The Prayer Of An Afflicted Man

“A prayer of an afflicted man.  When he is faint and pours out his lament before the Lord.”

                “Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry for help come to you.  Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress.  Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly.”

                                                                                                                                Psalm 102: Title and first two verses

                 A number of years ago while on vacation I was able to spend some time with my Grandchildren.  I have had this opportunity several times in recent years.  It is always wonderful, but exhausting.  That particular vacation enabled me to observe and reflect upon a number of things.   As I observed the young families around us I was struck by just how much life has slowed down for my wife and me.  As I tried to keep up with my own Grandchildren I found myself deeply thankful for that reality.  There is a lesson to be learnt there which will become apparent as we begin to explore Psalm 102.

                Before we do that however I need to reflect upon one other event from that vacation.  I was able to spend some time reading Ron Gleason’s wonderful biography of the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck, some of whose works I have read and found to be immensely helpful.  Bavinck was a man who wrote pastorally.  His purpose was to clearly expound the scriptures so that Christians could receive real help in living the Christian life.  His struggles in life formed the background to his writings in that they gave context to all that he was attempting to communicate. 

Gleason’s biography helped me while on vacation in a couple of ways.  First it gave me opportunities to be a witness for the Lord.  Several people took the time to ask me what it was that I was reading leading to some fruitful conversations about the Lord Jesus Christ.  Second, reading the biography of another person always gives me a strong dose of reality about my own life.  It is here that I want to connect with Psalm 102.

This wonderful Psalm is a pastoral reflection on the way that a godly person responds to affliction and deep distress in their life.  The title of the Psalm tells us that it is the prayer of a person who is overwhelmed with affliction.  Their response is to prayerfully come before God and pour out their complaint to him.  Step one is to acknowledge the reality of affliction.  So often we assume that trials should never touch the life of a believer.  We face a difficult circumstance in our life and we cry out “Why Me!”  The Psalmist assumes that afflictions will come and at times they will seem to be overwhelming.  There is a biblical way to respond in such situations.  The Psalmist leads us through the process as he pours out his heart to the Lord.  His first step is to acknowledge that he is at the point of fainting under the strain of the circumstances he is facing.  The Apostle Paul expresses exactly the same thought when he writes in 2 Corinthians, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8b-9)  Here Paul seems to be pointing back to passages such as Psalm 102 as he reflects upon his own experience of affliction and the fruit it bore in his life.    Secondly the Psalmist goes before the Lord in prayer.  His prayer however is a confession of the biblical reality that he is discovering in his trial.  As Paul wrote, “That we might not rely upon ourselves.”  The Psalmist has discovered that he is a limited human being whose life is vanishing away.  It is a precious gift that God gives to us when He draws back the curtain on our lives in order to show us that we are frail mortals whose lives vanish away like smoke. 

There is another lesson here and that is found in the prophetic portion of the Psalm (vs.12-28).  “But you, O Lord, sit enthroned forever” (Psalm 102:12).  We may wither away like smoke, but the Lord does not.  He is eternal.   His plans and purposes will be worked out because He is constantly alive and at work.  He does not grow weary.  He does not fail.  His purpose is to reveal His own glory in all of creation because this alone accomplishes that which is for our good.  As the psalmist prays he begins to reflect upon the message of God’s Word.  God has spoken.  We must listen.  There is one more thing here however.  As the Psalmist reflects prophetical on the circumstances of his life he is brought to understand something which is woven into the message of God’s Word.  This is the message of resurrection.  The reflection of the Psalmist looks ahead to one who will come as the eternal redeemer.  God will cut short His life, but He will live on because He will be raised.  Because He is raised the Godly, those who are in Him will share in His resurrection.  This is our ultimate hope even in the most severe of affliction.  We worship the One who raises the dead.

