The start of what I want to say comes from part of a New Year promise:
I will pour out My Spirit upon you. (Joel 2:28, adapted)
I think that in spite of the present circumstances many of us have found how true that is, and He has poured out on the unsaved in saving power and in baptizing power and in healing and other ways. For this we are very grateful. And it’s a verse that comes to my mind again and again, with the sense that God means it. I will pour out of My Spirit upon you. The promise is upon all flesh, and upon people in different conditions. But I’m speaking tonight particularly to those who have already found Christ as Saviour, and those who are hungry to really know God’s ways and follow His calling. The call of God on Moses is described in the following verses, which in my Bible have the lovely title of The Call of the Rescuer:
One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. ‘This is amazing,’ Moses said to himself. ‘Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.’
When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’
‘Here I am!’ Moses replied. ‘Do not come any closer,’ the Lord warned. ‘Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3:1–6)
God spoke to him of knowing the suffering of his people in Egypt, and he said to Moses:
Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt. (Exodus 3:10)
And you might say: Well, where exactly is the connection with that verse, I will pour out My Spirit?
In the days leading up to Pentecost, the disciples of Christ were waiting and seeking for the coming of the Holy Spirit. He had told them to wait until the Spirit was poured out from on high. And so they waited, and so they sought, until He came. And for us, we need to wait on Him, and we need to seek for Him. He that seeketh findeth … Ask, and it shall be given to you … Knock, and it shall be opened.
The call of God comes to us to seek. His treasures are often hidden treasures that don’t just fall readily into our hands. We have to show the desire for them, and the desire for the Holy Spirit to be outpoured, to reveal to us the hidden treasure. The following lines of a poem by Rudyard Kipling are quoted at the beginning of the book Behind the Ranges, which tells of Fraser of Lisuland, a very powerful missionary:
‘Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges –
Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!’
God took care to hide that country till He judged His people ready,
Then He chose me for His Whisper, and I’ve found it, and it's yours!
Something lost behind the ranges, something hidden. The Bible does speak of the hidden riches of God in secret places that He will open to us. That is lovely poetic language, ‘behind the ranges’ – but it made me think of some of these meeting places in Scripture where God meets His own and His Holy Spirit is actually outpoured on people as they meet with God. And the first one that came to my mind was this encounter with God that Moses had at mount Sinai, where he was to meet God again and again. But on this occasion he’s in the wilderness, on his own so far as we know, when he sees the bush that burns and is not consumed. He discovers that really it is God who is in the bush, and that is why it is burning. He meets with God. We don’t know if he had really met with God before then. It may be his first real encounter, and it has a profound and life-changing effect upon him. He discovers first of all something of the holiness of God. He was hungry to serve God. He was hungry to be of service to his people, and that all seemed to have gone wrong. But now the plan of God is coming into action, and it’s beginning where it has to begin: with an encounter with God. We can quickly try to rush into action for God – which is very worthy, to want to work for Him, to serve Him – but fundamentally there has to come again and again in our lives an encounter with God. We have to be hungry for that. Moses learned a hunger for God that grew as the years passed, and the story of his life shows that. And he discovered first of all that God is holy. God said to him: ‘Moses, take the shoes off from your feet, for this is holy ground.’ The ground where God is is holy. That word holy hasn’t occurred in the Bible until now, and after this it is frequently used as a description of God Himself. The same root word is used in other semitic religions to depict something that is wholly other, but only of our God does it depict One who is morally righteous and good, and holy in that sense: other, different, but righteous. I think there would come over Moses’ spirit a trembling and an awe, and yet a strange delight that gripped him from that hour on. God spoke to Moses, and in spite of that awareness of a holy God, Moses is inclined to dispute with God when He says: ‘Moses, you go. You go to Pharaoh. I’m sending you to rescue My people.’ The old Moses had said: ‘I want to rescue them,’ and he thought he knew how to do it, but that plan had all gone awry. Now he has no confidence in himself, and he has to become very dependent on that God with whom he is meeting, until eventually he agrees to go to Pharaoh, and he goes again and again.
It made me think of Christ, of whom we read that though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience through the things that He suffered. But Christ was never disobedient. Christ was one with the Father, but clothed in our flesh, walking our way. I spoke last week of the incredible identification of Christ with us as He walked amongst us. So in His flesh He learned obedience through the things that He suffered. He was willing, without any argument. And Moses became willing. He’s very like us: he yielded eventually. How much better to yield immediately – as I think he learned again and again through the subsequent months and years of his life. He found that hidden treasure ‘behind the ranges’ of mount Sinai. I don’t know if he was up the mountain at all, or just at the foot of it in the wilderness, but he was there. And he discovered God.
Is there an answering thrill in your spirit? There is in mine: the sense that God has promised to pour out His Spirit, and He’s calling: Go and seek for the treasure … Something hidden, go and find it … lost and waiting for you: go! … God took care to hide that country till He judged His people ready, Then He chose me for His Whisper, and I’ve found it, and it’s yours!
Do you hear that whisper in your own spirit? Go and find it. Though it’s not so easy when we’re not at church all the time – a little bit now, which has been a delight –he says: ‘I’ll meet you in your wilderness; I’ll meet you where you are. But go and look for it. Look for the treasure.’ You’ll find the holiness. You’ll find the encounter with God that awes your spirit, that sears you for time and for eternity, till God fills your horizon, fills the empty spaces. I know that some of you feel the loneliness of this time of isolation and lockdown, but I know that there is a living God who satisfies to the deeps every lonely place within. And indeed there is a lonely place that nothing else will ever satisfy: no human company. Treasure, there in God. Go and seek Him. During these coming weeks, please God, He will pour out His Spirit, and we’ll find more and more of the hidden treasure.
I want to say just a little on the very wide subject of our Inheritance.
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. (Hebrews 11:8)
We are familiar with this thought of the call of God on Abraham, and we probably dwell more on the idea of him being called and not knowing where he was going than we do in thinking on the inheritance that he was going to receive. That was a tremendous inheritance, and he died in faith that it would come to pass after his death. He believed there was an inheritance there beyond what he had already realized in God. And it is an inheritance that is saved for us. It’s something that God has for us in the future, but also now. Sometimes Christians have been teased and criticized for thinking of the future and ‘pie in the sky when you die’, and Satan is so clever in how he distorts the truth and makes ridicule of something tremendous, wonderful and life-changing, as we realize when we stop and think of the inheritance that is ours in Christ Jesus. He said: I go to prepare a place for you … Father, that they may behold Your glory, that they may be with Me where I am … In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. He has prepared for us a city and a wonderful inheritance that is beyond our understanding. It’s related to the peace of God, it’s related to the glory of God; it is where Christ is, for where Jesus Christ is, that is heaven to our souls and shall be for time and for eternity.
