It is not quite the right title, because God gives us more than just a second chance.
I felt this word quite opposed by the Oppressor, and I wonder if it’s because so many people face this problem. We become Christians, followers of Christ, and at some stage, sometimes very early on, we want to really give our lives to God, to answer the high calling of God and be available to Him. We set out with high hopes but discover that we are still ‘us’ with our old nature, and sooner or later for most of us at some point we spoil it, and we feel that we have spoiled the call of God. This can happen more than once, and we think of plenty of people in the Bible, people like Joseph, of whom Jennifer and I have spoken in recent days.* He says to his brothers ultimately: ‘You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.’ We can see lots of examples like that: another is Daniel, whom the evil one meant to destroy, but God had His own purpose. That’s fine, that’s wonderful. They came out with flying colours.
But this is a different scenario. It’s when we know that we’ve taken wrong turnings and perhaps made seriously wrong decisions; we may even at times have seriously backslidden and brought dishonour on the name of Christ. Or it may be in more subtle ways that we feel we have marred our calling and really made a mess of life in some ways. I don’t know whether it’s a help or not when we hear those who have been further along the road and very deeply used of God say that they have felt a failure. In some I’ve drawn comfort, but in other ways I’ve just thought: ‘Well, I don’t need to worry any more. If they’re a failure, obviously I am, and there’s no point in worrying.’ Whether I’m a success or a failure is not actually something I give any attention to nowadays. But what is very weakening is if we feel that we have displeased God along the road and seriously marred our calling, and we hardly have the courage to keep going, or to keep trying to serve Him.
Our God is the great Creator, and He gives us not only a second chance but more than that. And He does something, I think, that is very wonderful. Out of what has been a mistake and has marred life for us and interfered (we think) with our usefulness, He brings something that is actually good. He sometimes brings out what proves to be the deepest part of our ministry, and He has done that out of our failure.
An easy illustration comes from the life of Sir Edwin Landseer, the great painter of Scottish Highland scenes. He was staying at a home in the Highlands where his hostess had just had her room decorated, and somebody had spilled soda water, leaving a mark that wouldn’t come out of the newly painted walls. He said to her: ‘Don’t worry,’ and when they all went out one afternoon and he was left in the house, he transformed the stain into a beautiful painting. And that really is marvellously what God manages to do.
A wonderful example of this is the life of King David. I often feel that like most of us I would do anything to remove certain parts of David’s life. We hate the sin, we hate the fact that he brought such dishonour to God in murdering Uriah and in his immorality with Bathsheba – shocking sins. But he terribly deeply repented. He had to suffer the consequences, and God warned him hat he would suffer a consequence in his own family because of the way he had behaved. It brought sin into his house and it ultimately resulted in Absalom, a very beloved son, murdering another of his sons and then rebelling against David in the most serious rebellion in David’s reign. He is an old man by now when Absalom, his beloved son, rebels. In this whole tremendous story, as David is fleeing with his followers from Jerusalem because Absalom is coming against him, we have these wonderful verses:
They crossed the Kidron valley and then went out toward the wilderness … David walked up the road to the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went. His head was covered and his feet were bare as a sign of mourning. And the people who were with him covered their heads and wept as they climbed the hill. When someone told David that his adviser Ahithophel was now backing Absalom, David prayed: ‘O LORD, let Ahithophel give Absalom foolish advice!’ (2 Samuel 15:23, 30–31)
Later on he is being cursed by one of Saul’s household, and his generals want to kill this man, but David says: ‘My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so?' (16:11). And we can feel the incredible depth of grief in David’s heart.
But we cannot read the story without seeing another figure that crosses the brook Kidron to face the wilderness – the wilderness of great grief. David climbs the Mount of Olives, weeping as he goes, and hears of the betrayal of his friend and counsellor Ahithophel. And we see another, don’t we? We see Christ crossing the brook Kidron (John 18:1); we see Him suffering the rebellion and hatred of His own whom He had come to save and whom He so loved. We hear in his ears the words of Judas’s betrayal. He has climbed the Mount of Olives to Gethsemane, and He climbs the little hill Calvary.