A Call To Love Sacrificially

                “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for His mercy, as it is written:  “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your Name.”  Again it says, Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.”  And again, “Praise the lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to Him, all you peoples.”  And again, Isaiah says, “The root of Jessie will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in Him.”  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

                                                                                                                                                                Romans 15:8-13

                As we focus in on God’s call upon our lives together as the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ to be the instrument through which He proclaims the Gospel of grace to this broken, sinful world, it is vital that we begin with a vision of all that God has called us to become as recipients of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We are called to receive such grace as the Apostle Paul describes in Romans 15:8-13.  This grace awakens us to that which is given us in Christ.  Joy, peace, love, and hope are ours as we are immersed into the Spirit of Christ.  This is the precious gift God has given us in Christ.  In receiving it we find ourselves also immersed into the purposes of the Lord.  We must “Deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Him.” (Mark 8:32)  At its heart this purpose seems to be calling us to a life in which we sacrificially begin to follow our Lord in His lifestyle of love for this lost world.  The question is how do we do this?  What does it look like in our lives?  Here Michael Haykin in the final chapter of his wonderful little book The God Who Draws Near gives us some wonderful illustrations from Baptist history to help to live out this life.

                “Reflect on these three examples — all taken from the Baptist tradition.

                First, that quintessential nineteenth-century Baptist, C. H. Spurgeon, who at the age of twenty-five and not long after he had been called to be the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, solemnly resolved: ‘God sparing my life, if I have my people at my back I will not rest until the dark county of Surrey [which lay to the south of London, where his Church was located] be covered with places of worship.’

                Andrew Fuller, the respected eighteenth-century theologian and pastor, echoed similar sentiments when he declared that the ‘true Churches of Jesus Christ travail in birth for the salvation of men.  They are the armies of the Lamb, the grand object of whose existence is to extend the Redeemer’s Kingdom.’

                Finally, John Bunyan, the seventeenth-century pastor and author of the Christian classic Pilgrim’s Progress, who was deeply admired by both Spurgeon and Fuller, once said that the ‘great desire’ of his heart was

                ‘to get into the darkest places in the Countrey, even amongst those people that were furthest off of profession; yet not because I could not endure the light (for I feared not to shew my Gospel to any) but because I found my spirit leaned most after awakening and converting work, and the Word that I carried did lean itself most that way; Yea, so I have strived to preach the Gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation, rom. 15:20.  In my preaching I have really been in pain, and have as it were travailed to bring forth children to God; neither could I be satisfied unless some fruits did appear in my work;  if I were fruitless it matter’d not who commended me; but if I were fruitful, I cared not who did condemn.’” (Haykin, The God Who Draws Near p. 85-86)

                Such sacrificial love and vision when it is genuine only comes about as a result of real dependant prayer as we seek to walk into God’s vision for our world.  What has He put into your heart that you would pray for and sacrificially love so that Christ would be formed in them?  Is it a person, or a people?  Is it a community or a nation?  It is my desire that we begin to pray together that the love of Christ might be spread to the ends of the earth.

Beholding God’s Promise

                “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.  The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Isaiah 65:17-18

                There is a certain quality to really good literature which causes us to become lost in the world that is being described to us.  We begin to see, if not live in, the world of the author.  For a time our present tribulations seem to recede from our attention as we truly become lost in the book.  Such is the case with much that we read in the Word of God.  It lifts our attention away from this world and its trials and focuses our attention upon the world to come.  In Isaiah 65:17 the prophet does exactly that with one word, “Behold.”  He calls us to lift our eyes away from all that we are currently facing and to “see” the world which is to come.  We are to put our attention upon that world, discovering that it is the creation of God and that He is calling us to enter into it by faith in the LORD Jesus Christ.

                Isaiah has been engaged in a long prophetic book in which he has been warning the people of Israel about the judgment which is coming as well as explaining the reasons why it must certainly come.  It is the fulfillment of long established warnings and promises that God had spoken of in His Word right from the beginning.  Isaiah is merely reminding God’s people of what God Himself had promised them.  Now it is becoming a reality for them.  When it comes they will know that it comes from the hand of a holy and gracious God and that it is given as a chastening in order to call them back to their God. 