Peter speaks of this inheritance in a passage that in my Bible is entitled The Hope of Eternal Life:
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance – an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. (1 Peter 1:3–5)
What has brought me to this meditation about the Inheritance is a personal situation during which I felt God bring the passages to me a week or two ago. For some time past we have realized that it would be wise to move house. We loved the place where we were, but due to health considerations particularly, and also to the ageing process that one doesn’t think about in earlier days, we felt it really was the best thing to do. But it was very hard to find anything at all suitable for us in the small area where we wanted to be and where the church is located, and we had more or less put it to the side when the house that we have now bought came on the market, and in a very short time (about two weeks) it was ours, our own was sold, and we moved in a few days ago.
As I thought about the whole situation and became aware of what had happened, I felt it was quite miraculous how certain things had worked out, and I had absolutely no doubt that God had provided for us. This is the bit that I find exceedingly moving: though I had seen God provide for other people in many ways, I knew the difficulties that we were facing, and it actually seemed quite a dark tunnel. I hadn’t really heard very much from God on our own particular difficulties (I’d heard from Him on many other matters). And when this happened, with the suddenness that often characterizes events when God moves, I have been overwhelmed with the sense of His goodness, His kindness, and simply His light: the light had come on in a very dark tunnel, and really He’d been there all the time, and He had stored up the right place for us.
It made me think all the more of the heavenly inheritance. I thought, if God has taken care of three of His children out of millions and millions, and has provided for us something that exactly fits our needs with a lot over (He’s an abundant giver, isn’t He? And lots of things are a bonus) – if He’s taken such care to provide this for us on earth, what care is He taking at this moment in heaven to prepare an inheritance there, the heavenly dwelling place? And much as I love where we are now, if He said to me: ‘You are to come home tonight to heaven,’ I would say: ‘Amen!’ But what care, what preparation, must there have been?
It caused me to think again of these verses in Peter - a favourite part of mine, because God spoke to me terribly clearly, a number of years ago, these very verses. It was at a time when I had lost various of those close to me in my family, and in quite quick succession – which made me feel that for me it was just round the corner, and it would soon be my turn to be going home to be with Christ. A few years had passed, and I always had this feeling. It wasn’t in my mind; it was almost like an inner felt assumption, and yet my mind didn’t really think that. And I remember one Saturday night going home after the meeting and sitting alone in my lounge, when I turned to my daily reading Bible and it opened at these verses in Peter. If ever God spoke to me, I felt Him speak to me that night. And I pass it on to you, because it’s not for me alone (obviously), but it’s for all those who love Christ Jesus and wait for His appearing. He said: All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … We live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance – an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.
We can have an earthly inheritance, and it might have disappeared before we’re actually due to inherit – all sorts of unexpected changes happen in life. But our inheritance in heaven, the beauty, the joy and the perfection, the knowledge of God that shall be ours there, the dwelling place with Him: it’s priceless, and it’s being kept in heaven, it’s pure and undefiled and it won’t decay – and it’s real, it’s there, it’s waiting. No matter how difficult life might be for you just now, God is preparing that inheritance, and one day, sudden in a moment, the change will have happened, and we’ll be there with Him. And it’s being kept safe for us. But more than that, He says: And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be be revealed on the last day for all to see. He’s protecting you. He’s protecting you from the enemy; He’s protecting you from every arrow that the enemy sends; He’s protecting you from all the unhappiness – and should I say also all the distraction that can come into our lives through joy. He’s protecting us so that we’re ready for the inheritance that He is keeping safe for us. And He says:
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. (I Peter 1:6)
The people to whom Peter was writing were enduring trials beyond anything that we are enduring. The following verse continues:
These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than mere gold … and it will bring to you praise and glory and honour (1 Peter 1:7)
To you – but also to Christ. And there is wonderful joy ahead.
Another verse that really spoke to me during last week I will leave with you. I wasn’t reading it at the time, but as I was praying it came into my mind with a tremendous sense of power and certainty:
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. (Malachi 3:10)
We often, I think, concentrate on the first part of that verse: Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, and that can sometimes bring a sense of condemnation or trepidation: ‘O God, what more have I to bring? Am I lacking in something? … Oh, if I don’t get blessed, it’s my fault.’
This is not just about personal blessing, though we are included in it, but it’s the second half of the verse that has been really living for me: I will open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it – or a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in. ‘Try Me: put Me to the test. There is blessing in the cup, there is blessing still in the vine, and it shall overflow. Prove Me now,’ says God. ‘See if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to contain.’
In these very present days some of us are returning as congregations to church. Next Sunday night we’ll have a meeting here again in Greenock with limited numbers and all the restrictions. Many of us are returning to church if we can, others are not, and online services are continuing as well as those in the church. And I have just such a sense that the heavens are waiting to pour out blessing upon us all: in our homes, through the online activity, in our services, and in our churches - O blessed, blessed house of God! I know we don’t worship the building, but we worship God in the building, and our building in Greenock, hallowed for over a hundred years, is very precious, because He is here, and He will be here. But He’ll be here with us and at home, wherever you are, wherever you will be over the next weeks, drinking in the blessing, expecting it: See if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing. Anticipate it. In these days of real difficulty and gloom and uncertainty, there is an inheritance secure, and we begin to realize it here on this earth, and long for others to receive it also.
There’s a lovely verse in Colossians that I love in both the old and new translations given in a Bible that I have, but the verse has a peculiar significance for me in the newer version. Paul writes:
We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy … (Colossians 1:11 NLT)
And the old translation is:
Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness (KJV)
– which is much easier to remember, but somehow the more modern translation brings the meaning home, and it underlined to me the fact of the joy of God. We read: The joy of the Lord is your strength, and how significant the joy is in the New Testament! We call Christ the Man of Sorrows, and that is His title; it comes from Isaiah 53, and He does speak of His grief, more than any man’s, but He speaks again and again of His joy.
It is Paul who is writing to the Colossians, and that gives this verse peculiar significance because he suffered so much, and he emphasizes in all his letters again and again: Rejoice … and again I say, rejoice! … Rejoice always! Often we are contented if we can have the patience and the endurance, and we think we’re doing pretty well if we manage that in all circumstances. But Paul says: ‘and with joy’. And I realized just how significant joy is. Joy is part of the strength, and it’s absolutely necessary for us to live the kind of life God wants us to live, where we have a joy that is untroubled by fightings and fears without and within. That joy is strength, and it is the joy of God. And patience, yes, in tribulations, that we may be strengthened with all his glorious powerso that we will have endurance and patience, but with joy.
Strengthened in the inner man – how we need it! We can have a respectable exterior and everything seems fine, but inside we know the weakness and the utter dependency on God. That’s a good thing: as long as we are dependent on Him, we begin to find the strength.
