My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid. (Haggai 2:5)
These words were spoken to a people living in very hard times and it must have seemed to them that the time of the deliverance of their nation from Egypt was a far off memory and so removed from their own situation.
But that was not so. God’s Spirit remained among them. Think of the many times in scripture that God’s Spirit came to his people or to individuals and despair turned to hope, sadness turned to joy. Peter was released from prison... Paul and Silas found their chains broken in the darkness of a prison cell... the disciples found the Spirit outpoured on them on the Day of Pentecost and on many other occasions... John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day on the isle of Patmos and was lifted into a place where he saw into the spiritual world and forgot for a time the hardships of the world around him.
In some of these situations you have a person, alone, in very discouraging circumstances but they found that ‘His Spirit remained among them'... and God has promised that it will be so for those who turn to Him, even to the end of the age when Christ returns again.
Where are you today? Are you discouraged or feeling crushed by your circumstances? God would remind us that His Spirit remains amongst us - so do not be afraid.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
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.
‘Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28)
Notice the first word in this verse - ‘Come’.
It is an instruction as well as an invitation and it looks for a response from us. There are some things that will never happen for us spiritually unless we come. It reminds me of the story of the prodigal son. He got to the place where he said ‘ I will arise and go to my father’. When he did that, his father ran to meet him and everything began to change.
In the verse we are looking at today it is the same - if we come to Christ (for He is the speaker) we will find rest. There is a calmness in Christ and there is something in His Presence that brings rest and soothing into our souls. How often do we come? Just in a crisis? Surely it is a good thing to come much more often that that. Perhaps at the end of each day - to lay down the burdens of the day at His feet and to find that our weariness goes as we draw strength from Him, just by being where He is.
'Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in and sup with him and he with me' (Revelation 3:20)
This is different. In the first verse, it is our need that draws us to Christ. In this verse we must be listening for Him and ready to respond to His knock. The words were spoken by Christ to His church - to those who already knew Him as Saviour. One translation of the final part of the verse is ‘ and we will share a meal together as friends’. The verse speaks of an intimacy of relationship with Him, a communion between our soul and the Lord Jesus.
Have we progressed from the first invitation to the second? There will always be times when our need drives us to Him but there should be many other times when we are listening for the knock on the door of our hearts and want to be in His Presence simply because He is our Beloved and our Friend.
But my God shall supply all your need, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
When we read this verse, very often our thoughts go to material things - money, food, a home to live in etc. And down through the centuries God has Indeed supplied these things again and again for his people - from the feeding of the 5,000 in Bible times to the provision of food and accommodation at crisis times in places like Christian orphanages, Teen Challenge Centres and many other Christian works.
But there are other needs - the needs of the soul - and God also meets these needs. Think of the fruits of the Spirit that we are encouraged to look for in our lives.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. (Galatians 5:22, 23)
The growth of these qualities in our lives comes from him. Are you looking for that growth? We need these virtues in our lives if we are to show forth Christ and if we are to grow spiritually. And we are told, not only that He will meet our need, but also that He will meet it ‘according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus’. What an abundant supply! And how little we draw from that supply!
Think of it like a bank account - there are plenty of funds there, but we draw a meagre amount and try to meet the demands of life using only that pittance! We should look at our needs and then draw from that abundance. What are you short of today - joy..... patience...... gentleness? There is a supply in Christ Jesus. Let’s ask God to help us draw from His supply - remember, very often ‘we have not, because we ask not’.
Try asking, today.
He goeth before you, He knoweth the way
When He guides your footsteps you can’t go astray
Smoothing the rough place, oh be not afraid
He goeth before you, He knoweth the way.
Most of you will be aware that in eastern lands the shepherd goes ahead of his sheep and the sheep follow him. In those lands there is much barren ground and many steep and rocky places. The sheep would never be able to see that after going through these places there is pasture and quiet waters - but the shepherd knows and he leads them through.
I think we are too ready to take our own way through each day and as a result we get stuck in the barren places. Often, it is not that we mean to be headstrong or disobedient - it is simply that we are used to setting our own course and we do it without thinking. Then, when things have gone wrong we cry to Him for help.
Thankfully, He comes again and again and picks us up but how different it is when we deliberately, consciously, commit the day into His hands and ask Him to go before us, to lead us. Sometimes it can help if we think of where we are going to be that day, who we might meet, what difficult situations we might be in - and ask Him to go before us, to lead us over the rough ground and rocky places, strengthen and guide us each step of the way. If we are conscious of letting Him lead, we can find that He gives us wisdom in what we say and strength in the difficult places. And we begin to learn that His ways are better than our ways and this is the best way to live.
He will walk with us, but we need to allow Him to be the guide. And, in time, we will find again that there are green pastures and still waters - and He restores our souls.
The king also himself passed over the brook Kidron
(2 Samuel 15:23)
I read this verse a few days ago in a daily reading from Spurgeon and I make no apologies for using the verse and some of the thoughts from what I read.
It has been a week with a great deal of sadness for many of us and this verse comes from a story of great sadness - David fleeing for his life when Absalom usurped his throne. He left, weeping, and crossed the brook which was filled with all the waste from the city of Jerusalem. Centuries later, the Lord Jesus crossed that same brook on His way to Calvary. He was being driven out too, and around Him was all the sin of a world that was rejecting Him.
It was a time of grief and sadness in both of these situations, and we are told very clearly in the Bible that for us, too, there will be tribulation and grief in this world. What do we do at times like this? Where do we go?
In the story of David we read these words spoken by one of his followers, Ittai -
‘I vow by the Lord ....that I will go wherever my Lord the king goes, no matter what happens - whether it means life or death’. (2 Sam. 15:21)
Our path is to follow the King. He knows the road of pain and sorrow - He has walked that road Himself and will walk it with us in the times of our pain and sorrow. Put your hand in His hand and He will lead you through.
And remember, David came back in triumph to Jerusalem. Jesus came back in triumph from Calvary. And He will return again, in triumph, to take us with Him to our eternal home. And between now and that day He will comes to us many times in triumph to lift us up out of whatever sadness and difficulty tries to engulf us on our way.
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