You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies... my cup overflows with blessings... surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. (Psalm 23)
About a year ago I was taking the funeral of a man who had made a profession of faith many years ago but had drifted away and become very cold until his life came into very difficult circumstances. He then grew bitter and angry about what had happened but in the afterward he started coming to church and gradually found a place of peace before he died very suddenly some years later.
At the funeral I spoke from the 23rd Psalm and in particular from some of the words quoted above - You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.
The psalm was written by David and though he had many enemies throughout his life, he found that God provided for him, very richly, in every situation. But at the funeral I am speaking of, the emphasis was very different. That man’s enemies were the bitterness and anger that he was harbouring in his heart. And the wonderful thing was that God prepared a feast for him even in the presence of these enemies and gradually the love of God and the warmth of His presence worked a miracle and the enemies were defeated.
Often our enemies are within ourselves - enemies of discouragement, fear, a sense of failure. Or anger, resentment and bitterness. But if we come to God, even in the presence of these enemies, we can feed on something very different - He provides a feast of His love, His forgiveness, His care - and gradually the enemies lose their grip and our cup overflows with blessings.
I’m always grateful when I read the 23rd Psalm because it says that not only goodness, but mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. How we need that mercy, because of our weaknesses. Be encouraged, His mercy will follow you all your days and your cup can continue to overflow with blessings until you go to be with Him.
On my calendar this week I read these words written by a Welsh preacher -
‘The word of God is not only pure, it is also purifying’
I’ve been pondering this and trying to let the reality of it be felt in my own spirit. We can easily acknowledge that God’s word is pure - but we can look at it as something out there, distant from us, belonging to a holy God. That, of course, is to miss the point.
The Bible is a living book and the Word is meant to be applied to our lives. And when that happens it is like a stream of pure, living water that comes over and into our souls. It is like standing under a shower and feeling cleansed, invigorated and, yes, loved by the warmth of the water that flows over and around us. This pure stream has the power to do all that and make us clean.
There is healing in that water - sometimes physical healing, emotional healing, spiritual healing. It can be like the lame man going into the pool, in the gospels, when the water has been ‘troubled’ by the angel and finding that he has been made whole. As you read the Bible, let God ‘trouble’ the waters that you read and let the pure streams flow into your inner being, bringing change.
And we are told that ‘out of our inner beings will flow rivers of living water’. Their source is not in us, they come from God . And as we let them come in and purify us, these streams can flow out to others.
Do we read the Bible, looking for all of that? Why not look for it today?
Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken. (Isaiah 28:16)
Familiar words to many of us, and they speak of Christ. These words are quoted in the New Testament by Paul ( in Romans 9 v 33 ) and by Peter ( in 1 Peter 2 v 6).
It is worth noting that it is Paul and Peter who quote this verse. Both of them had very real need of a firm foundation in their lives and one that was safe to build on.
Paul had built his life on the traditions and teachings of the Pharisees and that foundation crumbled beneath his feet when he met Jesus on the Damascus Road. Thereafter, his life was built on Jesus Christ and though every synagogue and every city turned against him and tried to destroy him, his foundation remained secure and he was never shaken. In fact, as you read one after another of his epistles, it becomes so clear that the cornerstone, Jesus Himself, is not only firm and steadfast but is very precious to Paul. And the security that is in Christ has taken root in Paul - it is clear and it is tangible.
And what of Peter? How he needed a secure foundation! He, like Paul, thought he was so strong and so able to stand against every onslaught that came against him. And yet, how wrong he was. He crumbled in a dark hour, and became so aware that when his confidence was in his own strength - and he had more strength than many people - he was building on something that was very shaky. But Peter came from that dark and broken place on to very solid ground in Jesus Christ. And he found a place where he never needed to be shaken again.
With the testimony of these two lives, surely we can be encouraged for our own lives.
If the foundation held firm for the fierce onslaught that came against Paul and Peter, surely it will hold firm for you and for me!
Be strong.......and now get to work, for I am with you says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid. (Haggai 2:4, 5)
Last Sunday morning I mentioned the children’s chorus ‘Building up the Temple’ and later discovered that it had been sung in our on line Sunday School that morning. And it’s that theme of working in the Kingdom of God that I want to bring to you today.
In Haggai’s day the temple was in ruins. The people had started to rebuild it but they had grown tired and had been sidetracked into dealing with their own lives, their homes and their business. Haggai brought them back to their commitment to build the temple and in a very short time the work was done.
You may think that this is an inappropriate time to speak about renewing our enthusiasm and commitment to the work of God but I don’t think that is the case. Many people in this time of upheaval have found a new focus on the things that are eternal and already there has been created in many of you a desire to lay aside the things that would distract you and to grow spiritually - and to help others to grow also.
Haggai encouraged the people with a word from God - ‘my Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt‘. It was many centuries since they had come out of Egypt, but God was still the same God and His work was going forward. And for us, it is many centuries since the death and resurrection of Jesus and since the outpouring of His Spirit at Pentecost, but He promised ‘I am with you always even to the end of the age’. His Spirit is still moving, and moving amongst us as part of His worldwide church.
Can we get to work - to build a stronger temple for the Holy Spirit inside our lives ( we are told that our bodies are the temple of the Spirit) and to be ready to commit ourselves to the work of God with a sharper focus and greater enthusiasm when we have that opportunity in the days ahead?
And the next morning the area round the camp was wet with dew. When the dew evaporated, a flaky substance as fine as frost blanketed the ground... And Moses told them, “It is the food the Lord has given you to eat”. (Exodus 16:13 -15)
The dew often speaks of the Holy Spirit. And here, His coming is quiet and unseen. There is a line in a hymn which says
Drop thy still dews of quietness till all our strivings cease
and I think there is much to learn in this. It is not learned quickly; it takes time.
We need to learn to be still in the presence of God and to let the clamour of all the voices in our mind die down. When we do that, our spirits can become wet with the dew of His presence and we are refreshed. At the end of a day we can be distracted by many thoughts, we can be tired, we can be discouraged - we need the quiet coming of the Spirit to refresh our souls.
And when we have stilled our souls in this way and the dew evaporates - there is manna from heaven. Sometimes it’s a verse of scripture that is quickened for us, sometimes it is the drawing near of the bread of heaven Himself - the Lord Jesus - and we feed on Him. The manna was white and it was round, speaking of the purity and perfection of Christ. And it was there every morning.
Christ is so near, so accessible if we will quieten all the noise around us and within us, if we will silence the things of earth that absorb us more than they should and feed on the One who is the Living Bread, brought to us by the dew of heaven.
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