David is one of the outstanding messianic prophets in the Old Testament. His psalms, more than any other book than perhaps Isaiah, speak of Christ. Psalm 22 has the very words that Christ utters upon the cross. And his confession ‘I am a worm and no man’ is so fulfilled in Christ. Out of his sin has come the rebellion of Absalom. But the grief of that has opened up in David a fountain of compassion, a fountain of love, an actual feeling of bearing something of the sin of Absalom. He really wanted to take it and the punishment on himself. That becomes very evident when he hears of Absalom’s death. He so wanted to spare him:
O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son. (2 Samuel 18:33)
There is no bitterness; but he is really bearing Absalom’s sin and rebellion. What an insight he must have had into Calvary. I don’t know if anything would be revealed concretely to him at that point, but it comes out through his psalms, in the prophetic utterances concerning the Messiah. His heart was opened, and out of his very failure God has woven something very wonderful. So behind that figure of David we see that other King in whom was no sin, whose grief and sorrow were all because of our rebellion. But He took it as His very own upon Himself. ‘O that I had died instead of you!’ – but He did die instead of us, His children. And so God brought something very wonderful out of something that was not good in David and can’t be denied.
Can He not do for you and for me something wonderful? Instead of spending time mourning, grieving over the mistakes and wrong decisions and wrong turnings that have left you scarred and feeling you’ve fallen far short of God’s high calling, say: ‘Lord, I come exactly as I am. All that there is of me I commit to Your hands. Can You do something with it?’ And indeed we stop thinking of ourselves and we see our God revealed in Christ. He is the great Creator, and He understands. He has never made any mistakes. He has never done anything wrong. He had made a beautiful creation that got spoiled: His plan got spoiled too. And what has it resulted in? The redemption of mankind! How deep the relationship now between God and His redeemed souls. We love Him, and I think I dare to say we love Him now even more than Adam could have, though not more than Adam does now, for he has been redeemed too. But oh, the devotion that God awakens in His followers, the loyalty that He wins from even the weakest of us, as we find how faithful He is. He is the great Creator who has become our Saviour, and He is forever in the business of making another plan for His child. Blessed be His dear Name.
*Between the recording and transmission of this message, Diana also spoke on Joseph.
I’m speaking this morning around a very particular word which will become clear as you read the following verses from Scripture:
I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the LORD. Oh, the joys of those who trust the LORD, who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols. O LORD my God, you have performed many wonders for us … You have no equal. (Psalm 40:1–5)
The word I particularly have in mind is patience. It recurs very frequently in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. The Apostle Paul speaks of it: ‘Tribulation works patience, patience works experience, and experience works hope’ (Romans 5:3–4). Christ tells us to possess our souls in patience (Luke 21:19), and it’s also one of the descriptions of God, in a lovely title that Paul uses: ‘the God of patience and consolation (Romans 15:5).
The word ‘patient’ is derived from a root meaning ‘to suffer’. But it has evolved from that to taking the meaning ‘suffering with calm’, and then it has become ‘enduring with a calmness’. For us patience is very much associated with a calmness and serenity, and not being irritable when we’re having to wait for something. We all have different temperaments, and some will be more naturally patient than others. I have an object lesson in this at the moment, because we have moved to a house where my garden to me is a stony wilderness, and it is not pleasing to my eyes. I keep reminding myself that my previous garden hadn’t been an awful lot better when we moved to that house; but by the time we left it was definitely a green oasis. And one day that might happen again. But there’s no point trying to be a gardener if you don’t have patience, because that garden took 20 years to establish. I don’t know if I’ll be here for 20 years, but I’m hoping that maybe in about five years it will be transformed from a stony wilderness into something much better.
