me to “sneak off” with you often, and to make the most of every idle moment. I ask that you would teach me to pray, sharpen my hearing, and quicken my thoughts as I enjoy time alone with you.
This SOAP has always been one of my favourites. I love the idea of “sneaking off” with God. To me it speaks of intimacy and closeness, and a relationship that is passionate. And so it was that the title of this SOAP became the title of this blog. My sincere hope is that as you read “Sneaking Off With God”, you too will find yourself hungering after that close and intimate relationship with God that He seeks with all who will seek Him.
See also Eating at the King's Table
Reading: Colossians 2
…that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2a-3 (NIV)
To discover Jesus is to discover “the mystery of God”. He is “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints [that's us who have believed]. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:26-27).
I picture this mystery of God as being like a bulb in the ground which over “ages and generations” sent up its shoot and grew. In time a plump flower head developed, and all who sought God wondered, “What will the flower look like?” Not until Jesus came and died and then rose from the dead did the flower finally open fully to reveal God's wonderful plan for us. And the plan was Jesus. In him, a living intimate relationship with God can begin as we discover the “surpassing riches of God's grace.”
In hindsight, the plan of God can be seen right through the Old Testament, but how wonderful it is to discover for ourselves the “glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in [us], the hope of glory.”
It's interesting that “All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are “hidden” in Christ. They are not just 'lying on the ground' waiting to be casually picked up. They are only found as I earnestly seek Jesus, searching the written Word to discover the “living Word”, reaching out for him in prayer, and looking to the Holy Spirit to reveal more of Jesus to me.
There is so much more to this “mystery of God” than just the initial discovery. Having found Jesus, I am like an explorer in the desert who has discovered a great archaeological treasure protruding through the sand. Having found it, I start to dig to discover more of what lies hidden below, initially with an excavator, then a spade, then a small trowel, and finally a brush as the beauty and intricacy of the treasure is revealed.
This is not some small artefact to be added to my collection of wisdom and knowledge, but a whole kingdom, a lifetime's worth of treasure hidden in Christ and waiting for me to uncover and enjoy and marvel at.
Lord Jesus, what a privilege that you should open the way for me to know you. I long to know more of you. Thank you for your written Word. I pray that as I read it and ponder on it, you would reveal yourself to me in increasing measure, and bless me with the wisdom and knowledge that are to be found in you.
Reading: Joshua 6-13
But to the tribe of Levi, Moses had given no inheritance; the Lord, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as he promised them. Joshua 13:33 (NIV)
The great “divvy up” of the promised land amongst the tribes of Israel must have been a time of great excitement and anticipation. “What will we get? I hope it's nice there!” But the tribe of Levi, whose role was to serve in the house of God, would inherit no land. Instead, God himself would be their inheritance, and they would receive a regular share of the offerings and sacrifices made by the Israelites to God.
I wonder how the Levites felt about that? Were they delighted or disappointed? Did they feel privileged or put out, like winners or like losers in the great inheritance divvy up? I suspect that as a group, and perhaps even as individuals, the Levites experienced the full range of emotions, as I do.
On the one hand, I sometimes desire the things that others have. I like to own things. If I read a real estate magazine, I find myself wanting a new house! When I feed an interest or passion, it grows! On the other hand, I know in my head that what God has for me is better than anything this world has to offer. But how strongly do I believe that in my heart?
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you…” 1 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)
The value I place on my inheritance has an enormous impact on how I feel and how I live. When I place high value on God, and all that comes with him, I naturally look to him for joy and fulfilment. He becomes the focus of my attention and the object of my affections. Investing energy into being close to him is easy because it's what I most want to do.
But when I allow other things to capture my heart – even good things – so that I unconsciously begin to value them more than God, I find myself looking to those things for fulfilment. They become the focus of my attention and the object of my affections, while pursuing God becomes less appealing than pursuing this new thing.
I want God to be my first love, and so I need to guard my heart by giving him the first share of my time. Making time with God my first priority will help me to keep other passions in perspective, because when it all comes down, they will pass, but what I have in God will last forever. “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” (James 1:17), and the passion that I feed the most will inevitably become the strongest.
Father, thank you so much for the privilege of being invited into your presence, to enjoy your amazing love and grace forever. Nothing else can possibly match that. Help me God to keep my eyes fixed on you. I don't want anything else to ensnare me or steal that number one place in my heart. You Lord are my inheritance, and I choose to put you first, ahead of everything else.
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
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: 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: Isaiah 54 – 55
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Isaiah 55:1 (NIV)
This chapter contains the special offer of a lifetime, an invitation directly from God to us to come to Him and be satisfied, at no cost to ourselves. The generosity of the invitation is unquestionable. We can enjoy God's faithful love, and our souls the richest of fare. All we need do is turn from our sinful ways and our selfish thoughts and turn to the LORD, and he will freely pardon. The outcome of this will be joy.
This requires a new way of thinking. We come to a generous and good God who has purposed in his heart to show us His grace, and his plans will surely come to fruition.
Just as thirst and hunger are things I experience every day, and satisfy with water and food, I can expect to feel spiritual hunger and thirst often. This is normal. How amazing that God invites me daily to come to his dining room, to eat at the king's table, and there satisfy my hunger and quench my thirst. But what does this mean in practice?
To come, to seek, to listen, to give ear, to forsake old ways and turn to God, to draw near expectantly, to dig into his Word, to reach out to him. It's up to me to “eat what is good, and my soul will delight in the richest of fare.” Isaiah 55:2
I am so privileged Lord to be invited to your table. May nothing else satisfy my hunger and thirst. I most gratefully accept your generous invitation. May your thoughts become my thoughts, and your Word truly accomplish what you desire my life and achieve the purpose for which you sent it.