In a house that we once lived in, when we were about to move we ran into a problem because the previous owners had made alterations without planning permission, and so we had to ask the council for a letter of comfort. They were not pleased with what had been done, and they said that although it all looked very nice the construction was not strong enough, and we were instructed at some expense to get a steel bar put in which ran almost the length of the house. Now that steel bar couldn’t be seen: it was hidden, but they said it had to be there for strengthening. And I thought, that is exactly what we need inside us: a steel bar of the strength of God. It’s hidden, but it’s absolutely vital.
How does it come? It comes with going through trial: just with going through life there comes patience and endurance. But how does the strength come? It’s developed through life, but it’s also linked to that joy. And the joy is linked with peace. Christ speaks of both in the same conversation with His disciples at the end of His life: that my joy may remain in you (John 14:27), and my peace I give to you (John 15:11).
Paul writes to one of the churches:
Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. (2 Thessalonians 3:16)
There is a very beautiful verse in Isaiah, where we read in the old translation:
But there the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby. (Isaiah 33:21 KJV)
The Lord shall be a place of broad rivers and streams, and there will be no galleys with oars: that makes me think of a slave ship. There will be nothing like slavery in our life. But the new translation says:
The Lord will be our Mighty One. He will be like a wide river of protection that no enemy can cross, that no enemy ship can sail upon. (NLT)
That is where our peace lies. The Lord will be our Mighty One; He will be like a wide river of protection, a broad stream ‘wherein shall go no galley with oars’. A galley with oars was usually a fighting vessel, so that it’s a river that no enemy can cross and no enemy ship can sail upon. And I think we can all immediately recognize: that’s exactly what we need. An ocean of God around us, cocooning us, that the enemy cannot cross.
Is this possible? Well, I think that’s where the apostle Paul lived. It’s probably where quite a number of them, like John, lived, where the enemy couldn’t reach them. Suffering, yes, in their life, but something in their spirit that was strengthened with the joy of God and the peace of God. It came from that protection that can be around us. Think of Aaron and Hur strengthening Moses there as he lifted up his hands to pray while the Israelites were fighting the Amalekites. He couldn’t hold his hands up any longer until they came on each side and held them up for him. We feel like that sometimes – and who comes to hold our hands up but God Himself and His Son Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and we are strengthened. And we find around us, like a broad river, our God.
A line in Myers’ poem sums it up:
Then let me feel how infinite around me
Floats the eternal peace that is to be,
Rush from the demons, for my King has found me,
Leap from the universe and plunge in Thee!
(F W H Myers, St Paul)
Eternal peace, the eternal calm that is ours, and it comes on the wings of joy that is to remain with us. Blessed be His Name.
The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. Then he asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones become living people again?’
‘O Sovereign Lord,’ I replied, ‘you alone know the answer to that.’
Then he said to me, ‘Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, “Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”’
So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.
Then he said to me, ‘Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.”’
So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet – a great army.
Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, “We have become old, dry bones – all hope is gone … ” Therefore, prophesy to them and say, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again … I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land.”’
This part from Ezekiel, though not our actual New Year promise, was closely linked to it, and I spoke on it on the night that the Word was given. It has been really living for me. In my Bible it is headed A Valley of Dry Bones: A Renewed People (NLT), and it spoke to me so much of the church of Jesus Christ and of ourselves. Hopefully we are not the dry bones! I hope we’ve not become absolutely desiccated by being away from church but rather the opposite: that we are not dry. But we can identify so much with this. It speaks to me of the church in the wilderness. What we have been going through (and this true across the world) is in some ways as the church of Jesus Christ in the wilderness, because of the restrictions and at times being forbidden even to meet in God’s house.
If you think of this, God always has a plan for your life and mine, and a plan for His own church – and a plan for our church, which is a lovely thought. But the enemy has a plan, and his plan for the church of Christ is that she becomes like dry bones scattered in a wilderness, desiccated, good for nothing, dead. That’s what he wants, and to have us all scattered apart. And that’s what this pandemic has done: at times we weren’t allowed even to see each other. But there comes a breath of the Holy Spirit into that valley of dry bones that Ezekiel saw, and the bones weren’t dry any more: they formed into people, and the breath came into them, and they became as a mighty army. And that is God’s plan.
In the words of another verse:
Who is this that cometh up out of the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? (Song of Songs 8:5)
No matter how much we have found God during these days (and some will have found His presence more easily than others), we miss being together, and the strength and the sense of forward movement that comes from being in His house. Who is this that comes up out of the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? It is your life and mine. It is His church. Pray God she will come up out of this whole experience leaning upon her Beloved. Whom else should we lean on? Whom else should we look to for guidance but the Lord Jesus Christ Himself? Because He has been there: He has been in the wilderness. He was there at Calvary. He was there in that hour when He was like the goat that took the sin of the people and went out into the wilderness. He was there in the days of His sojourn on earth, the forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, being tempted and tested and tried of the enemy. There the enemy planned to leave Christ as dried bones, finished. But that wasn’t God’s plan.
God’s plan was that Christ the perfect Man, perfect Son of God, within that wilderness, wrestling with the enemy, wrestling in His flesh against the power of the enemy, wrestling against the temptation to give in and just bown down and worship Satan, should instead triumph gloriously. Christ’s triumph in that wilderness won for you and me the power to overcome temptation, the power to resist with faith in the living God and to discover the sense of faith that is the faith of the Son of God. So whom else should we come out of our wilderness leaning upon but on Jesus Christ? He came up from His baptism in the Jordan and He went into the wilderness full of the Spirit, forty days and forty nights without food, and we only read of the temptations that came at the end; we don’t know what happened during these forty days and nights. We know that He was so weakened in His body that angels came and took care of Him at the end. We know the temptation to doubt that Satan tried Him with there at the end. But as we read of Him going up from the banks of Jordan, full of the Holy Spirit, driven of the Spirit into the wilderness, we also read that He came out of the wilderness full of the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes at the beginning of this lockdown when I pictured us coming back to church, I thought: ‘We’ll be war-weary by then, we’ll be tired, a bit wounded, and oh! the joy of the restoration of then coming together again!’ But actually I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think we’ll be like that at all. I don’t think that’s God’s plan. That’s more like Satan’s plan, which is that we never come back together. But he’ll not win on that. What is God’s plan? That we will come out as full of the Spirit as we went in. In fact Christ came out, speaking reverently, stronger than He went in – if we can say that of Christ, because He was always strong. But in His calling and ministry and in His manhood he had been tested and had overcome. And He came out winning for us the laurels of victory, winning for us the power to overcome temptation, winning for us the power to worship God because He would not worship Satan, and He won for us the power to bow down and worship the holy God, and the power to remain full of the Holy Spirit, even as He was. Tremendous is His provision for us.
