Loving ourselves

‘LORD, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells.’ Psalm 26.8

There is something very captivating about this sentence.  The psalmist was thinking about the temple and the wonderful sense of God’s presence that he often felt there, and he simply described how he loved it and enjoyed being there.

This verse also contains a huge challenge for us – we are now ‘the house’ where God dwells.  In 1 Corinthians 6.19, Paul speaks about us being temples of God’s Holy Spirit.  The question we need to address is this: how do we feel about the place where God has chosen to dwell?

For many of us the answer is that we do not have a very high regard for ourselves, feeling that we could do a lot better and suspecting that God is slightly embarrassed of us.  In fact, if we are honest we may wonder why he would choose to live within us at all.  However let’s take on board a little bit more of today’s verse.  What if the psalmist was actually catching something of what God thought about his temple?  Suppose God loved the house where he dwelt then – and suppose he still loves all the houses where he dwells now, and it is his absolute pleasure and delight to dwell within us?

Let’s hear these words as if it was one member of the Godhead speaking to another about us: ‘I love the house where you live.’  Dwell on this and believe it.

Learning from the actions of God

‘Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”’ John 6.26

If you were to take a minute to make a list of all that God has done for you, I suspect that you would be surprised at how many things come to mind.  The reality is that if you could see it from God’s perspective, then the list would be never ending!  So what is your reaction to what God has given you?

In this verse, Jesus seems to be saying that there are different ways we can look at his actions.  On the one hand we can accept his gifts and enjoy them, or on the other hand we can take them a bit further and ask, ‘What does this show me about him?’

Suppose, for example, you are facing an anxious moment in the day ahead and after prayer you find a level of peace that you were not expecting.  What do you do?  Certainly you can thank God for it, but perhaps there is more?  A good question to ponder is what this tells you about God: what does his gift to you teach you about him and how does it affect the way you approach him about other things?

Our life with God is a daily adventure and his desire is that we grow in our relationship with him, so that as we discover more about him our faith and love for him grow.

Take a moment to reflect on one or two things that you recognise as God’s touch upon your life recently, and consider what difference they have made to you and what they have taught you about God?

Letting the Bible read us

‘And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.’ 1 Thessalonians 2.13

How wonderful that the word of God is at work in us who believe.  There is no mention of us necessarily being aware of it or feeling it, yet it is active.  How does this happen?

One key way is through reading the Bible.  It has been said that it is not so much how we read the Bible, but rather how we let the Bible read us.  Reading the Bible is not just about reading the words on the page but letting them touch us.  We read a passage to learn more about the nature and character of God and to discover what he says about us, but we also read it to find its specific application for us.  A good question to bear in mind is this: ‘How does this passage speak to my current situation?’

If you are going through challenging circumstances, take time to read carefully a passage of the Bible, and keep this question in mind – what is this saying to me today in my situation?

Delighting in God

‘Blessed is the one … whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night.’ Psalm 1.2

Yesterday, we looked at what the psalmist suggested we should not do in our quest to find God’s joy – namely letting negative thoughts take root in us – so now the author goes on to outline the way to find all that God has for us.  At this point we might expect him to talk in terms of total obedience, whereas what he opens up to us is that the way to God’s heart is to delight in him and everything about him.

We don’t often consider what it means to delight in God.  It implies a real joy in his presence and an eagerness to be with him – but what are we meant to do if we don’t feel this?  One way to begin to catch a delight in God is to explore and stand on the truth of his delight in us.  Perhaps you are often put off approaching God with eagerness because of a sense of boredom (you simply may not find prayer very interesting) or because you are not sure what God thinks of you anyway.

As you begin to pray, put aside anything you usually ‘do’ in your time of prayer and let your mind simply dwell on this truth – Abba Father delights in you.  He takes pleasure in you, loves it when you come to him in prayer and is thrilled with your presence.

Keep the birds out of your hair!

‘Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers’ Psalm 1.1

The very first of the psalms describes the way to find joy, and in the opening verse the psalmist tells us what not to do – we should avoid the company of the wicked, sinners and mockers.  Now it may well be that you think you actually do this quite well and , if you are honest, you may not find yourself particularly tempted in this way.  If you spend much of your day looking after young children or working hard, then opportunities for mixing with evil people thankfully don’t really present themselves too often.

However, this psalm does provide us with a challenge if we think about the company we keep with our own thoughts.  It is possible that at times you find yourself wallowing in unforgiveness, thinking unkindly of others or approaching things with cynicism.  The good news in this psalm is that we have choices and if you find yourself doing any of these, then you do not have to.  You can choose to continue in the same old way or make a decision to take a different stance.  In fact, the nature of temptation is such that it is probably inevitable that such thoughts will come to us, but it is what we do with them that is within our control.

