Make the Best of It
When God’s people were slaves in Babylon, He told them: ‘This is the Message … to all the exiles I’ve taken from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and make yourselves at home. Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country. Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you’ll thrive in that country and not waste away. Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare. Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you … As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for”’ (vv. 4-11 MSG). There’s an important lesson here. While we’re waiting for God to turn things around for us, we need to be as productive as possible. While we’re waiting for God to work, a lot of us think we should do nothing, even though there’s plenty around for us to do. The bottom line is: We’ve become concerned about one person only – ourselves. When we mess up, the only person we tend to see is – ourselves. But God says, ‘While you’re waiting on me to do something good for you, start doing something good for others’. By blessing others, you open up the channel for God to come through and bless you. That’s the way it works!
Num 20-22, Mark 7:17-37
The Power of Love
When Dr E Stanley Jones preached a sermon on love in India, a church leader told him how a layman, whom he loved and had helped, was making trouble and threatening to split the church. The frustrated clergyman asked Dr Jones what to do because, in this case, love didn’t seem to be working. ‘Increase the dosage!’ retorted Jones. Our self-centred nature would have us believe that happiness comes when we get what we want and all of our needs are met. Yet, when we do get a better job, or a bigger house, or a bit of fame, we find ourselves empty because these things don’t bring us lasting joy and fulfilment. They actually whet our appetite for more—and around and around it goes. Peter Gillquist said, ‘Every time we have a chance in any way to flesh out the love of God to others, our joy cycle gets fulfilled all over again.’ St. Francis of Assisi may have expressed it best in his famous prayer: ‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.’
Is 14-16, Gal 4
Are You Burying Your Talent?
One of the most familiar parables Jesus told illustrates how things work in God’s kingdom: ‘Then he who had received one talent came. “Master,” he said, “…I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground.”…His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant!…You should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him …throw that worthless servant outside”’ (vv 24-29 NIV). Can you imagine going to work next Friday and watching your boss hand your pay packet to someone else, while you stand there? That’s exactly what’s going on in this story. It’s a picture of what will happen at the judgment seat of Christ—and you’ll be there to see it. Why did the Lord come down so hard on this guy? Because he buried his talent. And why did he bury it? Because he ‘was afraid’. Afraid of what? a) Afraid the talent God had given him wasn’t equal to the task. b) Afraid to take a risk in case he failed. c) Afraid he didn’t have the talents others had, therefore his didn’t count. Just like there are degrees of punishment in hell (Matthew 11:21-24), there will be degrees of reward in heaven. And how you use your talent now determines what your reward will be then.
Is 11-13, Gal 3
Different Ways to Pray (4)
When we try to spend an extended period of time in prayer, our minds tend to wander. When that happens, is God upset with us? No, when your mind wanders—God’s Spirit is still with you. Sometimes your wandering thoughts can actually guide you into prayer. One author writes: ‘I begin praying, and then I imagine myself being wildly successful at something. Or I replay a conversation with a person I’m upset with. Or I try to figure out how to solve a problem I’m worried about. I used to think of those kinds of thoughts as obstacles to prayer, but I’ve come to think of them as prayers waiting to be offered. Maybe the reason they pop into my mind isn’t simply my short attention span, but rather what my mind is really concerned about. So instead of trying to suppress these thoughts, it’s better to begin to talk to God about them. And just like that, I’m back in the flow of prayer. Indeed, we are free to pray in ways that will best help us live in the joyful awareness of God’s presence.’ Obviously, things like getting your hair done or your car fixed are distractions. When these arise, just write them down and say, ‘I’ll get to that later,’ then get back to prayer. Developing a rich and rewarding prayer life isn’t something you accomplish overnight; you have to work at it. But the rewards are more than worth the effort. You’re not unique; everybody battles distractions in prayer. Those who succeed are those who learn to deal with the distractions.
