Strengthen me according to Your Word…’ (Psalm 119:28)
How often has it seemed that someone said something to you at just the right time to help lift your spirits when you were feeling down – the words they spoke just seemed to offer you the encouragement, support or strength you needed at that time. How much more then might the living Word of God offer us all that same encouragement, support and strength? As we reflect on how God’s Word speaks to us, please also pray for those in positions of leadership, our Governments at Holyrood and Westminster, that by God’s Spirit His Word may speak to them also and guide them in all the decisions they have to make.
Read John 11:1-16
As we read these verses, what are some of the main points that we can learn from them?
- As Lazarus grew very sick, Mary and Martha immediately turned to Jesus for help. How quickly do we turn to Jesus today when we need help of any kind?
- In verse four Jesus speaks about the Glory of God in all of this. Any trial that we face can ultimately bring glory to God as He can bring good out of it – but we need to truly believe.
- Despite hearing the news, Jesus chose to stay another two days in Perea, beyond the Jordan, before returning to Judea. We need to accept that God will answer in His way and in His time. Too often we expect immediate results, but it doesn’t always work out that way.
- The disciples are afraid of what might happen when they return to Judea. But are they afraid for Jesus, or for themselves, and is this really a lack of faith on their part?
- The use of Day and Night in this verse are symbolic of knowledge of God’s will and the lack of this knowledge.
- In verse 18 we have one of the most positive verses relating to Thomas, ‘The Doubter’. Here he openly demonstrates his love and courage far beyond any of the others.
There verses remind us that there are often high costs to pay as a Disciple of Jesus. The question is, are we willing to pay those today?
Read John 11:17-37
What are the really important verses in this portion of scripture and what do they reveal to us?
- The main teaching here is to be found in verses 20-32.
- Immediately in verse 21 we have Martha’s acknowledgement of who Jesus is. She knows Jesus could have saved Lazarus and believes that even now He still could.
- Yet when Jesus says that Lazarus will rise again, Martha immediately thinks of the belief held in those days concerning the Resurrection, that it would happen at the end of time.
- Jesus, however, has the power over life and death now, and reminds Martha of this, and in verse 27, gives Jesus the response that He is seeking.
- Martha was best known as the sister who was always busy and had little time to sit with Jesus (see Luke 10:38-42), but here she shows tremendous faith in her confession of Christ. How does our faith compare to this?
Later when Mary comes to meet Jesus, she responds as her sister did; they both demonstrate great faith in Jesus. But how does our faith compare to that of these two sisters?
Read John 11:38-44
Despite her confession of faith, we again seem to see some doubt in Martha when she reminds Jesus that Lazarus had been dead for four days. Or was she just being practical here? The fact that Jesus reminds her of what He said about the glory of God suggests that there was this small element of doubt. Jesus knew exactly what He was doing in delaying going to Bethany, He was fast approaching the time when His glory would be revealed once and for all and this was an opportunity to do a great thing that many might Martha and Mary might now believe without having any doubts. So often in our lives it is only when wonderful things happen that we too finally truly believe in exactly who Jesus was and is. Real faith, however, involves believing in Jesus all of the time and in trusting Him in all things, large and small, and because of the Gospel witness of people like Martha and Mary, we can do so without seeing these miracles for ourselves.
‘Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted…’ (Hebrews 2:18)
Temptation comes our way in many forms and guises, often in ways whereby we find it difficult to recognise it at all, and all too often it’s only when we’ve succumbed to it that we realise it. God knows that we are not perfect and that we will stumble and fall to temptation, but through His Son He has given us the power to resist and a means of redemption when we do stumble. So take time today to ask God for strength, courage and, above all, faith to help overcome temptation and to continue your walk with Him.
‘His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness…’ (2 Peter 1:3)
Despite our best efforts, we cannot live a godly life on our own and God Himself knows that, which is why He sent us His Son. The more we get to know our Lord, the more we learn to put our complete faith and trust in Him, acknowledging our dependence on Him each and every day. All we have to do is ask Him and He is there to help us with what we need. So take time today to come to the Lord, bringing before Him not only your own needs, but also the needs of others who are uppermost in your hearts.
Loving God, as we come to You today from our own homes, we give You thanks for all Your goodness to us and for all the many gifts and blessings we enjoy each day. Help us to share these with others in all we say and do, and as we come to You now be with us we pray and help us to know Your hand upon us…Amen.
Read Luke 12:13-31
This past week the Autumn Equinox came and went, so we can now officially say that the nights are indeed drawing in as we move further into Autumn. And today we think of Harvest Time, a special time of year when are able to celebrate the abundance of God’s provision to us and offer Him our thanks for all His goodness.
But Harvest is not just a time for us to thank God for His provision, it’s also a time when we are all reminded so vividly of the sheer beauty and wonder of God’s creation and how God provides for all He has created. For as we enter Autumn we see all kinds of birds and animals also enjoying the fruit of God’s provision. Many of which, even now, are beginning to prepare for the winter months that lie ahead. And for many, because of all this, Autumn is their favourite season of the year.
