Saturday, September 4, 2010

God is a good God, and an ever present help in times of trouble

That which affected me most profoundly this week was the privilege of sharing in the experience of two older men, who, on recounting their experience of the goodness of God, wept openly. One burst into tears, while the other, a single tear rolled down his face. The former was more passionate, as he had been attacked by a person of unsound mind resulting in a period of of hospitalization for multiple head and neck injuries requiring 42 stitches, and was rejoicing how God in His mercy had kept the lethal weapon, a machete, from severing his neck. His wife, of over fifty years, had not been so fortunate, as she died mercilessly at the hands of the attacker. But yet he was rejoicing and praising God.

Earlier this week, I read a meditation which posed the question , " where do you dwell'? What foundation sustains you, what resources are available to you, and to whom do you turn when serious problems arise in your life? And which reflection led to me wonder, in particular about President Obama, who having been swept into office a couple years with one of the highest approval ratings in modern American history, now faces the possible wrath of an electorate, disappointed, among other things, about the slow rate of recovery of the American economy. To whom does he turn in these challenging times, when in addition to the local issues, the question of the security in Iraq looms large, the war in against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is not going well, Iran continues to build nuclear material, ostensibly for peaceful purposes, and the much sought after peace in the Middle East continues to elude all his efforts.
Closer home, to whom does my own Prime Minister turn when, having gained political power also a couple years ago, albeit with a less impressive mandate than Obama, now faces the wrath of civil society, up in arms against him for his party's - and sanctioned by him - apparent defense of a known drug Lord and a key political supporter, in response to an extradition request issued by the USA.? To whom does one turn to when, " the going gets rough", or when the " bottom drops out of one's life"? When marital problems arise - the cheating husband, the unfaithful wife, the discovery that a partner is gay. The problems with children - involved in criminality, involved in " doing drugs" specifically or gross immorality. What sustains an individual when sudden illness turns one's life upside down. Or when death so tragically separates a loving couple. When one faces financial ruin, or at least severe challenges. When one has gotten accustomed to power and exerting authority, when one is the subject of much adoration by friends and colleagues, and then suddenly for whatever reason - indiscretions, unwise choices, changing of the guard or philosophical changes - life swings in the opposite direction. Or at another level, to whom does a nation turn when faces with one of the highest homicide rates in the world - resulting in mayhem, grief and increased cost of doing business - a stagnant economy, social upheavals and a people rapidly losing hope in the future.

One answer which has sustained me greatly in recent times is to be found in the Word of God, and which no doubt has fashioned the faith of those two older men I met this week.

" He that dwells in the secret place of the Most High,
shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty". Psalm 91:1 KJV

In the sense that, even when troubles abound, we who have learned to trust that God is indeed a good God, for many reasons, but none more important than the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus, we have a safe anchor - the Almighty God - on which to depend. This knowledge sustains us in the midst of many trials and helps us not to depend on other men like ourselves, or our own common sense and intellect, both of which have failed us so often. But rather to depend on the God who created heaven and earth, and so surely He can manage the many problems of mankind, whom he created for His own purpose. But then that depends on whether or not you dwell in the secret place of the Most High, or you dwell in the " safety " of your own capabilities.
I pray God that the Lord will teach, very gently, those who are so foolish, to repent of such foolishness

Another came home to me from a prayer I read many years ago, written by a former Chaplain of the Senate of the USA - Rev. Peter Marshall

We know, our Father, that at this desperate hour in world affairs, we need Thee. We need thy strength, Thy guidance, Thy wisdom.
There are problems far greater than any wisdom of man can solve. What shall our leaders do in such an hour?
May Thy wisdom and Thy power come upon the President of these United States, the Senators and Congressmen, to whom has been entrusted leadership. may the responsibility lie heavily on their hearts, until they are ready to acknowledge their helplessness and turn to Thee. Give them the honesty, the courage and the moral integrity to confess that they do not know what to do. Only then can they lead us as a nation beyond human wisdom to Thee, who alone hast the answer.
Lead us to this high adventure. remind us that a " mighty fortress is our God" - not a hiding place where we can escape for an easy life, but rather an arsenal of courage and strength - the mightiest of all, who will march beside us into the battle for righteousness and world brotherhood.
O god may we never recover from our feeling of helplessness and our need for Thee! In the strong name of Jesus, our Lord, we pray. Amen