In praying one night I felt overwhelmed by the sense of His victory, the anointing of His Spirit, the fulfilment of His Word: I will pour out of My Spirit. And as His Spirit is here with us, among us (not dry bones, but any bit of us that has got dried), as the breath of the Holy Spirit is here, call upon Him. You don’t even need another to prophesy over you. Call out to Him yourself, saying: ‘O come, Thou breath of the Holy Spirit, fill me, flood me, overflow me.’ And when that day comes that we are together, when we are together fully and without any restrictions (whether or not we come back before that, but when we come back like that), or in any form, we’re full of the Holy Spirit and of the victory of Jesus Christ – ours today. O may that Holy Spirit flood us, come into our homes where we are, that you may feel Him as He is in our church, where the atmosphere is always rich – even when it’s empty, still rich with His presence.
Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil – the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead … For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1-6)
These verses paint a wonderful picture of salvation, the grace of God that has sought us when we were in our sin and caused us to be now united with Himself through Jesus Christ. It is our heavenly calling, and the calling is to live there in heavenly places with Christ Jesus. That we were in our sin when God found us is an evidence of the seeking, searching heart of God.
We talk a lot, and rightly so, about our need to search for Him, and the Bible is full from beginning to end of the encouragement to do that. The Old Testament is full of the pleas of His people and of the psalmists for God to answer, and there is a search for Him; it is vital that we engage in that. But never let us forget to consider the seeking heart of God. We are familiar with verses such as Christ spoke when He said: The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost. We know and love the stories of the prodigal son, the lost coin and the lost sheep, and we are very aware of that seeking of God for us initially to become His own through Jesus Christ, and we’re very aware of the joy of being found. But sometimes we will find it very fruitful if we meditate on that searching heart of God, and begin to ponder on the pain in the heart of God.
The prophet says:
I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me. (Isaiah 65:1)
The pain in that, the pain in God’s heart in Eden when Adam and Eve had lost contact with Him, and He came looking for them – they weren’t looking for Him, and they were hiding when He called them! And all through the ages since, God’s heart has been broken and is searching for us. It is tremendously comforting to think how He has sought until He found us, and finds souls still in their sin and draws them to Himself. It’s tremendously comforting if you’re burdened for another life to realize that God is looking for them, even if there seems no response in them, and that God’s heart is still turned towards His people and His lost ones.
But what I want particularly to draw your attention to is God’s search for you and me, and His hunger for us who are His own, whom He has originally found. But – we know what it’s like to hear somebody calling our name. They maybe haven’t been able to find us in our house or wherever we are, and when we hear them calling we can have various reactions. Sometimes we are engrossed in what we’re doing and don’t want to be disturbed. But other times with an overwhelming joy we hear our name being called. We hadn’t known the person was in the house, and we’re pleased to be found. And I think of our heavenly Father and His constant search for us. He always wants to be found of us. He doesn’t need to look for us, in the sense that He knows exactly where we are. But He calls us and He seeks us, and sometimes we are more responsive than others. Sometimes we don’t hear because we are busy with our own affairs. Sometimes we are too engrossed with our own distresses even to hear Him calling our name. If only we might stop and think of God, His grief and His desire to be united with you and me always. He created us for Himself and for us to enjoy constant communion with Him, never a shade between.
Sometimes the reason that we might not be very quick to hear or to answer is the age-old reason that there can come a veil between: and sometimes that veil is actually sin. Often a person will say: ‘I can’t find God. I’ve looked, and I can’t find Him.’ I often remember my own father’s story as a teenager looking for salvation. He had gone to one of his leaders and was told to go and find it for himself. But then he spoke to another one, a very godly man, who said to him: ‘Is there any sin in your life?’ He’d never thought of that – but he knew there was plenty of sin in his life. He put that sin right, and wonderfully found salvation in Jesus Christ. Talk in the Christian world these days is very full of the knowledge of the grace and the love of God, and that’s all true. There’s not so much said about sin, and I often feel it’s like the elephant in the room: what about sin? Peace, yes; forgiveness, yes – but that’s when sin is repented of and put away. Sometimes there’s just a scance of it in our lives like a scance of dust, stopping a clarity of vision. We were born in it; God rescued us from it. We read in Ephesians that God seated us with Him in heavenly places. Don’t be careless with sin. Keep short accounts with God. Don’t break His heart by being careless. We can’t ignore it, because it immediately forms a barrier, but let us look for clean hands and pure hearts, live within our houses with integrity, set no unclean thing ever before our eyes – just never. I’m aware of what a snare that is to so many people. There should be zero tolerance, and you will know its huge effect in your lives. You will become much more aware of God Himself, and fall in love with God, and share His passion for others. Knowing the passion and the love of God, we find ourselves in true communion.
The line of a poem says something like this:
Over against His dead, God sat weeping.
When we catch a glimpse of that God, we want never to offend Him again, but to come and be at His side and say: ‘O God, keep me close.’ He sets us in His safe place: ‘Then was I in His eyes as one that found peace.’
What seekest Thou, O Master mine,
In yon far country of life’s waste
Searching each haunt of sin and want
Where souls are spent in wanton haste?
Let’s not leave Him alone in that search, but let us be ones that identify with Him and endeavour never to grieve His faithful heart.
The first part of this week’s meditation is related to a thought that my mind has been mulling over since it was first triggered some days ago by a passage in one of Spurgeon’s daily reading books. The same verse occurred in Diana’s Thought for the Week (2 September). Here is the verse, along with the one that follows:
Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to keep the lamps burning continually. The lampstand will stand in the Tabernacle, in front of the inner curtain that shields the Ark of the Covenant. Aaron and his sons must keep the lamps burning in the Lord’s presence all night. This is a permanent law for the people of Israel, and it must be observed from generation to generation. (Exodus 27:20–21)
In the book of Revelation you read that Christ walked among his candlesticks. The candlestick represents the church of Jesus Christ, in other words our lives. We are meant to be burning all the time: that is, alive in God. We’re not to be like the foolish bridesmaids who, when they heard the sound of the bridegroom coming, had then to go and try to buy oil for the lamps, and it was too late. So we can have the oil of the Holy Spirit – the presence of God, the presence of Christ – burning in us all the time. The oil that was used for the candlestick was a special oil in that it was only pure olive oil that was beaten that could be used.
And that immediately makes us think of Gethsemane, because gethsemane is the name for an oil press. There were many olive trees there, the descendants of which, I think, can still be seen. When Christ went into that garden on the night of His agony He knelt amongst the olive trees. (Evidently that is the origin of Christians kneeling to pray rather than standing, because Christ knelt there.) We follow Christ in there as far as we can, just to see what was transacted that night. We know that He was like an olive that was crushed by a heavy millstone to let the oils out. Christ was crushed there to such an agony that He became prostrate. In that garden there was a tremendous transaction between God and His world, because Christ was representing mankind, but He was perfect in the flesh, and He was the perfect Son of God. There the damage that was done in Eden is reversed, and where man had taken his own way and separated himself from God in Eden, now the Lord Jesus Christ, I think in a desperate aloneness of spirit, is prostrate there in Gethsemane, and wins for us a place of obedience, the place where perfect Man yields to the will of perfect God. The oil of the Holy Spirit, the oil of His own being, is available now for you and for me. And what does keep us alive, spiritually alive? It is being in the near presence of Christ. It’s living very close to Him that keeps the vision burning in us. He is the vision. And it’s looking at Him that keeps our spirits burning and not just fading out, and the oil going.