Patience is needed in the spiritual life for fruit to grow and for the fruits of the Spirit to develop, not just in our own lives but in the life of the church and in other people’s lives. It takes patience to watch over a younger soul in Christ, to let it grow and Christ take root and to let change be effected. It does not happen overnight. And to find our way into the deeps of the knowledge of God there is, I think, no fast route. It takes time, it takes endurance. And patience is really a lovely word, because it does contain this sense of a calmness such as the farmer has to have at times – not when the harvest has to be gathered in and he has to beat the rain coming! – but there is a certain patience in sowing the seed and waiting for growth to come. And so with the kingdom of God.
That kingdom of God, Christ says, is within us. And patience is an absolutely vital quality for us to have or to learn. It is a patient waiting on God: I waited for Him and He heard my cry. Why do we need patience? Because we don’t always get the answer right away. And indeed in my calendar today there was a nicely relevant reading about Daniel. The angel came to him and said: ‘Your prayers were heard from the moment you offered them,’ but he had done spiritual battle on the way to come to Daniel. Often for us to see the answers to prayers and the fulfilment of God’s promises, we don’t know all that has gone on in the hidden spiritual world. But He is on His way. There are promises that are unconditional: I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. I will care for you. I’ll be with you to the end of the way. And there are lots of other promises He may have given us that are very personal – though we do have to be very careful that these are definitely of God, and not just our own wishes.
To find somebody who is a patient person, and patient in their following of Christ, is very heart warming. But there is an aspect of it that we have to be slightly on guard about, and it just occurred to me as I was reading in Revelation about the church at Ephesus. This was one of the most successful churches, with a very numerous membership, and it was the one associated with the apostle John. I often feel it must have broken his heart when he got the message, because at first everything that Christ was saying to them was good:
I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people … You have patiently suffered for me without fainting. (Revelation 2:2–3)
But then He says:
I have this complaint against you. You have left your first love. (You don’t love me or each other as you did at first) … If you don’t repent (come back to that), I will take away your candlestick.’ (vv.4–5)
It caused me really to ponder. We can go on enduring with patient endurance, we can keep going, but we have got so wearied with that, that we are just trudging along, and our first love and our zeal and passionate love for Christ, we have lost. The Ephesus church is so good, but because they have lost that first love they are in danger of losing the candlestick altogether. I don’t think that was an arbitrary judgment on God’s part. I think it was rather the inevitable outcome of having lost their first love: that right at the heart was a deadness that would eventually spread out to the perimeter, and the church candlestick would have gone.
What do we do at times in life when the pressure is such that we feel we’re doing quite well if we’re managing to go on patiently enduring? We’re not suffering persecution like the church at Ephesus. But how then do we keep the first love? How do we avoid falling into that trap? And if we think it’s beginning to happen, what do we do?
I have no short answer to that. The true answer is we return and look towards Christ, and we keep looking at Him. As I was thinking on this, I felt, well, it’s not quite enough, because we can do that, but still we sense we’re just trudging along. I remember someone who had been very full of zeal for Christ being in terrible, deep waters, and they said to me: ‘You know, I’m just trudging along now. Where I bounded over the road with joy, I’m trudging along.’
What do we do when we sense that is happening? Well, we do look towards Christ. But we really wait on Him with faith, with patience, till He hears our cry and He gives us the enduement of the Holy Spirit. There is no substitute for that. It is vital. It’s as vital as putting oil or fuel in the car to make it go. D L Moody was an outstanding preacher, but he was nothing like as successful as he was after the Holy Spirit had fallen upon him one day in the streets of New York and flooded him with the love of God. He was then a different man and a different preacher. And it is just as it was for the Israelites having to gather the manna. The falling dew brought the manna – and they needed it every day. And when we discover in our spirits that we are just holding on and no more, and the joy and zest has gone out of spiritual life, ask Him to let the dew fall upon your spirit, for the dew will bring the manna, and the manna is Christ. And your first love is renewed in a moment. But it is vital; we need that. And we hold to His promise that He would give us water that we would not be thirsty.