Is 9-10, Gal 2
Different Ways to Pray (3)
Find a prayer style that works for you. In Scripture people pray as they stand, kneel, lie on the ground, sit, stretch out their hands, lift their faces toward the sky, or bow them toward the earth. Just find the method that works best for you, and use it. Some people pray better when they are moving. If you’re one of them, take a walk, go for a drive, or run. You are free to use your body and posture to help you turn your mind and heart towards God. When you’re acknowledging your sins, you may find it helpful to have your head bowed and to kneel; it’ll help you to remember and experience the humility of the moment. In worship, you may want to turn your face towards the sky. In asking for guidance, you may find it helpful to turn your palms upwards as a way of expressing with your body: ‘Lord, whatever You want.’ When praying for someone, say at a restaurant, you may want to look that person right in the eye while talking to God and say, ‘Father, I’m so grateful for this person. You know what they need. Give them what is required by their heart.’ When you’re praising God, put on a worship CD and sing along. The point is you should approach God with the joy, excitement and simplicity with which a child runs into the arms of a loving parent. Just as you don’t have anyone else’s fingerprints, you don’t have anyone else’s temperament. So just approach God in a way that’s natural, spontaneous and comfortable for you.
Is 7-8, Gal 1
Different Ways to Pray (2)
Hezekiah, King of Israel, received a threatening letter from a much more powerful king – the King of Assyria. The Assyrian potentate demanded unconditional surrender, and told Hezekiah not to trust in God. The letter was graphic, warning that resistance meant the Israelites would have to ‘eat their own excrement and drink their own urine’ before they died (2 Kings 18:27 NIV). So Hezekiah went to the temple ‘and spread it out before the Lord’. Then he prayed: ‘…God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, O Lord, and see…’ (Isaiah 37:16-17 NIV). Hezekiah literally said, ‘Lord, would you read this, then do something about it!’ And God did. Indeed, what He did was spectacular. ‘Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!’ (Isaiah 37:36 NIV). So, what piece of paper would you like to spread out before the Lord? A financial statement that’s overwhelming? A divorce decree? A medical diagnosis? An angry email? Any piece of paper that causes you stress can be an invitation to prayer, and a candidate to be spread out before the Lord. If it’s important to you, it’s important to Him. You say, ‘I’ve never done anything like that before.’ Try it. Give it to God, trust Him, and watch how He works things out for you.
Is 5-6, 2 Cor
Different Ways to Pray (1)
Someone who’s better at prayer than you are is already at work on your behalf. ‘God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in us and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves…and keeps us present before God…’ (vv 26-27 TM). Notice, the Holy Spirit ‘keeps us present before God’. Sometimes we’ve a hard time being ‘fully present’ in prayer. We all know what it’s like to be with another person when their mind is a million miles away. What’s the answer? Try jotting down what goes on while you’re praying. The two most common hindrances to praying successfully are: a) your mind gets easily distracted by other thoughts; b) you get tired. When author John Ortberg shared these two frustrations with a friend, he suggested that John go outside alone and simply invite Jesus to come along with him. Ortberg writes: ‘The next day I went to the ocean, took off my shoes, started to run and invited Jesus to come along. I found the strangest thing. When I thought I was supposed to be talking to Him, I found it effortful and difficult. Now that all I had to do was invite Him, I couldn’t stop thinking about Him. My mind kept reflecting on His being with me. I found myself wanting to point out the pelicans and the waves to Him. People and concerns would pop into my mind, and I would find myself telling Jesus about them. Everything changed.’ So, invite Jesus to come along with you today and share each thing you do with Him.
Luke 17:1-19, Ps 91-93
Turn the Other Cheek
There are two ways you can respond to negative criticism. If there’s truth in it, humbly accept it and grow through it. If not, practise what Jesus taught: ‘You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say…If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also’ (vv 38-39 NLT). Sometimes a person’s criticism may actually have nothing to do with you at all; they simply feel cheated by life. And rather than take control of their heart’s dreams, they go around trying to squelch other people’s dreams in an attempt to drag them down to their own level of despair. And while it’s tempting to want to retaliate and point out their weaknesses and failures, that’s not the example Jesus set for you. Nor is it the high road you are called to take. ‘Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honourable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone’ (Romans 12:17-18 NLT). What does it mean to turn the other cheek? It means don’t let your critics get under your skin. Simply listen to them, thank them, and take their criticism with a grain of salt. Save your time and energies for those you trust, those who love you enough to tell you the truth even when it hurts. Someone has said, ‘You owe nothing to a critic!’ Actually, you do. Jesus said, ‘…Pray for those who persecute you!’ (Matthew 5:44 NLT).