                Isaiah weaves into his prophesy some strong strands of hope which are there for anyone to see who approaches God’s Word with the eyes of faith.  Such is the promise here in chapter sixty five.  After describing in great detail the consequences of judgement Isaiah cries out “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.”  Look up, he seems to be saying, your redemption is drawing near.  It will be the work of God so its coming is a certainty.  It does not depend upon the efforts of fickle and failing people.  God is doing it.  We could look at what Isaiah writes here and see it as something which God is already doing.  He has begun the work.  We can expect that He will bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.   We behold it with the eyes of faith.

                The book of Hebrews in the first three verses of chapter eleven defines this faith that sees so clearly in this way.  “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Hebrews 11:1-3)

                R.C. Sproul describes faith in this way.  “It is one thing to believe in God; It is quite another to believe God.” (Ligonier Twitter Page)   Faith is believing God when He speaks revealing His truth to us.  It is taking Him at His Word.  It is looking at His promise and believing that what He has promised He can do.  It is Mary hearing the Angel’s promise that she will have a child and believing him because he came with God’s Word and nothing will ever be impossible with God.  It is Isaiah giving us this a promise of a new heavens and a new earth and us believing it because God has not only said it to us repeatedly but He has also told us how he will do it through the coming Messiah who will come and bear our iniquities on the cross (Isaiah 11:1-10; 53:4-6).  God has said it and He will do it.  In fact He is already doing it in the cross of Christ.  The only question is, do you believe God?

He Has Showed You

                “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?  Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rives of oil?  Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

                                                                                                                                                                Micah 6:6-8

                One of the great benefits of committing ourselves to a program of regular Bible Reading that takes us through the whole of scripture on a regular basis is that bit by bit we find ourselves growing in our understanding of the message of the Word of God.  Even more wonderfully we find that we become increasingly alert to the key questions that Scripture forces us to ask ourselves, and of the Biblical answers that are given to those questions.  I believe that the Bible has at its core an evangelistic purpose.  Its intent is to bring us into a living, saving faith in God’s Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore I am committed to encouraging as many people as I can to read the Bible for themselves. 

                One such key question and answer which encounter in the Bible is that which we find in Micah 6:6-8 where the Prophet leads us to ask just what kind of sacrifice we can offer in order to make ourselves acceptable to God.  For many of us we assume that we are good people and that God will accept us on that basis.  We assume that until we find ourselves confronted by God’s true holiness.  When we see Him as He is we also see the corruption of our own nature.  Others think that if they can only offer some great sacrifice that that will deal with their sin and make God accept them.  It is to this question that the Prophet Micah brings us.  It is vital to our eternal life that we ask and answer this question.  How can I make myself acceptable to the Holy God?  How great a sacrifice must I offer?

                As Micah leads us to wrestle with this question He shows us how to answer it as well.  God has given us the answer.  “He has showed you, O man, what is good.”  It is as if Micah is calling us to task for not knowing the answer because it is contained in the Bible.  God has revealed it to us.  A few references to the Scriptures will suffice to show us what God has revealed.

  1. In Deuteronomy 10:12-13 we read this.  “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all of His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands which I am giving to you today for your own good?”  Moses here goes on to show what the real love and worship of God look like.
  2. At its heart this text, in fact the whole of the Scriptures confronts us with the perfection of God’s Holiness, the depths of our sin, and the fact that there is no sacrifice which we can offer which will ever be great enough to cover our sin, but still we are not hopeless because God is gracious.  In Genesis 22 we read about Abraham and Isaac as they are on their way to offer Isaac as a sacrifice in response to God’s call.  When Isaac asks about their failure to bring along a lamb for sacrifice, Abraham answers with one of the key Old Testament testimonies to faith.  “God Himself will provide the Lamb.”(Genesis 22:8)  Looking centuries ahead this is exactly what God did in giving His Son for our redemption.
  3. In the key Suffering Servant Song in Isaiah 53:4-6 God’s Word makes this even clearer for us.  “Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted.  But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.  We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  Here is the only sacrifice that is adequate to atone for our sin.  God Himself has offered it on behalf of us.  His word then calls us to repent, to turn from our reliance on anything of our own that we could offer for our sin, so that we can embrace the sin offering that God has given.  We are commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ so that we can be saved. (Acts 16:31)

