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The Christadelphian | December 2016

In the magazine this month:

A sample article from this edition:

An A-Z of discipleship

‘R’ for Reliance

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

Think about the people in your life whom you consider the most reliable. If they say they will be somewhere, you can be confident that they will be there. If they say they will do something, you know that they will do it, and do it well. They are loyal, trustworthy and dependable. You know this, because they have proved time and again that this is the case. They never let you down.

The faithful God

These are all characteristics which the Lord God fulfils completely. He is more reliable than anyone you or I have ever met. He is always there when we call on Him, day or night, for He does not slumber or sleep. He always keeps His promises – and how great are these promises, both for our life now and for the future! God has promised to establish Jesus as King over all the earth, and He has promised immortality and everlasting peace for those who love Him. While we wait for that day, God has promised that He will never leave or forsake us. To those who know His name and hold fast to Him in love, He has promised:

“When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honour him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91:15,16) [1]

We have faith that what God has spoken, He will do. This is not blind faith, for we know God’s character. From our reading of scripture, from history and from our own experience, we know that God is consistent and unchanging, and that He always keeps His word. We can rely on Him for, “He who calls [us] is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

Moses understood this:

“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.” (Deuteronomy 7:9)

Can you imagine a thousand generations? Moses is clearly making the point here that God will never break His covenant with those who love Him.

Solomon was living proof that God could be relied upon to keep His word. He prayed:

“O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart; who have kept with your servant David my father what you declared to him. You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day.” (1 Kings 8:23,24)

God had promised David that his son would sit on the throne. True to His promise, God set up Solomon’s kingdom and made him prosper.

Since God’s track record for keeping His promises is perfect, we can be confident that He will also keep those promises yet to be fulfilled. If God fulfilled His promise to David in the short-term by establishing Solomon’s reign, He will surely establish the kingdom of the greater Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ.

“I have spoken”

“You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day”, we read above. Solomon is making a connection here between God’s word and His actions – a theme which is widespread in the book of Ezekiel, where God uses His own covenant name as a token of assurance that the things He has said will really come to pass:

“I am the LORD; I will speak the word that I will speak, and it will be performed.” (Ezekiel 12:25)

“I am the LORD. I have spoken; it shall come to pass; I will do it.” (24:14)

If we truly know and trust God, we too should need no further assurance than this!

History has seen the fulfilment of so many prophecies – many in our own lifetimes – and this strengthens our conviction that God’s word is reliable, and that He keeps His promises. Yet all of this can seem so distant to us. Like David, Solomon and Ezekiel, we must seek personally to know God and to understand and experience His faithfulness, in order to reach a point where we know we can rely on God because He is God, and trust that God will perform all that He has said He will because He has spoken it. The more we choose to rely on Him, the more reliable He will show Himself to be, and our trust in Him will grow and grow. Conversely, if we choose to place our trust in other things and other people, we are denying ourselves opportunities to experience just how reliable our God is.

“Some trust in chariots”

So how much do you and I really rely on God? Those living in the developed world are at an instant disadvantage in this regard. Few of us are so poor that we consciously rely on God for food, shelter and clothing. Most of us give no thought to where our next meal will come from, whether or not we shall have warm enough clothes for the winter, or where we shall sleep tonight. Those who have lived on the streets or visited third world countries, will certainly comprehend just how amazingly blessed are those in the developed world.

A bigger challenge to our faith is emotional reliance. If we believe, as I am sure we all do, that God is reliable, why do we so often live as if this were not the case? How many times in the past month have you turned to friends or family for help before turning to God in prayer? How often have you relied on worldly crutches (comfort eating, drinking, seeking the praise of men, money, shopping, addictions of any kind) for contentment, fulfilment or escapism, rather than relying on God? We know that we are to trust in the Lord with all our hearts, not relying on our own wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 3:5). We may even think that we do this quite well. Yet often, we fail to realise just how reliant we are on people and things other than God.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • When I am sad, what makes me feel better?
  • When I am stressed, how do I alleviate that stress?
  • When I am overwhelmed or tired, what gives me a boost?
  • When I am anxious, how do I take my mind off things?
  • When I am afraid, who do I turn to for help?