But Gethsemane is not necessarily the most attractive place for us. We probably want often to be at a distance like the disciples, or a bit nearer like the privileged three, but not too close – whereas I think that now our invitation is to come right up to where Christ is, each in our own calling. We can’t suffer as He did, but He calls us back into fellowship with Him, He who said: Come and follow Me (the subject of last week’s meditation and the Sunday School verse as well). There are places to which we are very willing to follow Christ. But when we see Him going near Calvary and Gethsemane – well, Calvary, yes, the place where we’re forgiven; but Gethsemane, where basically we have to yield our will to Him: that’s where there can be a clash of our will and His will, until we withdraw our eyes from ourselves and our own circumstances and we see that lonely figure, God represented in His dear Son, separate from all humanity, with an aloneness that He invites us now to come near to. We come in the aloneness of our spirits, but we find there is One there, that we need never be lonely again.
As we draw near and want to come nearer to that Christ, then our wills do begin to yield to His in the deepest parts of our being. But what we find is the olive oil - the oil of the Spirit, which shows us something of the Godhead, and it brings to our spirits a peculiar sweetness that we find nowhere else. We discover that the place of abiding is there by that One who yielded up His will, the will of the perfect manhood, to the will of God. There is no peace like that peace that comes and abides in our inner spirit and brings us into a place of rest in God, the peace that comes when we follow Him even a little way. We find ourselves within the shades of Gethsemane, and we find His shadow is actually sweet to us. There are hours in life when that is the place to go, until we learn to come not out again from our place of rest in God. He and we are reconciled. We dispute no more with Him, and we fight no more with Him, but we become as yielded lives.
All roads that have been and must be
Pass somewhere through Gethsemane.
There is always an answer in God. He is always a place for us to rest our foot: it’s where He is. He leads us to places of great joy. He leads us to be free as the eagle soaring into the upward air, and he leads us over mountains of separation where our feet are as sure as a hind’s foot. But He leads us betimes to these sacred places apart with Him: Gethsemane and Calvary. And there we find Him – Blessed Saviour.
The thought I have for today is the cost of discipleship: that is, the cost of following Christ and of being consecrated to Him. In our recent ladies’ Zoom meeting two of our more mature members were asked to speak of what consecration meant to them. They struck a note of the reality of it: the privilege, but also the cost of it, which is something that we cannot hide; indeed, we do a disservice to younger Christians if we leave out that note that brings a challenge. Our hearts often will rise to a challenge and respond to that clarion call of God: Come and follow Me. Christ Himself said: Take up your cross and follow Me. Take it up every day, and you will be My disciple.* Especially when we are young we will respond to a challenge like that, and as we grow older there is nothing in us will ever want to turn back. I think I can truly say I have never known anyone who has really consecrated their life to God who has regretted it and wanted to do something else with their life. Rather, our prayer would be: I wish I had given Him more, and given it earlier to Him. He is no man’s debtor.
In our own country we discovered how the human spirit will respond to a challenge. Prior to the beginning of the Second World War many people were pacifists, and indeed we all would like peace, but not always peace at any price. When Neville Chamberlain, having struck some kind of deal with Hitler in 1938, came back from Munich and said: ‘Peace for our time,’ he turned to some of those with him and admitted: ‘I shouldn’t have said that’ – because people grasped it, and he knew that it was not actually true. When the war broke out, very quickly Churchill was asked to take over the leadership of our country. He surely was a man under the hand of God for that purpose, and he inspired a nation with his words of courage and his rise to the challenge. He did not say: ‘It will be peace … It will be easy … There will be no hardship, no suffering, no cost.’ He said: ‘We will win, but there will be blood and sweat and toil and tears.’ And did the nation rebel against that? No. All over the land, in every quarter of it, people rose to that challenge and suffered hardship and self-denial in order to win one day the victory.
We have a greater than Churchill who is calling us. We have the Lord God Almighty, who through His Son Jesus Christ has shown us the way and said: Come and follow Me. I particularly hope that if any of you who are younger are reading this, you will feel the answer in your own spirit, quickened by God Himself, and say: ‘Lord, what else could I do with my life but to be a follower of You?’ You will find your spirit answering that challenge, as do we all – except that we have a fallen part in our nature. The book of James warns us:
Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)
The New Testament uses very strong language. In our day a lot of biblical language is watered down, and sometimes everything is made to seem that ‘it’s a cosy, comfortable life, and you can mix a bit with the world in order to win people, and you don’t need to be too extreme, and these old Pentecostals were a bit too narrow in their views’. But they were powerfully used of God! And there is a challenge that comes to us where love of the world that is inside us, as part of our nature, has to go to the cross, because friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God.
Now we have to live in this world; we have to mix with people. It’s not that we view people as our enemies. The enemy is the love within our own natures of that that is contrary to the will of God, materialistic, self-pleasing, often just totally wrong and contrary to God’s laws and the laws of holiness. We have to take ourselves on and daily say Yes to God and No to ourself. It’s the illustration of consecration that was given to me when I was about 13 years old, wanting to know how to give my all to Christ, and I’ve never found a better definition of consecration than that.
And shall we regret it? Shall we not find that we become separated unto God? There’s a lovely part in the Old Testament that tells of the story of Elijah and Elisha. Elijah the prophet knew that his days were numbered, and there was to be a successor in Elisha. He called him, and Elisha made sacrifice of his oxen and plough, and came after Elijah. The day drew near when Elijah was going to be caught up into heaven. He tries to make Elisha go away, and Elisha won’t go away. And we read again and again these words: They two went on. Ultimately separated from the other prophets, they travel on together alone until that moment when Elijah is caught up in the chariot of fire, and his mantle falls upon the waiting Elisha.
It is a greater than Elijah into whose companionship we are called. So the corollory of the truth that ‘friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God’ is that if we are no longer friends with the world and our worldly nature, we become friends of God. To walk with Jesus Christ a pathway of friendship – how beautiful! They two went on … and it becomes our soul and God. We find ourself walking in a peculiar dependence on Him and a separation to Him, where we love Him and His commands, and the things that concern His kingdom. Increasingly the things in this world that held such an attraction for us begin to wither away, and we’re able to live in the world (because we’re still in the flesh), and yet not part of it.