Gamaliel Stood Up

                “When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.  But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honoured by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.  Then he addressed them: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.””

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 5:33-35

                If we were to expand the title for this reflection we might call it “Gamaliel Stood Up: And What happened Next.”  It seems that Luke as is his pattern has a bigger purpose behind this account than what appears on the surface. The structure of the passage has a repetition of the term “rises up” in verse 17 where the Sadducees rise up to persecute the Apostles, and verse 34 were Gamaliel rises up and is used of God to deliver the Apostles from death.  It is interesting that the first deliverance from the jail in verse 19 was by an Angel of the Lord and that the following deliverance from the desire the Sanhedrin had to put them to death was by a leader of the Pharisees. 

                What Luke is telling us is that God uses a variety of means to accomplish His providential purposes in our lives.  He even uses human means to work out His purposes in our lives.  Each deliverance is clearly an answer to the prayer of the Church.  The Church in Acts has been praying and God has been working.  This passage is just one more example of this tremendous reality. 

                Someone once said that the account of any person’s conversion will always be a long story.  There are many small details which if fully recounted would fit together to tell the story of how the Lord led us to Himself.  Salvation is always of the Lord, but He does use means to accomplish His purposes of grace in our lives.  Such is the case with the conversion story which Augustine tells us in his autobiography Confessions.  In the eight book of that exploration of his life he tells us about the long story of his conversion which culminated in a day when he was reflecting in his garden and heard a child’s voice chanting “take up and read.”  He picked up a Bible and read the passage which it opened up to.  There he read from Romans 13:13-14 these words.

                “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

                With these words from God’s Word Augustine’s long story of being brought to faith in Christ is brought to a glorious conclusion.  I was reminded of this story as I was looking at what Luke introduces us to here in Acts five.  We are given a glimpse into the teaching of Gamaliel as the Lord uses him to deliver the Apostles.  In Acts 22:3 we then read this regarding the Apostle Paul (formerly known as Saul) and his conversion story.  “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city.  Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.”  Saul, or Paul, was trained in the faith of the Pharisees by Gamaliel.  Perhaps it was from Saul that Luke got the account of the closed meeting of the Sanhedrin which is recorded in chapter five.  Perhaps what was said there had an impact upon the zealous young Pharisee.  In short order in chapters eight and nine we read about a series of events that the Lord used to bring Saul to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  What a wonderful account of the means that the Sovereign Lord used to bring one man to faith in Himself.  It is truly an account of what happens when that one man stands up.  What has the Lord been doing in your life to bring you to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?

Come And Worship

                “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.  Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried Me, though they had seen what I did.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 95:6-9

                There is something delightful about walking past a Church and hearing a congregation of the Lord’s people singing the praises of the Lord.  One senses an invitation to come in out of the cold of unbelief and to warm oneself at the fire of God’s grace.  Iain Murray tells about an event that took place around the time that D.M. Lloyd-Jones was converted.  It is contained in the first volume of Murray’s wonderful biography of Lloyd-Jones, and tells about how he was out with some friends attending some sort of social event when a Salvation Army Band passed by them.  As Lloyd-Jones listened to the music being played, and being at that time being drawn by the Holy Spirit to faith, he suddenly had an overwhelming sense that “these were my people.”  There was an unmistakeable invitation to a faith that would alter every part of Lloyd-Jones’ life.