But I think if we are honest with ourselves we know that there are times when we feel: ‘God, I’m holding on, but that’s about it.’
‘I can do better for you than that. Hold on until you feel the enduement again.’
We think of Christ. Patience is something we associate with Him, a serenity and a calmness. But we don’t think of Him as trudging. Stumbling up Calvary’s hill, but in His spirit – it says in that same psalm:
Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me. I delight to do thy will, O my God: Yea, thy law is within my heart. (Psalm 40:7–8)
And we see that Christ’s love blazed in Him always, upon the cross still loving: Father, forgive them … Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit.
Our privilege is to do the same: to have that love for God, love for others, a love and a faith that says: Into Thy hands I commend my spirit.
I want to speak today from the thought ‘Christ our Healer’. These words have been with me throughout the week. I’m not going to give any kind of theological discourse about healing. The subject is not so much physical healing (although that is included very much), but the healing of the whole being. In the words of the prophet, is there not a balm in Gilead?
For they have healed the daughter of my people slightly … For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt … Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered? (Jeremiah 8:11, 21, 22)
The line in question has been turned into a spiritual:
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul;
There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole.
As people face life wounds are incurred, and in some lives more than in others. What may have given rise to my present thoughts was an exchange with someone who has been going through a very difficult time, to whom I quoted the lines of a hymn that keep coming to me especially during these days: ‘the Man of Sorrows, on whom were laid our many griefs and woes’.
I don’t know how you react when you hear these words, based on Isaiah 53, but they bring to me such a sense of Christ, with the awareness of Him and His love – the great Burden Bearer who has carried all our griefs and woes, our sin, our sickness, our human need. He stands with us as the mighty Healer. His Name is called Wonderful Counsellor (Isaiah 9:6). It’s very much a feature of modern life that counselling is offered to people who have gone through trauma or are in particular need, with mental health issues and so on. And counsellors, I am quite sure, can be very helpful and do a great deal. But Christ is the Wonderful Counsellor, and He’s the perfect Counsellor. I find again and again, and I think this is true for many, that it’s not always a long-drawn-out process: just in a moment of time the presence of the great Counsellor changes everything.
Is there not a balm in Gilead? They got from Gilead salve made of resin from trees and sold for its healing properties: the balm can soothe wounds and bruises and has many uses. In the history of the church it has been thought of as the balm that Christ can give. The word Gilead means ‘the hill of testimony’, or ‘the mound of witness’. Isn’t the Bible a wonderful book? Even in the names of the Old Testament, there’s such significance. You immediately recognize that description: the hill of testimony, the mound of witness. For us it speaks of Calvary, which is just a mound; it is not a mountain. But it is the place where healing comes from – healing of body, yes, but healing of soul, healing of the inner being, which is so much needed. There is a balm to heal the body, the mind, the soul, the heart, that nobody and nothing can reach except Jesus Christ. And today’s word is really one of hope and encouragement to believe in Him, our wonderful Counsellor. The Bible is full of illustrations of this, and so is Christian literature. In our own lives we can think of lots of examples too of times He has come to us as the mighty Healer, to do in a moment of time what no one else could do.
My daily reading has been on the wonderful life of Joseph. He starts off with some faults, I do think, certainly a lack of wisdom in relating his dreams – although perhaps it’s not really a lack of wisdom, because these dreams were one day to be fulfilled, and his brothers ultimately recognized it. But he goes through a terrible time, all before he is 30 years of age: being sold as a slave by his family, being wrongly accused in Potiphar’s house just as it seems his fortunes have turned for good, and ending up in prison. He rises there to a place of prominence because he is so blessed of God, but he is forgotten about by those whose dreams he has interpreted. But ultimately he is brought out in order to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. To me a very remarkable thing is that he is only 30 years of age. He has suffered desperately and totally unjustly, and he has come out with strength. We read that the iron had entered into his soul. He has come out with strength. But there is an incredible lack of bitterness. Most of us feel a bit imprisoned just now, don’t we? It’s nothing to the prison that Joseph was actually in. And he has emerged in close touch with God, able to hear from God phenomenally in the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, having about him such an air of calm authority after all these years in the prison that Pharaoh promotes him to the highest in the land after himself. What an indication of the power of the God in whom he trusted!