If the answer to any of these does not involve God, then we know we are relying on something(s) more than we are relying on Him. The Bible tells us that this will not end well:

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.” (Psalm 20:7,8)

Perhaps you feel like you are ready to collapse and fall; like the burden of tasks, responsibilities and trials is dragging you down and nothing you do seems to make a difference. This is because we are not meant to do these things by our own strength. Remember that “the LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down” (145:14). It is God who does this. There is nothing you can do to help yourself.

“Why do you weep?”

Let us take just one of the questions asked above, and consider God’s solution.

‘When I am sad, what makes me feel better?’

Do you phone a friend? Go for a run? Watch comedy TV? Eat far too much chocolate? Drown your sorrows? Wallow in self-pity? Or do you turn to God for comfort?

In the first book of Samuel, we are given an insight into the terrible pain and sadness of a faithful woman who wanted so much to be a mother, but who had been granted no children. “Hannah, why do you weep?” asked her husband, “And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8).

Perhaps you too know how it feels to be so sad that you cannot eat or sleep; to be so overcome with sorrow that even the simplest daily tasks take an extraordinary amount of effort to complete. The Psalmist understood this kind of emotional pain:

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42:11)

“In the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.” (77:2)

“My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread.” (102:4)

Yet along with the problem, we are also given the solution:

“In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord.” (77:2)

“Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (42:11)

David and the other Psalmists knew that God was their firm foundation, relying on Him for support and refuge, because He has always shown Himself to be dependable. And God does not change:

“But you are the same, and your years have no end. The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you.” (102:27,28)

The writer here expresses faith in a future full of blessings (security, posterity), demonstrating godly optimism and a true understanding of God’s goodness, in spite of his obvious distress. Like the Psalmists, we are to look beyond our present circumstances, trusting that our sadness and trials will not go on forever, but that we “shall again praise him” (42:11) for His goodness towards us.

Let us return to Hannah. What was her solution? With a heavy heart, yet full of hope, she went up to the house of the Lord to pour out her soul before Him (1 Samuel 1:15) and God granted her request. “Go in peace”, were Eli’s comforting words (verse 17). Then Hannah returned to the place where she was staying and found that she was able to eat, and that her face was no longer sad. What a transformation this must have been from the weeping Hannah of verse 8, unable to eat, to a peaceful Hannah, confident that God had heard her. Such is the power of faithful prayer, borne out of a deep reliance on God.

A burden lifted

Worldly coping mechanisms will not and cannot solve our problems. In fact, they will probably make them worse, providing only temporary distraction. Yes, it is uncomfortable to feel anxious or sad, and it is stressful to feel stressed! Yet how can we lay our burden before God unless we are ready and willing to stop running away from a situation or emotion, and to accept that it is a burden? And how shall we ever know the relief of a burden lifted if we have never allowed ourselves fully to appreciate its weight, and have never taken the time to pray about it?

Our burdens – whatever they may be – help us to mature as disciples of Christ and as children of God. In trying to escape them on our own terms, or ignoring them completely, we are shunning the discipline of our heavenly Father and unwittingly stunting our spiritual development. Rather than avoiding negative emotions and situations or relying on worldly crutches to get by, we ought instead to face problems head-on and ask for God’s help, believing that He will help us because He is God, and because He has promised He will. He is reliable, faithful, dependable; He always keeps His word.

If we approach God honestly, pouring out our hearts before Him and laying our burdens at His feet, we can experience the immense relief of a burden lifted and find the strength to fight any battle that might come our way. God assures us that, if we put our trust in Him, He will give us strength to overcome. “For by you”, writes the Psalmist, “I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall” (Psalm 18:29). Trust Him; rely on Him. For with God, nothing is impossible.

Amy Parkin

[1] All quotations are from the ESV.

 

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