                This compulsive nature of God’s invitation to us to receive His grace is what I believe that the Psalmist is focusing our attention upon in this particular Psalm.  Of all of the suggestions that I have encountered regarding how to analyse the 95th Psalm I find myself agreeing with Spurgeon most.  Spurgeon divides the Psalm into two parts.  In the first five verses Spurgeon sees and invitation followed by convincing reasons why we must believe.  In the second half of the Psalm, verses six through eleven, we have the invitation restated followed by a warning that we not harden our hearts to it.  In presenting the invitation in this way the Psalmist leads us into a real warm hearted faith in the Lord.  He shows us who the God is that we are worshipping.  Then he defines the faith that worships the Lord by showing us examples of what it is not. 

                In leading us into worship in this way the Psalmist answers one of the chief questions that we must wrestle with in our lives.  This is to define just what saving faith really is.  Here we discover that the faith that saves us is first of all a faith in someone.  It is not faith in general.  It is not, if you will, faith in faith, as we find ourselves encouraged to think by so many in our world.  It is not a belief that it will all work out somehow in the end.  It is faith in the real, living God who has created all things, ourselves included, and who sovereignly rules everything for His own glory.  It is faith in one who has entered into our world in order to redeem us.  Like a good Shepherd He has come and cared for us, laying His life down for His sheep. 

                There is more here however.  Saving faith is revealed in the way in which we respond to the trials we face in our lives.  The Psalmist issues an invitation to us to submit to the Lord with warm hearted obedience to His voice.  When He speaks to us, through His Son (Hebrews 1:1ff), or through His written Word, we listen to Him with a heart that is already obedient.  The Psalmist points us to two Old Testament events, found in Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1ff, to show us how not to submit to God.  In Hebrews 3:7-4:13 the New Testament takes these definitions and applies them.  People with saving faith have hearts which are submissive to the calling of the Lord upon our lives.  Our desire is to obey Him even in the deepest, darkest days of our lives.  Steven J. Lawson illustrates this in The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust Publishing, Crawfordsville, Indiana, 2008) when he quotes these words from Sarah Edwards to her daughter Esther on the occasion of Jonathan Edwards death.My very dear child, What shall I say?  A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud.  O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands upon our mouths!  The Lord has done it.  He has made me adore His goodness, that we had him so long.  But my God lives; and He has my heart.  O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us!  We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to

Father, Forgive Them

                “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”  And they divided up His clothes by casting lots.”

                                                                                                                                                                Luke 23:34

                Luke gives us here a very precious word from the cross.  This word opens up to our understanding the whole purpose of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.  He gives up His life as a sacrifice of atonement through which we receive the forgiveness of our sin.  Luke presents it in such a wonderful way here that we find ourselves being overwhelmed by the sheer grace that is extended to us.  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”  On the cross, in agony and humiliation, the Lord Jesus Christ is praying for those who are killing Him.  Of all people who have ever lived on this earth the Lord Jesus Christ was the least worthy of death.  He had no sin.  He was compassionate and holy in every way.  Yet they turned against Him and nailed Him to a cross.  His response was to forgive them. 

                This verse raises several important questions for us. 

  1. Who was Jesus praying for?  Was it the soldiers who were nailing Him to the cross, dividing up His clothes by lot, and doing everything they could to humiliate Him? 
  2. Was it the people of Israel who were His own people, to whom He came as their God, and who responded to Him with rejection because they did not recognise Him as the fulfillment of all that the Prophets had promised?
  3. Was it the Gentiles, the Romans who drove the nails into His hands and feet?
  4. Or was it all of them?  The truth is that each and every one of us was in one way or another responsible for the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In His compassionate love the Lord Jesus Christ intercedes for the soldiers that they would be forgiven the awful crime of crucifying the Son of God.  He prayed for the Jews that they would recognise Him and receive forgiveness.  He prayed for the Gentiles that they would be grafted into the vine that would give them real abundant life.  He interceded for you and me that we too would receive the forgiveness which was purchased for us on the cross. 

