“They hired counsellors to work against them and frustrate their plans.” – Ezra 4: 5
The background to this verse is that the people have just started to set themselves to the work of re-building the walls of the temple, and then opposition to the work comes. It is interesting to note that opposition does not come in the form of a full attack on them but it begins in the area of discouragement. The Message Bible speaks of the work being to ‘sap their resolve’. Actually this is so encouraging for us, because so often the battles that we have to fight are in this very area of standing up to discouragement.
The word ‘discouragement’ features quite a few times in the bible, but usually it is in the form of a command not to be discouraged. What this says to us is that it is possible not to be discouraged, we do not have to listen to the inner voices that are so quick to sap our resolve.
The antidote to discouragement is first and foremost to remember who we are – we are temples of the Holy Spirit, where he is pleased to dwell, and in whom he takes such great pleasure. Secondly to remember that God is for us (Romans 8: 31), so whatever other voices are seeking to discourage us – God is not! He is with us, encouraging us and building us up.
“If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” – Psalm 130: 3
This verse gives us a stunning insight into the nature of God’s forgiveness. Many people have the sense that when their sins are forgiven, they are temporarily filed away into a filing cabinet that is labeled something like –‘forgiven sins’. Every time we confess something, the cabinet is opened up, and it is plainly visible to all that we have sinned many times before, and the record of those sins simply grows and grows, as God mutters something along the lines of – ‘Here we go again’
This verse proclaims something quite different, namely that when our sins are forgiven, there is no record kept of them at all, if we had thought of them filed away, then a better analogy would be that they are fed through the shredder!
So many, who have been forgiven still continue to walk under the weight of past sin and failure. What is forgiven still continues to weigh them down. Such feelings are not of God. He keeps no record of sin, why should we?
When we bring our deeds of darkness into the light – light is what we should walk in, not continuing to step back into the memory or burden of darkness, but rejoicing in the wonder of what God has done for us.
“He has cut me free from the chords of the wicked” – Psalm 129: 4
The verse is a stunning declaration of what Jesus has done for us. All of us have been influenced by other people – sometimes for good, and sometimes definitely not for good. The negative influence of others shows itself in various ways – guilt that we were led down paths that were not right and resentment and anger at things that were done to us.
This verse makes a bold declaration that we have actually been cut free from the negative influence of other people. In God’s eyes their hold upon us, and influence over us has been severed. Yet we still sense the presence of their hold upon us.
There is a difference between what God has done, and our response to his action, and at the forefront of this is forgiveness. Forgiveness, whether it be forgiving others what they have done to us, or forgiving ourselves, which is closely linked to receiving God’s forgiveness, is not about letting anyone get away with anything, but rather saying ‘yes’ to the action of God.
He has indeed forgiven us our wrongdoing, but will we say yes to what he has done and receive it? He has set us free from any influence that other people may have over us, again, but will we agree with that, and begin to step out in the freedom that God has given us?
“Your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” – Luke 12: 32
The actual context for this verse is the thorny subject of money. Jesus has been urging his disciples not to worry about such things as food and drink, because God can supply all of these in abundance. He then sums up God’s attitude to us with these words: “your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”. What does this verse say to us?
The first thing it speaks about is his pleasure. Any sense that we may have of the grudging nature of God’s love for us has to dissolve in the light of this verse. This sense of God’s pleasure brings us right back to the picture of Abba Father delighting in his children, looking with delight upon us. That is the truth for every single one of us – He delights in us.
The verse goes on to say that the thing he is pleased to give us is his kingdom, that which flows as a natural consequence of Jesus being the king – his reign, his rule. In other words, the Fathers delight is to let the kingdom of God come when it is invited, that those things that Jesus came to bring can be released where the door is opened.
As we look upon need, in our own lives or in the lives of those for whom we pray, a good question to ask ourselves is “What is the aspect of the kingdom that the Father delights to bring to this situation?” – then pray for it, not to a God who is grudging in his gifts, but rather to one who delights to give his kingdom to us.
“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour” – 2 Peter 3:18 (3)
It is common to see people wearing wristbands with the words ‘what would Jesus do’ written upon them. It is a very good question – but how do we know what the answer is?
There are two things we can do to increase our knowledge of Jesus.
The first is to find the wonder of Jesus in the words of the Bible. We think we know him so well, but one of the most refreshing things we can do is to discover Jesus in the Gospel stories. Take a story from the Gospels, and as you read it, ask yourself questions such as:
What does this show me about Jesus?
What was he thinking in this story?
What were his emotions?
How would I have reacted to him if I had been there?
The second way of finding intimacy is to try and act rather than react. What that means is that we should seek to find that awareness of the presence of Jesus within us as frequently as we can so that whatever we do, we will be reminded of the awareness of his presence. The more we can do this, the more we will find ourselves acting from his presence, rather than simply reacting to circumstances.
“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour” – 2 Peter 3:18 (2)
When we begin to take the grace of God seriously, it is so only about growing in our appreciation of how he works with us, it is also about growing in our ability to let him work through us towards others with grace.
As people in whom the presence of Jesus dwells through the Holy Spirit, it should be entirely natural for us to let the grace of Jesus flow through us that others may experience him through us. Sadly it is the case that what people often encounter in Christians is far from the grace and love of Jesus.
We have, in the past, encouraged a practice of taking time each day to spend time with the wonderful truth that Jeremiah expresses ‘I bear your name, Lord God Almighty’ as a way of discovering the wonder of the presence of God within us. This beautiful verse is also so challenging to call to mind as we are speaking to, or in any way ministering to other people.
As we are engaging with others, to call this verse to mind is to call upon him to let his grace flow through us.
“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour” – 2 Peter 3:18
This is quite a remarkable verse if we think about it. We would probably expect it to say something along the lines of ‘grow in your obedience’, but what we are encouraged to explore is our growth in grace and the knowledge of Jesus.
Over the next few days we will explore aspects of this verse.
Growing in the experience of the grace of God is such a beautiful invitation, it is almost like giving a chocolate lover a job as a product tester in a chocolate factory. It is an invitation to explore the wonderful kindness and goodness of Jesus, to explore the fact that we are utterly loved, accepted and forgiven not because of our goodness, but because of his love for us.
The main difference between what Jesus offers and the chocolate factory analogy is that we are called not just to enjoy the product, but to let the grace point us to the one who pours out the grace.
Spend a while thoroughly enjoying the fact that everything he has given you – love, salvation, your life with him – is because he loves you so much. Let your contemplation of these things cause you to fix your eyes upon him in a deeper way.