‘Joseph, do you not need long, long sessions to debrief you after all that wickedness that you have suffered at the hands of your brothers and then Potiphar’s wife, and so on?’
Somehow there he had found the Counsellor who brought him out without bitterness, able to save an ancient world with his wisdom as to how to store the food that would feed the people in the hungry years, able when his brothers came to have the wisdom to know how to handle them. He was wise; he knew he couldn’t just trust them to go and get his brother and his father; he had to take steps to ensure that they would do that. But they come, and he makes them welcome. He gives them a home. He takes care of them. And Joseph there in that land of Egypt is given a wife and sons. He calls one of them Manasseh, saying: ‘God has made me forget all my troubles and everyone in my father’s family.’ (His son’s birth obviously precedes the reconciliation.) He is able to put behind him the pain and grief. And he calls the other son Ephraim, ‘for God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction’. And that is what Christ does.
And to you who are in affliction just now, which is made even harder – much harder – by the constricting circumstances, there is One who heals. You might be in an unhappy home situation which you just can’t escape while we’re in lockdown. You might be the kind of person for whom everything feels worse when you can’t go out and be with somebody else. You might be finding that although God is richly feeding in other ways, yet the absence of the possibility of being able to meet together and worship together is dragging your spirits down. But there is One who transcends all bars and constrictions. He wasn’t held out of Joseph’s prison. He transformed Joseph into someone bearing the very likeness of Christ. Can He do that for you and for me? Why not?
He stands as the mighty Healer now,
And He says: ‘Look unto Me.’
We’ve got a wonderful Counsellor. He is a wonderful Saviour. He can always outwit our enemy; He is stronger than he is. And He’ll not forget you, He’ll not forget me, and He’ll not forget His church. Reach out, just look towards Him, and find coming pouring in the balm of Gilead that flows from the hill of testimony where Christ bore witness to His faithful love to His creation, to us. Taste the sweetness of the healing streams; they flow freely, and they are enough. Blessed be His Name.
Today’s thought was triggered by something I read in David Wilkerson’s writings last week. Some of you may have read it also. The subject was monsters and vultures – not pleasant creatures! – in the context of the book of Job. At the end of the book God speaks to Job about the crocodile and hippopotamus, over which he is helpless: the only one who has power over these is God. Then Wilkerson talks about Abraham when he had made sacrifices and had laid out the carcases. As darkness descended the vultures came to steal the carcases, and he drove them away. Wilkerson is picturing the assault of hell at times, and how we are all subject to it. The monsters can be those of thoughts, discouragement, depression, fears and anxieties. The vultures are things that can interfere with the sacrifice of a life to God. He writes powerfully about getting rid of them and driving them away.
It caused me not just to think but actually to be aware of God speaking to me about His defence of us personally, but also of His church – not just Struthers Memorial Church, but the church of Jesus Christ in which we are included. It really is a wonderful picture: the thought of God dealing with the monsters. It gives a tremendous sense of security. Abraham drove away the vultures, and sometimes we have to do it, but again and again God comes to our rescue and He does it for us: He drives away the vultures. The vulture is not a very pleasant creature – at least, I don’t think so. I started to watch a little video of them, but stopped, because I thought: ‘This will give me nightmares, so I’ll just not bother.’ But those of you who are bird lovers might like it. They prey on the dead carcase, obviously, but they also prey on the wounded and the sick. And that, of course, is what the enemy does. He picks out those in the flock of Christ that are rather defenceless, or are at a vulnerable moment even though normally strong, and he looks for our weak points.