We see in other lives that have gone before us such an example. This week some of us were at the funeral of Marion Leeming, 87 years old when she died. She served many years of her life in the Congo as a missionary and continued to have a missionary heart and zeal to the end of her life. Did she suffer? Was there a cost in following Christ? There was. She left her homeland, she left the comforts of it, she suffered a lot of physical hardship in the Congo. Made of stern stuff, she was a soldier of the cross. She suffered danger. The rebellion that led to the independence of the Congo came at the time when they were missionaries there. On subsequent occasions when there was unrest and war, she suffered great danger. She suffered months of separation from her children, whom she dearly loved. She suffered ill health, but she soldiered on to the very end, saying in her last days that she loved Jesus more every day. What a testimony to the worth of a life separated to God!
A number of years ago the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow had a special photographic exhibition of people from all over the world, including the very famous such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and further back, I think, to Churchill. The photographer commented, I think, that Billy Graham was his favourite subject. There was on display a photograph of him as an old man sitting on the verandah of his house with his big dog, a beautiful picture of a man who looked totally happy, totally at peace. Beside it was the photograph of one who had been a bitter, cynical atheist, critical of Billy Graham and others; I think it was a picture of him tearing up a Bible, something like that. But there was also a portrait of him in his old age. My memory is that he was a drunkard and gambler who probably committed suicide at the end. The photographer himself was drawing the contrast between the two. Who chose the better part? Was there a cost? There certainly was for Billy Graham: separation from his family, his homeland, labours, journeyings oft, difficulties with health at times, facing slander, criticism, all sorts of hardship – but radiant to the end with the life of God.
Oh, don’t we feel – don’t I still feel – the draw of the eternal, the privilege of being called by God? We don’t do God a service by giving our lives to Him. It’s a privilege when He calls us, and the time to answer that call is when He is calling and saying: Come and follow Me.
Yielded, Lord, to Thee,
Wholly Thine for evermore,
Yielded, Lord, to Thee.
* Christ’s words in the first paragraph above are slightly paraphrased.
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. (Romans 5:1-5)
The reason that I was drawn to these verses is because they speak of hope, the hope that we have in God, a hope that will not be disappointed – the hope of salvation through Jesus Christ: salvation now, but right into eternity.
I have been meditating this week on the thought of hope, and I acknowledge my debt to Billy Graham, whose Hope for Each Day I often read. I love his writings. There’s such a clarity in them, he has such a clear, straightforward spirit and good old-fashioned Christian values, and I always find it such a relief to go to him. This week’s reading included this verse:
My heart is glad, and … my flesh also shall rest in hope. (Psalm 16:9)
He speaks of the importance of hope and quotes from various outstanding medical people who say that hope is vital both psychologically and physically; one of them actually said that hope is the best cure that he knew for most conditions. There’s a well-known quotation, Abandon hope, all ye who enter here, that I remember was once posted over a leper colony, and that may perchance come to your mind or heart or spirit if you’re not pleased with life – ‘Abandon hope!’ But, mercifully, hope is quite hard to abandon because, in the words of another saying in our language, Hope springs eternal in the human breast. And thank God for it: the gift of hope. Paul says: Now abideth these three: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of them is love – but hope is a close second. I think it’s a wonderful quality, a wonderful gift that God has given to the human heart, and how much more to the Christian heart. For when hope dies in us over a situation or over ourselves – if it dies, say, over a weakness that you have and you have no more hope that you’ll ever change, then you’re not likely to change. But if instead we hear a whisper in our spirits: Try again, hope resurges, and then we are much more likely to get victory over whatever we need. It is the same when it comes to being burdened for other lives – and surely as we go on as Christians a great deal of the suffering that comes into life is actually for the sake of others and their needs. Madam Guyon describes how latterly all her suffering was because of her care for other lives. It becomes essential to our spirits that we dwell in hope, that God dwells in hope. Even our flesh also will rest in hope, and we have the hope of the glory of God.
It is actually one of the titles of God. He was often referred to by His people as the Hope of Israel, which I think is a lovely name for God. The word hope has different translations. When it’s referring to God, one of them is confidence. It’s a bit more than, ‘It might happen’: it is a confidence, especially in relation to God. Sometimes it means expectation: the Hope of Israel is the Expectation of Israel, the One that they were waiting for, and He of course has come in the person of Christ. Sometimes it means refuge. The prophet says:
The Lord will be the hope of his people. (Joel 3:16)
That means that the Lord will be the Refuge of His people: that is often the meaning applied to God, and it is a wonderful one. When we have a refuge, then we have hope. When we have an expectation of something good happening in the future, it gives us hope. And He is our confidence.
I want to give one or two examples of the wonderful hope and refuge that God can bring from the lives of people that I knew. One was a lady in our church who many years ago, when I was a child, had gone out to the mission field in answer to the call of God. She spoke quite publicly of how she had had an open-eyed vision of Africa. She had gone and served there as a nurse. She came into a very difficult time, and also was pulled home by the illness of her mother. As she said, in spite of advice that she was given, she came home. And she suffered desperately. She felt that she had abandoned the call of God, and she was in agony of spirit for many months if not years. There had come over her a black despair. Now the devil is very cruel. I am quite sure he was tormenting her in a way that God did not mean her to be. Miss Taylor (one of our founding leaders), who lived near this lady, told us one day that she had been walking up a street in Greenock when they met at the top of Terrace Road, near Regent Street. When Miss Taylor saw her friend, she immediately realized that she was in desperate despair – the blackness was all over her. She just said her name … they stood together, and as they were standing there, Christ came in visible form and stood beside them. They didn’t say a word to each other; they just waited; then they parted in silence. Hope – our Hope – He came.
As I tell that story, I think of a time in my own life when I was in desperate despair, not seeing how I could cope with the future. And the Lord Jesus Christ came into my room. I didn’t see Him with the physical eye; I didn’t need to, I saw Him so clearly with my spiritual eyes, and I knew He stood at my bedside, and all was well. What a Christ we have!
In another situation someone was in desperate need, with terrible weakness in their own life that led them into real trouble. They said that one night an angelic being, if not Christ Himself, came and sat at his bedside, and said: I have come down to help thee, thou sorely tried one.
And I would say, just to remind us all: Try Jesus. Try God. Don’t give up hope, even if you feel that you have failed. In the case of the lady missionary, though she felt she’d failed – and failed God – that wasn’t His verdict on her. He came to her. And He comes to us. We never need to lose hope. He is our hope of glory.
Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself. (1 John 3:3)
To be purified often means to go through refining fire, and we have to go through refining fires because a lot of refining is needed before we are ready to meet with God. But we have this hope, the hope of Christ’s appearing, and that when He appears we will be like Him. And because of that hope, we want to be ready, and we want Him to refine us, refine our fallen natures, until we are prepared at least to begin to be like Christ.