I pray God that our leaders across the world may be convicted of their helplessness in the face of the challenges of poverty, of war and internecine violence, of global warming, of economic stagnation, of homicide, and turn to the Mighty Fortress who is our God - proven at the Red Sea, the River Jordan, Jericho and on the Cross of Calvary. But then again that depends on "where they dwell", and on whom they depend.

A third answer came in the form of the meditation, from which the question of where do you dwell emerged.


" About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other people were listening to them. Acts 16: 25

In Word

What do you do when your hostile environment seems to get the best of you? If you're like most people, you fight back, lament your losses, or just get depressed. Not Paul and Silas. They sat in a dirty Philippian jail in the dark singing hymns to God.
The reason why they were in jail to begin with was that they were obedient to God. They cast out the demon out of the servant girl, but in doing so, they undermined an entire fortune-telling enterprise. Those who had been exploiting the girl's " talent" set them up for false charges - a reaction many people have when losing money. So Silas and Paul sat in a cell with a song in their hearts.
They could worship enthusiastically because they realized that their opponents had only seemed to get the best of them. They knew that circumstances can be misleading. They understood that the enemy's tactics are superficial scare tactics. Satan can create all kinds of situational havoc, but he cannot disturb the Spirit within us. If that's where we dwell - if we are immersed in the Spirit of God - the difference between a five star hotel and a Greek jail is minimal.

In Deed

Where do you dwell? If you are easily swayed by your circumstances, your quality of life will be manipulated by the enemy of god. If you live at a deeper level than that, grounded in the Word of God and filled with His Holy Spirit, your quality of life cannot be shaken. Every situation will be an opportunity to worship, or at least to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Father.
This is a vital principle to grasp if you are going to maintain your sanity in the hostile environment of a fallen world. You cannot live zealously for Jesus while living as a victim of circumstance. You have to read between the lines of your life and recognize both the enemy's surface tactics and the underlying will of God. The spiritual war requires great focus - and the ability to worship in dark places.

Finally a prayer from God's Word, for without prayer little will be achieved in helping those who do not yet " dwell in the secret place of the Most High", and therefore cannot, like those two older men, witness to the goodness of God in all circumstances. And which witness is sorely needed in these desperate times.
It's from St Paul's letter to the Colossians and though addressed to people of faith, may be used to pray for all people who need to know the Lord more and more.

" We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and of the love you have for all the Saints........For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will, through al spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worth of the Lord, and may please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience and joyfully giving thanks to the Father.........."
Colossians 1: 3-12 NIV

So we conclude and testify with those two old men that God is indeed a good God. A merciful God. A faithful God and exult with the hymnwiter that
" there is no shadow of turning with Thee........Great is Thy faithfulness to me. This is the faith of our forefathers, so ably represented by the two old men who came into my life this week, and which faith is under attack by the " modern" life. I pray God that more and more of us will witness to this nation, to our leaders, and to the world, of the goodness of God as demonstrated in particular by the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. But also by the way God has intervened in a very personal way in the lives of His people and which moved the songwriter to pen these immortal words which have been a such an inspiration for many over the years:

The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his
And he is mine for ever......

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love he sought me,
And on his shoulders gently laid
And home rejoicing brought me......

In death's dark vale I fear no ill
With thee dear Lord beside me,
Thy rod and staff my comfort still
Thy cross before to guide me.....

And so throughout the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd may I sing thy praise
Within thy house forever.