We are so dependent on God. I have a picture in my mind that in a small way illustrates this. One night many years ago three of us (Miss Taylor, my sister Mary and myself) were sitting alone in the hall in our Greenock church. In those days we didn’t worry about locking doors, so the back outside door was open. It was late after the end of a meeting, and we were alone, except that in the little recording room off the hall my father and Chris were doing some business. It was a soundproofed room for recording purposes. At the back door of the hall appeared three youths intent on mischief, who started to tease and torment and mock us. I don’t know how my father and Chris heard, but suddenly erupting out of that room like a wild bull came my dad and behind him Chris, charging down the passageway. I’ve never seen people disappear so quickly as these three youths at the open door. I’ve never forgotten the scene. Suddenly the fear was transferred from our hearts to the hearts of these youths, and there was no fear at all in the two that had suddenly erupted out of that room! It has always left me with a picture of how fiercely God looks after His own, how He defends us, and how foolish it is to be anxious or fearful or afraid of the enemy – because sometimes we have conquered all our other fears, but we’re afraid of what he might do. There is a cruelty in him, and a darkness. When Diana was preaching one Sunday morning recently she mentioned something about a darkness that may have attached itself to you. I don’t think she meant because of something wrong that anyone had done, but sometimes we are oppressed as he’s after us. And God is so powerful, and He is so on our side. He loves His church and He acts in defence of us. Again, there’s a lovely picture that I connect with this:
When a strong young lion stands growling over a sheep it has killed, it is not frightened by the shouts and noise of a whole crowd of shepherds. In the same way the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will come down and fight on Mount Zion. The LORD of Heaven’s Armies will hover over Jerusalem and protect it like a bird protecting its nest. He will defend and save the city; he will pass over it and rescue it. (Isaiah 31:4–5)
We know that a bird will give its life to protect its young. It will perish in a fire so that its young emerge unscathed from under its wings, rather than desert them. And of course we know that is actually what God has done for us, in that He spread His wings and gave His own life, that we would emerge safe. Having done that, is He going to leave us in any danger? In the ongoing dangers of our daily life, the dangers to our spirit, He defends and He protects.
The name of the God of Jacob … send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee … (Psalm 20:1–2)
When we stop and think of where that help comes from: it’s the sanctuary that we associate with safety. We use that word when speaking of seeking sanctuary, or of someone or somewhere being a sanctuary, not necessarily now a holy place, but a place of refuge. But it’s also very beautiful, God’s sanctuary, heaven – His own being. He is our sanctuary, and He sends us help from there. Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary (Psalm 96:6). And so there comes to us an invincible strength that is of God to chase away the attacker, to chase away the monsters who could try to raid our peace, to chase away the vultures. It is His strength, but it also comes pouring down to us from that place of strength and beauty, the beauty of God, the beauty of His own peace, the beauty of strength. Some of those animals that are strong are also the most beautiful, such as a lion or a horse. In this they are but a pale reflection of their Maker. The beauty of God is part of His strength, and His strength is part of His beauty. We need both. We need the strength of the lion, we need the gentleness of the lamb, and they’re both found there in Jesus Christ, who is our sanctuary.
Rest confident in His love and His overpowering defence of us. Think how we would defend our own children or anyone that we love: we would give our life for them. Think of the fierceness of the defence of a mother for her child. And think of the defence of our God for us. We might say: ‘Ah, but … I’m a sinner.’ We all are. That’s why Christ came. Thank God, the Bible records for us His rescue again and again not only of the Daniels, but of the Jonahs, the Davids, the Peters, and Paul before he was saved. He rescues the penitent as well as the ones like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who seem to have no fault. He is on our side; He is not against us. Festo Kivingere, who preached in Britain, America and elsewhere in the 1970s, said he felt that what Western Christians needed was the actual breath of the presence of the love of God. We all need it, and in that love is our sure defence.
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