Of course although we celebrate Harvest at this time, it’s worth remembering that God provides for us, not just at this time of the year, but each and every day of our lives, and of course we thank God for that. Yet even as we do give thanks, still we have to acknowledge the sad reality that so many within our world today are not able to enjoy the kind of harvest that we do.
Inequality, sadly, is something that is all too common in our society today and it comes in many shapes and forms. But all too often what it comes down to is the simple fact that we have those who have too much and those who have too little and we see that clearly in our Gospel passage today. But perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves, is what do these two stories say to us and what can we learn from them as we seek to live our lives of faith. Well maybe we have to begin by looking at the two stories separately.
At first glance the parable speaks to us quite clearly about the need to put our faith and trust in God, even in times of plenty in our lives – and of course that’s a good place to begin when we consider these verses. However, once we delve deeper into what Jesus is saying here we uncover so much more. And if we are honest with ourselves, we find that we have to ask ourselves some very meaningful and profound questions, beginning with, what are the priorities in my life?
When faced with such a question many might understandably say that it would depend on their circumstances at that time. If, for example someone was suffering from ill health, their main priority may be to get back to full health and fitness as soon as they could. Others might say that a change of lifestyle was their number one priority. But for others in different circumstances their number one priority may be finding a way to feed or clothe their loved ones.
But what about us? Here and now, at this place and time, what is our number one priority? Does it depend where we find ourselves on that sliding scale between having too much or having too little? Yet perhaps the more important question we have to ask ourselves is this – where does God fit into all of this and how do these priorities tie in with the faith lives we seek to live? And alongside this question we then have to ask ourselves, in what or in whom do I place my hope?
The rich fool in this passage placed his hope in the abundance of his wealth and material goods? The farmer in the parable Jesus told placed his hope in the harvest he had been able to yield, no doubt putting that down to hard work and endeavour on his part. And I wonder, how guilty are we of thinking like this at times?
All too often today we see that for many the main priority in life is the accumulation of wealth and material possessions and it is in these that they place their hope. Like the farmer in the parable they believe that with these they will be able to enjoy a good life – and what more could they ask for. Yet as we see with the rich fool there is a real danger here. When is enough, enough? As human beings we often find that there is always the temptation that the more we have, the more we want.
In thinking and behaving in this way we display a selfishness which is second to none. A selfishness that leads to us shutting God out of our lives altogether, where suddenly the Word of God has no meaning or purpose in our lives, because we don’t need God? If we are able to amass and accumulate so much on our own, we can provide for ourselves and have no need of God.
It’s at times like this that we need to recall the verses we looked at a few weeks ago from Matthew’s Gospel, ‘What good would it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul…’(Matt. 16:26).
To love God and to choose Jesus and be His Disciple, is to choose to be part of what the world is actually for – it is to choose to be part of God’s image. And in God’s image there is no place for greed or selfishness, or indeed anything where we pursue our own self-interest and wealth at the expense of others and at the expense of the relationship we have with God through His Son. And that is effectively what Jesus is saying here.
But if the parable was aimed at those who had too much in life, what follows after is aimed at those who had so little. And whilst it contains some of the most comforting and reassuring words we find anywhere in the Gospel narratives it is also put here to emphasise the teaching of the parable that comes before it.
Jesus wants His Disciples – and He wants us today – not to live our lives focussed on material possessions and the belief that it is these that will enable us to enjoy life, but rather to focus on God and put their faith in Him. Yes, there may be times when we do have genuine concerns and worries about how we will be able do certain things. But if those times come, still Jesus says, we are to look to God and hold on to our faith in Him.
And in the images we have of God feeding the birds of the air, clothing the grass of the field, of the wild flowers looking so beautiful we catch a glimpse of what we think of at this time of Harvest. Because if God would do such as this, Jesus asks, how much more will He do and provide for us – and at Harvest time we see the answer to that in God’s provision for us.
As we walk with Jesus there are many temptations which may distract of divert us from the path that we should be taking. Greed for wealth and material possession is one, and concern about not having these is another – although in many ways they are one and the same. And to stop us from succumbing to these temptations Jesus says that we are to seek God’s kingdom first.
What does that mean in real terms? As best we can we are to seek to live as God would have us, emulating our Lord and Saviour. Listen to what God says and then apply it to our own lives? If we view our possessions or success in life as the result of our own talent and efforts, we will think of ourselves as the owner of these things, whereas in reality we are only stewards of all that God has provided?
Today we give thanks to God for His harvest, for His provision. But the fact is everything we have and everything we are able to do comes to us as a gift from God. So let’s thank God for all His grace and goodness to us and let’s seek His Kingdom at all times and play our part in the building of that Kingdom here and now…
Almighty God, as we once again give thanks for all that You have given us and all that You provide for us, we pray today for all who work to make your provision available to us. We pray for our farmers and our fishermen, and for all who work the land and sea, to bring the harvest of your bounty to us. We ask that You would strengthen and keep them and that You would watch over their families and their loved ones.
