‘Some wandered in desert wastelands’ Psalm 107.4
The first category of people to whom the Lord shows help is those who are described very graphically as wandering around hungry and thirsty looking for a place to settle. We are told that when they cried out to God, he showed them the way to where they could find rest.
Perhaps we all fit into this category from time to time! When we simply don’t know what to do in a particularly tricky situation, or even with the whole of our life, it can feel as if we are wandering around with life on hold.
We all face choices in our lives, some relatively insignificant and others more important, and the outcome of our choices can greatly affect our sense of peace. For the psalmist the answer is so simple that it almost sounds like a cliché to us: ‘Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble’ (verse 6).
When we are struggling with an issue or a choice it can be really annoying when people glibly ask us if we have prayed about it! The psalmist’s advice may indeed be a cliché, but it is also wisdom. What God has to give us is far more likely to come through us humbly seeking his help than through fretting and stressing. What do you want his guidance and help with today?
‘Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever.’ Psalm 107.1
Who is ‘entitled’ to be helped by God? Thankfully there are many ways in which help can be made available to people nowadays, but in order to get the help it is important to find out whether they are entitled to receive it. The difficulty is when people discover that they are not! So how do we know whether or not we are entitled to receive help from God?
One means is to look at the people who were helped in the Bible to see whether we might fall into the same category as them. Psalm 107 gives us a number of categories and looks at the help that God provided. Before we look at these over the next few days, we are going to focus on the first verse.
The psalm begins with what is one of the most common phrases in the Bible, ‘Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever.’ As we begin to seek the Lord’s help, this is the attitude that the Bible encourages us to have in our hearts – a recognition that God is good and his love will never fail.
Whatever your circumstances, as you come to God have this refrain in your heart and on your lips – ‘You are good; your loves endures for ever’. Whether you are happy, confused, full of pain or in desperate need, this is a truth for all of us: ‘God is good and his love endures for ever.’
‘And we . . . are being transformed’ 2 Corinthians 3.18
Many people are wary of change, particularly when it means that they have to do the changing! You may look at yourself and what you think God expects of you, and wonder just how hard it is to get to the place where you think you ought to be.
What is so amazing about the nature of this transformation that Paul speaks about is that it is not up to us to get transformed! So long as we are willing and open, it is what happens to us naturally as a result of the God who lives within us. In the previous verse, Paul said that ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ In other words, it is not our action or efforts that bring about this transforming freedom, but simply the presence of God within us. He is not a static force, simply there to create a sense of well-being; nor is he a constant nag, seeking to get us to change ourselves. Sadly this is often our sense of who God is – one who is constantly trying to get us to change our behaviour, do better and dwell on our failures.
The Spirit of the Lord is different from this. He is the transforming presence of God within us, so worship him for his presence, for the fact that he enjoys being within you and because whether you know it or not, he is transforming you.
‘And we . . . are being transformed’ 2 Corinthians 3.18
God brings change to us. The word used here for transformation is the same word used to describe Jesus when he was transfigured before the disciples. In that moment he was changed so that his disciples could see him for who he really was and glimpse something of his heavenly glory.
We can find ourselves getting very anxious about whether our transformation is happening quickly enough, or indeed whether it is happening at all! To be honest, being transfigured probably isn’t the language that we would use to describe the change that God is bringing to us. The problem is when we confuse what we see with what God sees. We see the struggles and the failures, but God sees people he chose before the world began and whom he delighted in adopting as his beloved children; sons and daughters for whom Jesus chose to exchange his life for theirs.
When you next look in the mirror it is not just what you see that matters, but it’s what God sees that really counts.
‘and his grace to me was not without effect.’ 1 Corinthians 15.10
Grace is a word that we use in our Christian faith almost without thinking about it. We hear it spoken about, sung about and perhaps you even use it yourself without thinking too much about what it actually means and where you are because of it.
Grace is a hard word to define, but at the heart of it is a sense of God’s goodness and strength working in and through us, despite our weakness and without regard to what we deserve. Throughout his letters, Paul was quick to reflect on how much he was a recipient of God’s grace; he knew he was undeserving and was well aware of his own weaknesses, and yet despite this he knew the grace of God. Similarly, we are all recipients of God’s grace, but how aware of it are we?
If someone were to ask you to give an example of God’s grace in your life – what would you say? What makes it an act of God’s grace rather than your own strength and ability? It is by reflecting on what God has done for you that you find yourself more and more aware of the ongoing work of his grace in your life. It’s definitely worth a thought!
‘The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad;’ Psalm 97.1
This verse states so simply and beautifully that the earth has good cause for rejoicing because God is king over all. We might expect the king’s subjects or those who follow him to express joy, but in this verse the call to rejoice is to absolutely everyone – the whole earth.
The reason why everyone can find joy in God’s kingship is that his kingdom is based on love, and not on his domination. He is a king to whom everyone can come, whatever their background or whatever they have done, without fear of condemnation or retribution. The sad fact is that although many of us may have come to God like this in the first place, somehow it is so easy to lose sight of it as we go through life. Whereas once upon a time we freely accepted his grace, now we often forget it; or perhaps we once came to him with freedom and joy but now feel that we have to ‘earn our keep’ with him, or that we have exhausted all of his grace to us.
Yet God does not change. The way we came to him and experienced his love at the beginning is the way that we can (and should) come to him every day – aware of his unfailing goodness and grace towards us. Spend a little time now reflecting on the words from today’s verse, and then try to let them linger on in your mind throughout the day: ‘The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad’.
“Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees” Mark 8.15
Sometimes Jesus must have despaired of his own disciples! In this chapter they moved quickly from witnessing a staggering miracle of Jesus reproducing bread for a huge crowd, to discovering that they themselves had forgotten to take any bread with them on their journey. Did they really think that this same Jesus, who could feed 5,000 and 4,000 people on separate occasions, would be unable to do anything about their lunch?
The reason that Jesus may well have despaired is the disciples’ inability to make the connection between what they had just seen him do and their own predicament. As we read the stunning stories of the New Testament, how easily we can fall into the same trap. Why is it so hard to believe that the same Jesus who could open the eyes of the blind and raise the dead to life, could directly intervene in our lives and bring change to the situations we face?
Making these connections is what we are called to do; to apply the Jesus of the New Testament to our lives today. As you read your Bible, make the connections! If what you are reading is true, what are the implications for the situations facing you today and for your whole life?