‘Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD:’ Isaiah 51.1
This is us isn’t it? Whatever stage of life we might feel that we have reached, there is something within us that wants to be different from how we are at the moment – and we all want to grow closer to God. These words God spoke through Isaiah are going to be relevant for us as well.
It is worth pausing at this stage to recognise the identity that they give us. We often think of ourselves as ‘not quite there’ or ‘could do better’ – or sometimes far worse! Yet if we recognise something of our heart’s desire expressed in these words, then we become different: we are people seeking after God. Our identity is not about what we do or do not achieve, but rather about identifying ourselves with the one we seek.
We are all ‘namebearers’, carrying within us something of the presence of God which draws us to seek him more and more. Most of the time we look at what we do not have, but today let’s spend time pondering what we do have.
Take a moment to reflect on what you have – you bear God’s name, he lives within you and you carry his presence.
‘…your name is like perfume poured out.’ Song of Songs 1.3
At first this verse seems to be slightly strange, but it is actually very beautiful. The Song of Songs is a book that can be read on many different levels. On the one hand it speaks openly and poetically about the nature of love, but throughout the ages it has also been seen as a beautiful description of the love between God and his people.
If you choose to read it with this second approach, some of the verses within it say something very powerful about God’s love. This verse chosen for today is one such example.
The ‘name’ of God refers to everything about him. It has been described as God’s revealed nature, or in other words a description of what he is like. To describe his name as ‘perfume poured out’ is to suggest that it is something meant to be experienced, and not hidden away or stored up for a time in the future. It really is for now.
God is not present simply to meet our needs, but he receives honour when we turn to him with them. As you think about your needs now, whatever they might be, what aspect of God do you need to touch them and make a difference? Is it his peace, his provision or his healing? His name – all that he is – has been poured out, so reach out to him and let him touch you.
“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13.17
Is it possible to pray about things too much? I’m not sure how much Paul prayed about where he should go. Sometimes he had visions but at other times it seemed as if he travelled to a different place to see what would happen! On one occasion he came up against closed doors and had to abandon going to there. It seems that what drove him was his desire to fulfil his calling; to do what God had called him to do in every place he went.
We often wonder what God wants us to do, and then we wait until he tells us. This is incredibly wise when it comes to life changing decisions, but in our everyday Christian lives the call just seems to be to get on with it! In today’s verse, Jesus encouraged his disciples to get on with doing the things of God – showing love to others, and in this way demonstrating the love of Jesus.
Instead of praying to God and saying, “Tell me what to do next”, why not ask him to give you boldness – and then keep your eyes open for ways in which you can serve him today.
‘…ponder the loving deeds of the LORD’ Psalm 107.43
This psalm has been seeking to encourage all people to turn to God with their various needs, and the last words are an exhortation to everyone to ‘ponder the loving deeds of the LORD’. The word translated as ‘ponder’ or ‘consider’ has the sense of trying to gain understanding. We might think of it in terms of really getting to grips with something.
Too often we gloss over the love of God, or at least pass over it quickly without doing as this psalm suggests and pondering it. Lamentations 3.22-23 says: ‘…his compassions never fail. They are new every morning’. Our ponderings about God’s love should be just as regular and fresh – a daily exercise. If we fail to do this, then it is all too easy to start to believe that we are simply tolerated and endured by a God who does not really care about us personally. It then becomes natural for us to follow the commands of God out of slavish obedience, with a kind of “what will happen to me if I don’t” attitude.
God’s desire for us is quite different. He wants us to discover, ponder, grow in and remain in his love for us. It is this that changes our relationship with him, for then we turn to him not out of fearfulness, but as his beloved children who delight in his love for us.
‘Some went out on the sea in ships;’ Psalm 107.23
To this category of people in need there is no blame whatsoever apportioned for the difficulty facing them. These are people going about their work, living their normal lives. They are even described in verse 24 as having an eye open to the wonders of God – ‘They saw the works of the LORD’ – and yet they encountered horrific storms.
All too often when things go wrong we are quick to apportion blame, either to ourselves or to others. We want to find out the reason why, when maybe there is no reason that makes any sense to us. It is all too easy to wonder about the cause of other people’s problems rather than drawing alongside them to help.
Whatever the cause of your own or other people’s difficulties, the advice given in verse 28 is simple –cry out to the Lord in your trouble and he will bring you out of your distress. It sounds quite simplistic, and yet it is so often the last thing to which we turn. We will indeed analyse, fret, ask whether it is what God wants and ponder our worthiness, yet the point of this psalm is undeniable – when trouble hits, whether or not it is of your own doing, turn to God and call to him for help.
‘Some became fools through their rebellious ways’ Psalm 107.17
This next category of people whom the Lord helps is those who have played some part in their current affliction and are described as being rebellious. Perhaps they made a conscious choice to walk in a way that was contrary to what God desired.
We might imagine that such people would be judged for their attitude, but the reality is that God shows great mercy to them, and even seems to throw a lifeline of grace. We read in verse 20, ‘He sent out his word and healed them’. He did not condemn them, nor make them suffer for their rebellion, but rather gave them something that would change them and cause them to find for themselves the unfailing love of God.
Some of the most beautiful words that Jesus spoke to us in our need are the words from Matthew 11.28: “Come to me . . . and I will give you rest.” If you are struggling because you have taken a turn away from God, for whatever reason, he is waiting for you. Rather like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, he is waiting to welcome you back, restore your sense of his delight in you and help you find the joy of living in your Father’s house again.
‘Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness’ Psalm 107.10
The next two categories of need are similar as they both reflect the needs of those who suffer as a consequence of straying from God.
The first of these refers to people whose mistake is to despise ‘the plans of the Most High’ (verse 11). It’s unlikely that we would call them out and out sinners, but rather think of them as people who have chosen not to walk in the way of God, preferring instead some other style of living. However, the result of their choice isn’t just a matter of them finding some other pasture but is actually quite bleak.
They are described as ‘prisoners suffering in iron chains’. This points to an important truth: the ways of God are not commandments to restrict our enjoyment but gifts to help us live in freedom and light. God is not a spoilsport thinking of new ways to make us miserable! In fact the very opposite is true. He is seeking our freedom and doing everything he can to bring us out of darkness and gloom, to the extent that he sent Jesus to come into our darkness and lead us out. Some people tend to think that God is restrictive, but what really restricts is sitting in darkness – a prisoner to the life that has been chosen.
God is on the side of light and freedom and this is always his desire for us. If you feel that in some way you are living in gloom and darkness, recognise that this is not his plan for you and ask him to set you free.