Is 3-4, 2 Cor 12
Practise Soul Care
David said, ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul…’ (vv 1-3 NKJV). Today car engines are computerised. A light on your dashboard will let you know something’s wrong and that it’s time for a checkup. Your soul will do that too. But you’ve got to pay attention to the signals! Don’t wait until you have a spiritual, moral, emotional or relational breakdown before you stop and pay attention. When your soul’s thirst is not quenched and its needs are not met, it will seek relief some other way, often a way that will hurt you. You must know when to say ‘when’. Most of us don’t take breaks that enable us to ‘restore our souls’. We’re ensnared by guilt, as if stopping would somehow be irresponsible. Or we fear losing ground because we took a minute for ourselves. One of the hardest things in life to achieve is not success, but a sense of balance. So in all your goal-setting and ‘go-getting’, don’t forget your soul. Even God rested (Genesis 2:2). And if He did, then you need to also. The power of rest is that it allows you to enjoy the journey of life and not just the destination. Indeed, if you don’t learn to walk in the park by choice, you may end up in the hospital by necessity. When God ‘makes you lie down in green pastures’, enjoy them. When He ‘leads you beside the still waters’, it’s to refresh and restore you. So practise soul care!
Is 1-2, 2 Cor 11
Today, Let’s Remember That!
On March 3, 1863, anguished by the ravages of civil war, Abraham Lincoln declared a Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day: ‘Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognise the sublime truth announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord…We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behoves us then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.’ God warned Israel: ‘When…your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied…you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant…’ (Deuteronomy 8:13, 18 NKJV). Today, let’s remember that!
Song 6-8, 2 Cor 10
What You Need in the Wilderness (6)
God’s people already possessed everything necessary to build the tabernacle. So Moses went to God for the plan, and to the people for the resources. And that’s still how it works! Pastor, don’t come up with a plan of your own, or one you got from somebody else, and then ask God to underwrite it. Ask God for His plan, because that’s the only one He will bless. And don’t feel intimidated about going to the people and asking them to give. Perhaps you’re reluctant to talk about finances because some people in church complain and say, ‘All the pastor ever talks about is money.’ Of course, if they’re right, you need to get back into balance. But generally speaking, people need clear biblical teaching on giving; to see it as a privilege and an opportunity to go into partnership with God. Over and over the Bible refers to giving as ‘sowing’. And when you sow, you should expect to reap. The law of giving is like the law of gravity; it never fails. God said, ‘As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest…will never cease’ (Genesis 8:22 NIV). Observe how it works: first you sow your seed, then there’s a time of waiting, and finally you get to reap. Money can be a touchy subject; it can stir up resistance and resentment. But God promised that when you sow generously, you will reap generously (2 Corinthians 9:6). Now, either God told the truth or He didn’t. And you need to find out whether or not it’s true. The only way to do that is to try it and see for yourself.
Song 4-5, 2 Cor 9
What You Need in the Wilderness (5)
When you find yourself in the wilderness, what’s the one thing you need more than anything else? God! That’s why the Lord told Moses to build the tabernacle and He used it as a teaching tool to show His people that: 1) He wants to meet with us regularly. The word ‘tabernacle’ means ‘tent of meeting’. God wants you to spend time with Him. He wants you to get to know Him. Because when you do, you’ll worry less and trust Him more. The Bible says, ‘Acquaint now thyself with Him, and be at peace…’ It’s important to listen to God’s Word being taught, to meet with other believers, and be encouraged by their testimonies. But at some point you’ve got to stop trading in second-hand information and get ‘up close and personal’ with God. James writes, ‘Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…’ (James 4:8 NKJV). 2) God wants to be at the centre of our lives. When Israel set up camp each night, the twelve tribes pitched their tents in formation surrounding the tabernacle, where God’s presence dwelt. Every man, woman, boy and girl could stand in the door of their tent and see God in their midst. Could the message be clearer? When your deepest affections and greatest ambitions are centred around Christ, your life will take an upward swing. ‘…delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart’ (Psalms 37:4 NIV). The formula for thriving in the wilderness is: centre your life on Christ and soak yourself in His Word!Song
Song 1-3, 2 Cor 8