Setting God before you

‘I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.’ Psalm 16.8

This verse is a powerful help to us in difficult times and it’s particularly helpful if we work backwards through the phrases!  The very fact that the author writes about being shaken means that he is experiencing some difficulty, and many of us can identify with this.  Perhaps you need God’s divine touch in some aspect of your life at the moment?  Sometimes our need can cause us to doubt his love, and yet we desperately do not want to lose sight of this – we want to stand firm.  So how can we stand firm and not be shaken?

Our ability to do this is based on the knowledge that God is with us; he is at our ‘right hand’.  Whatever we are going through – whether it be sickness, hardship or worry – knowing that God is with us changes our outlook and expectation.  It’s when we cannot find him that helplessness can set in.  So how do we find God?  David’s answer is quite clear – set him before you!

It’s not that David is ‘making up’ a sense of God’s presence, but rather that he is so convinced of God’s presence with him that he can, with great ease, imagine God there – because he is!  This was not David doing some imaginative exercise, but rather him tuning into the reality of God being there with him.

Take a moment to set the Lord before you.  Where is he for you?  How would you describe his presence with you?  Enjoy him!

Being blessed despite your circumstances

‘When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did . . .’ Genesis 39.3

These words refer to Joseph, a man who was obviously blessed by God.  People around him could see that God was with him, blessing everything to which he set his hand.  Interestingly though, the blessing of God did not mean that Joseph had an easy life.

Not long after this description of him, he was falsely accused, imprisoned and left languishing in prison – although once again we are told that the Lord was with him and he was given responsibility.  Again, the blessing of God upon Joseph’s life was not a guarantee of ease.

This is encouraging for us.  During times of setbacks, confusion or hardship, the temptation is to think that we must have lost God’s favour in some way.  The story of Joseph reassures us that this is not the case.  Whatever you are going through, God’s presence is with you.  His hand is upon you in the lightest or darkest of situations, regardless of whether you feel it, and his desire is always to bless you.

Just do it!

‘Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”’ Acts 9.17

If you think about the details of Saul’s conversion and how it happened, it’s clear that it was God’s plan, but also that there was a level of human involvement.  God does some things sovereignly but at other times he uses people.  On the Damascus Road, Jesus spoke directly to Saul but then it seems that a human being was needed, Ananias, to lay hands on him so that his sight would be restored.  It’s pointless asking why God did one thing without human intervention but not the other – he just did!

The lesson this teaches us is that it’s entirely possible that God may ask us to do something and we might think – what’s the point?  The answer is likely to be, ‘Just because’!

When we consider God asking us to do something, we may have the impression that he will speak loudly or give us a strong compulsion to do something, whereas his voice might simply be a nudge, a whisper or a thought that pops into our mind, often prompting us to do something that seems quite trivial – just because!

So just do it!  You will probably never know the real significance of your actions and small acts of kindness, but the one who nudges you knows.

God knows and cares

‘“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.’ Acts 9.5

When Saul set out to persecute the church he really had no idea what he was doing.  Perhaps he even thought he was on a divine mission!  In these seven words spoken by Jesus, we are given a totally different view of Saul’s activity – he was actually persecuting Jesus himself.

These words also give us some indication of just how seriously Jesus views us; if we are being persecuted, so is he – and if we are being hurt, so is he.  When we go through hard times it’s easy to wonder if God really knows what’s going on with us and whether he even cares.  However, these words that Jesus spoke to Saul reveal something of the depth of his feeling: he does care and he does know.

At the very beginning of our prayer times, if we are able to catch just how precious we are to the one who is listening to us, and the deep care with which he holds us, then our attitude may well be quite different.  As you sit down with God, hold on to this thought and let it shape the way you pray.

The Father sees you

‘But when you pray . . . pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’ Matthew 6.6

Jesus is encouraging us that however we may feel about our prayers, and whether or not we sense they are getting us anywhere, the truth is that Father God sees us at prayer and it will make a difference.

Jesus is not talking about the quality of our prayers, whether they are clear and eloquent, but simply this: the Father sees what we are doing.  If this is true, you might find it quite releasing to know that the fact you are praying is more important than the words you choose.

What a difference it could make to our prayer lives if we could catch this truth – that as we pray we are indeed being listened to and watched.  You may find it helpful to visualise yourself praying, seeing yourself as if you were an observer.  Then letting your vision change so that rather than simply seeing yourself sitting in a chair or wherever you are, you visualise yourself kneeling before the very throne of God.

The truth is that you are just as visible to God sitting in your room at home as you would be if you were the only person kneeling before his throne.

Staying put

‘But when you pray . . . close the door’ Matthew 6:6

We close doors to keep some people out of rooms and to keep others in!  However, when we consider the idea of closing our door when we are praying, it probably refers to more than a physical action.  It may have more to do with closing the door to distractions and negativity so that we can keep ourselves in the place of God’s love.

These distractions can take various forms, and often we find ourselves mulling over all the things we could be doing that seem more pressing and important than prayer, or we may suddenly feel very ‘ordinary’.  Why would God ever be interested in me and what’s so special about me that he would want to spend time with me?  This is when closing the door is about keeping us in!

Most of us can probably admit that God loves us – indeed the majority of hymns and choruses remind us of this – but our challenge is to keep believing it.  Perhaps you are currently feeling ordinary, struggling under the weight of sin, or aware that disappointment or unanswered prayers are causing doubt to creep in?  Closing the door means being determined to stay in that place of God’s love and not straying away just because your feelings tell you otherwise.

To be called into the presence of God’s love is wonderful – so stay there and let nothing drag you away.\

It’s between you and God

‘But when you pray, go into your room . . .’ Matthew 6.6

Before Jesus spoke these words, he had issued a warning about people who loved to stand in public places and pray loudly and expansively.  His point was that prayer is private between you and God.

Prayer is about going into your room to meet with God, and if you can catch this excitement and expectation as you begin to pray, then it could change your attitude to what’s about to happen.  Too often we think of prayer as us saying similar things to God as we said yesterday, but Jesus wants us to catch the reality that prayer is about having an encounter with the living God.  This is why we are going into our room – to meet with God.

To go into your room is about going somewhere private and personal.  God longs for this meeting with you and wants you to be real with him, not simply the person you think you ought to be.  Just be yourself, warts and all!

Going into your room to meet with God is such a personal invitation, and perhaps the best bit of all is that he will be there waiting for you.