In praying in this compassionate way the Lord Jesus Christ was not offering a blanket amnesty for all sin.  He was praying that these soldiers, Jews, Gentiles, and all of us would come to repentance and faith in Him.  Right away as Jesus dies on the cross we see the first answer to this prayer as the Centurion praises God and confesses Christ.  Over the next forty years as judgment on Jerusalem was delayed countess Jews came to faith in Christ. Over the centuries since then millions of Gentiles have come to faith in Christ, all in answer to this compassionate prayer.  If you are a believer you owe your forgiveness to this one prayer.  The Son of the Living God while in agony on the cross prayed that you would be forgiven.  That prayer was answered as the grace of God was poured out upon you bringing you to faith. 

                This prayer is an invitation to faith and repentance as well as a call to compassionate prayerfulness as well.  Steven in Acts seven prayed this way and Saul of Tarsus was brought to faith.  Can you or I be any less prayerful seeing we are surrounded by countless lost people who do not know what they are doing?  Each one of them desperately needs the forgiveness which you and I enjoy today.

Consider It Pure Joy

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 1:2-4

                The more carefully I study the Word of God the more I am brought to recognise the necessity of developing a committed prayer life.  When  we dig deeper into the letter of James we discover that this man, who was reputed to be a man of prayer, has a lot to tell us about living the Christian life.  The stories have been preserved in history of James as a man who spent so much time in prayer that his knees were calloused from the practice.  It seems that James was writing to a community of Christians who were facing severe persecution.  This in fact seems to be the Biblical and historic norm.  It is we who live with such freedom who are unusual in our comfort.  James sets the experience of his persecuted fellow believers in a Biblical perspective which lets us see the loving purpose of God behind our frowning experience. 

                James calls us to consider it sheer joy when we face trials.  The word “consider” in verse two is a word that describes a practical, reasoned conclusion which is arrived at by considering the facts of a situation.  In reality James calls us to make a conscious commitment to develop a new way of thinking that is based upon the teaching of the wisdom of God, found in His Word.  The Biblical wisdom teaches us doctrines which are to be the foundation of our lives.  Such doctrine points us towards the Kingdom of God which is coming in glory with the return of our Lord.  We are looking ahead to that day of glory and we are basing our lives upon it.  All that we experience in this life is viewed in the context of that great day. 

                As James calls us to this reasoned approach to life he describes for us its benefit.  It produces endurance which leads to maturity and completeness in Christ.  That is why we consider it pure joy when we face the trials of our lives because we see in our difficulties the hand of a loving God who is at work conforming us to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In this James is in agreement with the Apostle Paul who wrote to the Romans, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28-29)  What a precious truth. 

                James tells us that our calling and responsibility as believers is to be determined to respond to difficult circumstances with a joy that is based upon faith in the Living God.  This response is to be from the heart, and it is the definition of real worship.  It is not however something which comes naturally to us.  It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit created within us and it is therefore a response that drives us to our knees in prayer.  There really is no other way. 

A Call To Arms

                “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.”

                “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

                                                                                                                                                                Titus 1:5, 9

                When we wrestle with the message of the Pastoral Epistles we are led to the conclusion that these three books are something much more than just manuals for church order.  So often what we do is to look to these New Testament books for answers to questions about how we are to organize our churches.  There is something much deeper and more powerful written here however.  Steve Timmis in a Blog Post entitled “The Pillar of Truth” explores this in the following two paragraphs.  Timmis is writing specifically about 1 & 2 Timothy, but what he writes applies equally well to the book of Titus.

                “He wants Timothy to get the church at Ephesus back on gospel tracks because she has departed from the gospel.  The Pastoral Epistles are not simply manuals for church order.  They are an urgent call to arms.  Timothy needs to go to war because the gospel is at stake in this city and region.