A lot of our suffering ultimately can be related to our care for other lives and our desperate longing that they will find Christ as Saviour, and having found Him will keep following Him, and will find Him really deeply. There comes an agony on our spirits at times that another life will come into the knowledge of the glory of God and the freedom that there is in Christ. Sometimes we can be tempted to give up hope. I’ve known myself be almost ready to give up hope for another life, and find that God has compelled me still to have hope, still to pray, that that He is going to win that one, that they’re not going to be lost.
As I was meditating on hope last night, my book opened at a poem of Amy Carmichael’s. One verse and then the whole poem really lived for me. It will be especially relevant to those who are finding in themselves a care for other lives. We have just completed an Alpha course in Greenock, taken by some of the younger generation. By last Wednesday night there were definitely six people who had found Christ as Saviour, and one of them was also baptized in the Spirit. I am sure that for those of you who have been running that course, your deep care is now that they will keep following and find more of Christ. And others of you will be burdened for various people in various ways.
Let Us Believe
Saviour, who bore the bitter Cross,
That he* for whom we come today
Might be redeemed and purged from dross –
To Thee, triumphant Christ, we pray.
What though our faith be swept by storm?
Thou who hast promised wilt perform!
Faithful art Thou to perfect those
In whom Thy grace begins to move.
Changeful the tide of feeling flows,
Changeless Thine everlasting love.
Not hell itself can countermand
The saving strength of Thy right hand!
Renew within us quenchless hope,
O God of Hope, though oftentime
He slip upon the upward slope;
Let us believe that he will climb.
O let us sing before we see;
And glory, glory be to Thee!
*or ‘she’, and so throughout.
‘Renew within us quenchless hope, O God of Hope’ – isn’t that lovely? As we pray to Him, and as we find Him, we find hope.
I want to start with a short recap from last week, when I was speaking about my daughter Christine at three years old, and the help that she had given to my sister in bringing her a Daily Light that had a word from God. A lovely story then came to me from one of our congregation, Audrey Burns, who I’m sure will not mind me sharing this with you. It brought back to her a memory of her seven-year-old son, when she had been having a tough time. He just marched up to her and said: ‘Mummy, you’re a conqueror!’ and that gave her the victory. So that was another lovely story of how God can use the action of a little child.
But my theme for today is ‘having an appointment with God’. In the way life has gone in our present society, we become more and more aware that we must have appointments, and are even talking about how we must book before we go somewhere even for a coffee. We don’t really like our life being so governed and regulated as that. But it is a wonderful thought that God makes appointments for us and with us. I think that’s very clear in the story of the woman at the well, where Christ said to His disciples that he had to go through Samaria. He had an appointment with that woman. She didn’t know about it till she arrived at the well and found Him sitting there.
I often remember how, when one of you was much younger, Miss Taylor took you aside after a meeting for prayer, and you had a wonderful encounter with God. I can remember her saying that what had thrilled you so much was the fact that it was God who had made the appointment. And that is a wonderful thought, that God actually wants to make an appointment to meet with you or me.
There is a story of Rees Howells, a deeply anointed man of God, who was used in Africa in the salvation of thousands of souls and in the establishment of a college for prayer in Wales. As a young man being trained very deeply in the ministry of intercession, he was very tied up with the needs of other people. But throughout many years he had a trysting place with God up on the mountain, where as he passed through an iron gate he forgot everything else and spent time in the presence of God. One particular month was given him there of unalloyed worship and communion. When the enemy was trying to disturb him during this time, Rees was told to leave his taunts behind the moment he shut the gate. It would be like heaven on earth to him that God had an appointment with him as soon as he passed through that gate.
It is absolutely vital that this becomes integral to our Christian life and our walk with God: that we have at the very centre the desire for God. The poet speaks of a ‘jubilant pining and longing for God’. We discover that we really need to take our eyes off the world around us and off our own lives, our own needs, pleasures and joys – the things that can choke out the seed of the word of God, or the things that can drag us down. A lot of people nowadays are struggling, some against a sense of nameless depression, some with real anxiety and worry and in desperate need, because of what has happened around us with this pandemic. And you can be taken aback perhaps by feelings that you have never had before, perhaps with something like depression, and you don’t know quite what to do. But what we discover is the great unchanging God, and that the removal of some of the things in life that cushion us can cause us to turn our eyes to the heavenly country. There’s a saying which I dislike very much, that someone is ‘too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use’. But C S Lewis says that if we are not heavenly minded, we cannot be of any earthly use either. To be of real use to our fellows on earth, we have to be heavenly minded. Being heavenly minded isn’t being airy-fairy, but it is discovering that the answer for life is not here on this earth. The answer for our own spirits and our own mental wellbeing is not found here on this earth; it is found in the heavenly country. In other words, it is found in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
We think of somebody like Moses, who carried such a heavy burden of responsibility and leadership of the children of Israel. He tried all sorts of ways earlier to lead them out of the land before it ultimately happened by the power of God. But while he was still in the wilderness and they had been sinning (as they frequently did, being human), he finally discovered that God alone was his answer and his strength, and he was propelled more deeply into the spiritual world, just as we can be at this very present time. The spiritual world is wonderful. Moses pleaded: ‘God, show me Your face – show me Your glory.’
Show me Your face, Lord, Your power and Your grace;
I can make it to the end if I can just see Your face.
That was what Moses discovered, and so can we. Will He be there for us? Yes, we will discover that He has made the appointment. He has known all about this time that was going to come in our world. I was talking recently to a postmistress outside our own locality, who described how she had been brought up on a farm and was just so glad that her parents, grandparents and great grandparents didn’t suffer what we are suffering now. I said: ‘Well, they had the war to face.’ She said: ‘Oh, but this is different.’ She obviously thought that the present time was worse. I don’t know that I would agree with her, but I understood what she meant: the pain of it, barriers between people having to wear masks, and so on. But God has known all about it, and God has an appointment with you and me and with His church, to go more deeply into the Spirit, to find our spirits becoming more alive in God. Search after Him. Ezekiel found that the river deepened until he had waters to swim in. And that is what we need to refresh our mind, our spirit, and even our physical being. We need the spiritual world, which is full of God and of Christ, and is wonderful. We are not riding into the sunset that the old cowboy films used to finish with. We are riding into the sunrise, here and now finding that God is there and God is light. He becomes our dearest friend.
So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God, because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
Is that not beautiful? He has made us friends of God. We think of that in association with giants of the faith like Moses and Abraham, who is described as that – but Paul says we have been made the friends of God, because of our Lord Jesus Christ. How precious He is – what He has done for us – what He is to us.
I’ll just finish with this part. Abraham was called the friend of God, I think over many years, as his soul grew in faith. But there’s that wonderful chapter where he has been told by God to take Isaac and sacrifice him at the top of a high mountain ‘that I will show you’.
Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of… On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. (Genesis 22:2, 4-5)
I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. He went to pray, he went to worship; he wasn’t focusing on his broken heart, he wasn’t focusing on his need. He said: ‘I’m going to worship.’ Try that. ‘Lord, I’m coming into Your presence just to worship You, to pray, to be with You.’ Abraham’s faith was well rewarded. He didn’t know the revelation that was awaiting him upon that mountain, as he and Isaac and God went up that hill that became the hill of revelation. It revealed to him something of the Calvary that was to come, and yet has always been there in eternity. As he walked with God; he surely found fellowship with the Father, who took His Son up Calvary’s hill, there to sacrifice Him. It became to him the mountain of revelation, of the unveiling of the deeps of God. How satisfied his soul must have been. God showed him the ram caught in the thicket. Abraham had said: ‘The Lord will provide Himself a sacrifice,’ and He did provide Himself a sacrifice.
What a mountain we have to come to! We find again and again that God will have made an appointment for us to meet there with Him. All else becomes forgotten. Rees Howells would go through the gate into a place of fellowship with God. We find that we are well-fed children, and His Name becomes exceeding precious.
Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 2:3)
Paul’s words to Timothy show us his idea of what a follower of Christ is like. We are a soldier in Christ’s army, and a soldier does not expect a life of ease; indeed, he is often keen and up for the challenge of what his job will involve. And for us it is not a job; it is not even a duty. It is a privilege to be a follower of Christ. And He has made provision for us, that we can endure hardness. It’s not that the way is always hard, but hardness will come into it, as Paul himself very well knew.
During this period in our country’s history there are varying degrees of hardness of the way, depending on our circumstances, but something that is probably coming to most of us is a sense of weariness of the way, a weariness of all this abnormal mode of life, and (for some of us) most of all the weariness of not being able to be together in God’s house and to worship in the way that we are accustomed to. The whole experience of lockdown and restriction and (to begin with) the sense of isolation for many has given me a greater appreciation of what people suffer when they are imprisoned for their faith or for any other reason. I have a tremendous admiration for those who endure that hardness and glorify Christ in it, sometimes in isolation for many years. Many of you of an older generation may be familiar with The Colditz Story, either through the television serial or (like me) through reading the book. One of the things that is an abiding memory for me is that year after year the weariness of being imprisoned in that cold fortress came upon very brave men. It was the bravest that tended to end up in Colditz, because they were the ones that had tried to escape from other camps. They would find another winter was coming on with all the cold, and they realized the war’s not over yet, and the weariness of another winter of confinement came over the souls and spirits of these men who were accustomed to a life of adventure and freedom. And to a little degree we can identify with that: just the weariness of the way.
Paul said: Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. The hardness of the way of life can engender not just a bitter spirit, but a hard spirit that becomes indifferent to other people’s suffering. Or it can have the opposite effect and make us more aware of other people’s suffering and more compassionate to it. The hardness that we have to endure brings a hardiness into our spirit, a good kind of toughness, like the iron that entered into Joseph’s soul in prison. But it doesn’t make us hard, as such. There’s a tremendous contrast in the spiritual world between the hardiness of spirit that we need and the gentleness of spirit that we need. No one was braver than Christ, and no one more gentle.
It brought to me the picture of the manna coming for the Israelites in the wilderness, in a desert place, in a hard place. God sent them a form of bread, the manna, and it came with the dew. The dew fell overnight, and in the morning when the sun rose and the dew dried off, there was the manna. It is such a picture of the coming of the Holy Spirit, who comes to us often very gently, without being seen, but is totally needed to come upon our spirits, or they will become hard. We are very dependent on the oil and the balm of the Holy Spirit to come, and as He comes He brings Christ with Him, and He brings into our spirit the gentleness of the healing of Christ, the gentleness of spirit that prevents us from being hard in the midst of hardship. He comes so beautifully, as the dew falls down on the mown grass that’s lying bleeding and broken and brings healing and recovery, and He brings Christ, who brings us all that we need.
Paul was one who tremendously found this, and could say then to his disciple: ‘You endure hardness, Timothy.’
You have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, you may receive the promise. (Hebrews 10:36)
Paul describes himself as having been as gentle as a nurse in the midst of his spiritual children, nursing them as a nurse cherishes her children – Paul, who was so strong, who had overseen the stoning of Stephen. His life then was probably without too much hardship: he was respected and honoured, probably quite well off. Now he was just the opposite, despised and rejected – but not hardened, his spirit softened by the coming of the dew of the Holy Spirit until he loved every one of his converts, and he loved the fallen race of men and sought always to win them to Christ. And he is comforted by different means and such a simple situation as the coming of his friend Titus. He was cast down and almost in despair, but he said:
God, who comforts the lowly, comforted me by the coming of Titus to me. (2 Corinthians 7:6)
It is not wrong to take comfort from our friends. We think: ‘Well, we should be ultimately dependent upon God,’ but God uses people and incidents to bring help and comfort. Don’t feel guilty and somehow inadequate if that is how help has come to you.
An illustration of this comes from my sister Alison’s life many years ago, in 1989. She was in great need. She was overworked, overstrained, she was writing a book review in the context of her own career, she was doing a lot of the looking after of Miss Taylor by that stage, and these and various other circumstances had all conspired to make her dangerously overstrained to a point that she just did not know how she was going to cope with life and with the future. Alison is a very strong and resilient person; this was not like her. She had been taken out in the car by her sister and a friend to try and help her relax, and they had come into my house to see me. I was there alone with my daughter, who was just three years old at the time. Christine was sitting beside Alison on the settee; they were alone in the room, Alison in deep inward distress. And Christine trotted over to a coffee table where was lying my miniature Daily Light, the exact same as Alison’s one. She brought it over, opened it, and held it open long enough for Alison to read the emboldened words at the top of the page for the 2nd of September: He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, and on the other side for the morning reading, it said: Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart. Christine closed the book and took it back. Alison only had time to read these verses, but it was the start of renewal and healing. Later on in the day on her own she was still feeling the stress of it all, and she went to look up the verses in her own Daily Light, but instead opened at the 19th of March, with verses like: Strengthen me according to Your word. Because it had spoken to her so much in the morning, it spoke to her again, and the distress lifted from her.
God is a wonderful healer; there is nobody like Him. We cannot explain how he heals a broken heart, an overstrained spirit, in a moment. What no psychology or psychiatry can do in the same way, He does in a second. Always remember that. Always remember when you’re suffering hardship that there is still God, and at the right moment at the appointed time He comes, His touch is wonderful. So endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. There comes His moment, and in Him, as the dew falls, healing comes. He is like the cloud of dew in heat of harvest. Think of that cloud of dew dropping around us. It brings to us health, and it brings the Son of God.
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