There is an old saying along these lines: ‘You can’t stop birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them nesting in your hair.’  Don’t feel condemned by the thoughts that go through your head, but don’t give them a place to stay either!

Character, not success

‘Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone – and even by the truth itself.’ 3 John 12

Whatever else could be said about this man, Demetrius, he was obviously a good man.  It wasn’t just that he was well-liked, but that he had a wonderful character as well.

It is often said that we are not called to be successful but to be faithful – something to which we can all aspire.  We may well set ourselves goals but the outcome is often dependent upon other people, and through no fault of our own we may not attain them.  So does this mean that we have failed?  Perhaps the goals were unrealistic? However if our goal is to be faithful and to seek to preserve our good character no matter what the actions of others may be, then we have far more control over the outcome of our lives.

Whatever the ministry to which you have been called, whether it be in public or on a much smaller scale, the way in which God will judge it is not by its outward success but whether you have been faithful to your calling and faithful to his heart.

Away with fear!

‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.’ 1 John 4.18

It may seem as if John is being a little harsh in saying that those who fear have not been made perfect in love.  After all, we would all probably admit to feeling fear and anxiety at times.  However, what John says is actually very encouraging – there is always more of God’s love to discover.

He is stressing that if we really knew the love of God there would be no fear whatsoever within us, and the very fact that we feel fearful means that we have not yet tapped into the full depths of God’s love.  It must certainly be the Father’s desire that we really know his love so where do we begin?

When fear began to descend on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14.33-36) he did not deal with it by dwelling on it or seeking to banish the darkness, but by coming back to the love of God.  He spoke these words: “Abba, Father”.  What a wonderful way to refocus on the truth.  Allow these two words to go through your mind, simply and slowly repeating them.  Let something of the love and tenderness of God reach into you as you speak to the Father with the same words that Jesus used when he prayed.

Training for Godliness

 ‘…train yourself to be godly.’ 1 Timothy 4.7

This is such an encouraging phrase because it makes the immediate point that we are not godly already!  All too often we can beat ourselves up with the memory of our failures, of how we think we ought to be a much better Christian or how poorly we come fare in comparison with others.  Discouragement and a sense of failure can so easily follow.  So Paul’s encouragement is to ‘train yourself’.

None of us would wander into a gym for the first time, put the running machine onto the fastest setting and feel a failure if we couldn’t keep it up for an hour; nor would we select the heaviest weights in the building and walk out in disgust if we couldn’t lift them up 100 times!  The sensible approach is to start at a lower level and reach a certain level of competence before progressing steadily to new challenges.  Just as we train ourselves in fitness, or in any number of other areas, so we are encouraged to train ourselves to be godly.

An excellent way of doing this is to spend a few minutes reflecting on the past day – where did you get things wrong and where did you see God at work?  In the light of this, where do you need his grace today so as not to repeat the mistakes of yesterday?  This is not just introspection but a process of honestly opening yourself up to the touch of God and letting him change you for today.

Using Fear

‘I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.”’ Ezra 8.22

This verse is so honest: Ezra was forced to confront what he really believed about God and whether he was willing to act upon his conviction?  He certainly seemed to be in a position where he could understandably ask for human protection, but given what he really believed – should he do this?  Eventually he concluded that he should put his trust in God alone.

Perhaps one area we all have in common that causes us to face this challenge is fear.  Different things cause us anxiety, but given our faith – that we are loved by God and that he has promised to be with us wherever we go – why is it that we let anxiety and fear grip us so often?  Their presence is actually like a ringing bell asking us what we really believe; are we certain that the loving God is actively with us?

When you next feel fearful, instead of giving in to it or pretending it doesn’t exist, try letting it draw you to a deeper truth and make a decision to focus on this instead.  What is it that brings you fear and anxiety?  What is the truth that stands against these fears?  Rejoice in these truths, celebrate them, and walk into this day with God’s presence with you.

Jesus – the Advocate

“Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high.” Job 16.19

Job has already spoken of God as a witness to his suffering and he now uses a second word to describe him, an advocate.  This is wonderful news – we have an advocate!

An advocate stands with us in court to ensure that we are not forgotten or misrepresented.  We do not have to push the analogy too far and imagine ourselves in a massive court of law, but let’s hold on to this truth: there is one who does not forget our situation.  People forget!  It is not malicious on their part and it may well be that some people have poured out their hearts to you, only for you to forget about their plight.  Jesus does not forget, he cannot.  He has come into our lives and stands with us in everything we are going through.

There is even more!  Jesus is not simply the one who stands with us but is an advocate with power – the power to bring change to our circumstances and suffering.  The advocate does what we cannot do to bring help to us.  This is Jesus – not just a sympathetic bystander but an active Saviour by our side.  Turn to him as he’s with you right now!