                But critical to this strategy is the church herself.  The church, formed by the gospel, is for the gospel, and by her life and witness, she commends the gospel and is the primary apologetic for the gospel before the world.  John Stott, in his commentary on 1 Timothy and Titus, put it well when he wrote, “The church depends upon the truth for its existence; the truth depends upon the church for its defence and proclamation.”” (Timmis, Steve, “The Pillar of Truth” )

                What Timmis is pointing to here is the fact that Timothy and Titus have been given the task to put their churches and the lives of the disciples in each city on a footing that will cause them to enter successfully into the great spiritual conflict that is taking place in each of their cities.  It is simple for us to drift away from the gospel footing as an individual or for that matter as a church.  We begin to enjoy the fruit of a saved life forgetting the sin that we have been saved out of.  We become uncomfortable engaging in the conflict which is before us in this world.  Titus and Timothy are to call their churches back to the conflict through which they are living as believers.  That conflict existed in their world, and it exists in ours as well.  We and our churches need to heed the calling back to sound doctrine that Paul issues here.  This sound doctrine is doctrine that radically transforms our lives so that we engage the world around us with the grace that the Lord Jesus Christ is building into our lives. 

                Perhaps this is what Paul means when he writes at the conclusion of his letter to the Ephesians these words.  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.   Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:10-18)

Immanuel’s Land

A few years ago in preparation for a sermon I came across this quotation which formed the inspiration for Anne Ross Cousin’s Hymn originally entitled “Last Words” but now known by the name “The Sands of Time are sinking.” 

                “But the summons found him ill and like to die, and the court prepared to try him, received the treasured and characteristic answer: “I am summoned before a superior court and judiciary; and I behove to answer my first summons and ere your day arrive, I will be where few Kings and great folks come.”

                He died at St. Andrews, March 20th, 1661.  Late in the afternoon of the final day of his stormy life, just as the sun was sinking, he was asked by one of the friends standing by the couch.  “What think you now of Christ?”  To which he gave the answer: “Oh that all my brethren in the land may know what a Master I have served, and what peace I have this day!  I shall sleep in Christ, and then I awake I shall be satisfied with His likeness.  This night shall close the door, and put my anchor within the veil; and I shall go away in a sleep by five in the morning.  Glory! Glory: to my Creator and my redeemer forever!  I shall live and adore Him.  Oh for arms to embrace Him!  Oh for a well tuned harp!  Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land!”  At precisely five in the morning as predicted, he crossed the border into Immanuel’s land, there to feast his eyes on “the King in His beauty.”

                Here are the lyrics to Anne Ross Cousin’s hymn inspired by these words.

                                “The sands of time are sinking.  The dawn of heaven breaks, the summer morn I’ve sighed for, the fair sweet morn awakes.  Dark, dark has been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand.  And glory, glory dwelleth In Immanuel’s land.

                                Oh, Christ, He is the fountain, the deep sweet well of love; the streams on earth I’ve tasted, more deep I’ll drink above;  There to an ocean fullness, His mercy doth expand, and glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                With mercy and with judgment, my web of time He wove, and aye the dews of sorrow, were lustred with His love.  I’ll bless the heart that planned, when throned where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                Oh, I am my Beloved’s, and my beloved’s mine; He brings a poor vile sinner into His “house of wine.”  I stand upon His merit; I know no safer stand, not e’en where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bridegroom’s face; I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace; not at the crown He giveth, but on His pierced hand: The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.”

                The original version of this hymn contained over twenty verses.  Our modern version has retained these five.  I want to draw your attention to one of the other verses however as it expresses the hope that is ours in Christ in the Gospel message.  Ours is indeed a resurrection faith.

                                “I shall sleep sound in Jesus, fill’d with His likeness rise, to live and to adore Him, to see Him with these eyes, ‘Tween me and resurrection but paradise doth stand; Then – then for glory dwelling in Immanuel’s land.”