We pray also for those who are not as fortunate as we are and who do not enjoy the kind of harvest that we do. Those who live in lands plagued by drought and famine, where crops have failed and where there is too little food and too many mouths to feed. And we think of those in our own land who have scarcely enough food to feed themselves and their loved ones, those who are living below the poverty line and who have to depend on others to feed them day by day. We ask that you would help us to remember them and to play our part in supporting all the many charities and organisations that do what they can to help anyone in this position.
Finally, Lord we think of our own community and those whom we love and care for and we ask that you would hold them close to you this day. Be especially with those who are sick or missing loved ones and grant them your healing and your peace at this time. And in these uncertain days we are living in, be with all who are anxious or fearful of what the future holds and grant them that comfort and peace that only you can. And all these things we ask in Jesus name, Amen.
‘And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus…’ (Phil. 4:19)
This weekend would have seen us celebrate Harvest Thanksgiving in our churches, giving thanks and praise to God for His bounteous provision to us. But God provides for us every day, pouring His rich blessings upon us in abundance, often meeting our needs in ways we never imagined or thought possible. So take time today to reflect on all that God has given you, all that God has done for you and then come before Him in prayer, giving thanks for all of this but also asking how you can best share these blessings with others.
‘Then you will call upon me and come to pray to me and I will listen to you…’ (Jer. 29:12)
Have you ever been in that position when, although you’re engaged in conversation with someone, you’re clearly aware that they are not listening to you? How frustrated does that make you feel, particularly when you are sharing with them particular concerns, anxieties or fears. That never happens with God. God always listens – and not only listens, but also answers in His own way. So take time to talk to God today and share with Him all that’s in your heart.
Prayer is vital in our lives as Christians as a means of communicating with God and every day we should be seeking to spend some time with God in this way. So over the coming weeks, as we begin a new period of restrictions in our lives as a result of the coronavirus, I will be offering a Bible verse or line of a well-known hymn for us to reflect upon individually before coming to God in prayer – and what better way to begin than this verse from James.
‘…the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.’ (James 5:16)
God loves to hear from us in prayer and listens to us. Prayer creates and nourishes that special bond that we have with God through His Son and enables us to grow and flourish in His love. As you come before Him today ask God to help you in your prayer life that you may draw closer to Him.
After the northern Kingdom, with its capital, Samaria, fell to the Assyrians, many Jews were deported to Assyria and foreigners were sent to Israel to keep the peace and to govern it. The subsequent intermarriages that took place between the Jews left behind and the new foreigners resulted in a mixed race, impure in the eyes of the Jews living in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. These people came to be know as Samaritans and were despised by ‘pure Jews’ who believed that there ancestors had betrayed their people and their nation. Jews did everything they did to avoid travelling through Jerusalem, and yet here is Jesus making such a journey. The well that they stop at was to be found on the property originally owned by Jacob (see Gen. 33:18-19) and twice each day, morning and evening, women would come here to draw water. It is here that this discourse takes place.
Read John 4:1-42
Looking at verses 1-9, what are some of the things that strike us about these verses?
- It is Jesus who initiates the conversation – how significant is that?
- This woman was a Samaritan, known to be living in sin and it was a public place.
- No self respecting Jew would even think of speaking to such a woman.
- Yet Jesus did – so what does this tell us?
The Gospel is for everyone – irrespective of race, gender or background – and we must likewise be prepared to approach others in the way that Jesus did here.
Looking at verses 10-15, what can we take from these verses?
- These verses focus very much on the subject of the ‘living water’ – why is that?
- In the Old Testament, many verses speak of people thirsting after God as we might thirst for water. (See Psalm 42:1, Isaiah 55:1, Jeremiah 2:13)
- Also in the Old Testament, God is called the fountain of life (See Psalm 36:9) and the fountain of living waters (See Jeremiah 17:13).
- Here Jesus is clearly claiming to be God’s chosen one – The Messiah.
- He is also talking about spiritual needs as opposed to physical needs. But did the woman realise this – or did she mistakenly think that if she received the water Jesus was offering, she would not need to return to the well each day.
- Was she only interested in Jesus because she thought He could make her life easier?
Is this a mistake that some still make today?
Looking at verses 16-26, what are the main points in these verses?
- When the woman realises that Jesus knows about here personally, she quickly changes the subject, afraid to allow Jesus in. Is this something that we do now and again?
- She did raise a valid point about worship, but it was merely a smokescreen to avoid her own personal issues. How often do we hide behind religion to avoid coming too close to Jesus?
- We see in verse 25 that she knows something of the Messiah, but did she yet believe that Jesus could be Him?
How many people today know something of Jesus, but don’t know Him? Is there any possibility that we ourselves might be included in that number?
What do we make of verses 27-39?
- The disciples are not as willing as Jesus to be seen talking to such a woman.
- When she goes to her village, she has the beginnings of a faith in who Jesus is – and note that she at once evangelises – telling others of the man she met who might be the Christ.
- Because of her witness, others go to see Jesus for themselves – and they believe.
When did we last evangelise to others in this kind of way?
There is so much to learn from this passage, not only in the discourse between Jesus and the woman, but also in the behaviour of the Disciples. And perhaps we need to ask ourselves, how might we have reacted had we witnessed this for ourselves?