(October 17, 2017) Tim Edwards brings another timely challenge …
Sometimes in church services we can end up creating an environment which can appear to be a little insincere if we are not careful.
‘How?’ you ask.
Because although it can be a moment in time where we see people with smiles on their faces and even singing happy up-tempo songs, many may not feeling that way at all in their hearts. Some may be truly feeling really flat, miserable or unloved and need encouragement!
The reality of life is that we all walk through difficulties in our lives at various times – and we must recognise this, acknowledge it and be honest about it. But not give in to it.
Despite how we may feel on any given Sunday when we gather together we do so to worship, sing and celebrate God, pray, learn – and be encouraged.
But it is also a time for us to help each other to look to God! Our togetherness can, if we will allow it, be an opportunity to serve by reminding those we sense are troubled to keep their eyes fixed on him and not on the challenges.
Stay focused no matter what!
We see this focus as we read the prophet Jeremiah’s heart-breaking, sorrow-filled writings in his book of Lamentations.
It is very evident that the prophet’s heart is broken for his people as he describes a picture of a life and a community without a genuine and current connection to God.
But in Lamentations 3: 18-23 he announces an affirmation of hope: ‘I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his mercies never fail. They are new every morning; great is his faithfulness.’
In the midst of great troubles around Jeremiah is reminded – and is also reminding others – that we all should acknowledge our difficulties and trust God, holding fast to the real truth that he is there for us!
Right decisions make the difference
And these shouldn’t just be merely three pretty verbs but an action attitude for life arising from a firm choice and ongoing daily decisions.
By virtue of Jeremiah’s writings we are also given the opportunity in our day to be likewise reminded… and to act.
(1) No matter what the prevailing conditions, we can walk through whatever situation we are facing.
(2) Provided we stay focused on God, not on what is happening around us.
(3) The situation may not necessarily change or go away.
(4) But the way we choose to live and walk through it will change!
Jeremiah helps us begin on a pathway designed to help us navigate our way through any not-so-pleasant experience: In Lamentations 2: 19 he encourages us to…‘Arise, cry out in the night… pour out your heart… in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him.’
Start with being honest, then move to trusting God
Change and transformation and restoration all begin with us calling out to God!
It begins by actually admitting that we are not capable of doing this alone and asking for his help, guidance, love and direction. And then trusting him to walk us through the various steps and stages required to see change occur.
The reality of life is …
- We are not going to be ‘happy’ every day
- Everything won’t always work out the way we wanted it to every day
- We should never pretend that we are fine and plaster a false smile on our faces
- The Bible speaks to us about being honest with God, pouring out our hearts to him, crying out to him, and asking him to lead and guide us – even in the midst of a mess.
Jeremiah’s community was definitely in a mess at their time. The people had turned their backs on God and wanted to do things their own way (sound familiar today?). Yet in the middle of their mess God just kept on talking to them… isn’t that amazing?
It seems that the cyclical nature of human behaviour keeps repeating, and this pattern sees us journey through the similar regular seasons of…
- Fruitfulness (All is wonderful)
- Faltering (Starting to slip)
- Famine (Things disappearing or are missing)
- Fall (We are disconnected, desperate)
- Faith (Being restored; leading back to fruitfulness!).
God looks for ‘One’
And in the midst of whatever is going down, it seems that God likes to get the attention of one person first… a special ‘one’ – then asks that ‘one’ to help by leading others onto the correct pathway of overcoming.
We see this pattern over and over again in the Bible as we read the stories of certain ‘ones’… Joseph, David and Solomon and others. In the scriptures we’re looking at God speaks to Jeremiah and through him to his community – and even speaks to us
Jeremiah’s community was in free-fall, but despite that current season God kept speaking to them through the prophet – even telling him to buy land!
Actually, Jeremiah 32:25 was a statement of hope and faith in God’s promises; the prophet repeating back to God what he has just been asked to do – ‘And though the city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians, you, Sovereign Lord, say to me, “Buy the field with silver and have the transaction witnessed.”’
Remember God’s faithfulness!
And today, for you and me, no matter what is happening to us and around us, nothing has changed: God still wants us to hold onto him and to remember his promises. Despite what we may be currently seeing or feeling in our situation and circumstance, he will restore us.
Through Jeremiah God went on to say to his people, ‘I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good for them … I will find joy doing good for them’ (Jeremiah 32: 40-41NLT).
Despite the calamity all around, these were beautiful seeds of hope being planted every day as God himself continued to remind his people that he had not forgotten them.
Linking other Jeremiah scriptures together, it’s obvious that if God’s people were prepared to return to him, listen and turn away from distractions and negative choices, he would keep offering hope, healing, restoration and a future!
God wanted this back then – and still does for us today – to continue his refining process restoring, refining and rebuilding. And as he does so he is looking for individuals – those ‘ones’ – to join with him; firstly in relationship, then in a meaningful servant role.
Almighty God looking for even one person? Yes! I think of Ezekiel 22: 30: ‘I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.’
This was a powerful thought for the people at the time because walls were important to protect cities – even a humble shepherd knew the value of a wall and would often sleep in the gap to protect the sheep from predators.
The image of the wall was strong. And it is still strong if you think about it… and are aware that God is still looking for those special ‘ones.’
You can make a difference!
In this season of personal restoration, what is your response to the God who offers not only hope for you in whatever predicament you may be in but a role of service to bless others? Will you listen to God and step out in faith to serve him in whatever area he is calling you to?
We sometimes forget that it only takes one person to make a huge difference! At times we all fool ourselves with negative thinking that says, ‘But I’m only one person, what difference can I make?’
How many of us sometimes, or all the time, see ourselves as little things? How many ‘little things’ do we have in our churches who would make to make a difference in the world around us?
Our challenge today is to realise that even though we are only little, only one, we can make a big difference if we allow God to work in us and through us to fulfil his purpose.
Noah stood in the gap for the people as Moses, Daniel, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa. But you might say, ‘But they are all famous people, what about normal people; little people; me?’
‘Little people’ are like the ‘good Joes’
‘These are the ones I look on with favour: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.’ (Isaiah 66:2).
Well-known preacher Tony Campolo tells the story about a former drunk called Joe working in a men’s hostel run by a church in USA.
A man comes forward for prayer one night meeting, humbly crying, ‘O Lord, please make me more like Joe!’ The pastor says quietly, ‘Perhaps you should be asking God to make you more like Jesus.’
‘Why?’ asks the troubled man, ‘Is he as nice as Joe?’
Normal people – ‘little people’ – make a difference too. God is looking for ‘one’ to make a difference, a big difference no matter who they are. Will you be ‘one’ that responds to God’s call?
Standing in the gap
It’s up to each of us to hear from God – I encourage all of us to talk with him and listen to his response.
For you, standing in the gap for our community might be something to do with people, with prayer, or with a particular project or event; I don’t know – but God does.
Whatever the pathway is for any of us, it begins with choosing to live a life that demonstrates his love, peace, passion, power, and grace!
If we want to be a special ‘one’ for God and step forward to answer his call to stand in the gap on behalf of others, then we need to learn to live the kind of life that can have a positive effect and influence on those around us.
God is looking for the ‘ones’ who will stand in the gap and make a difference as he rebuilds the walls and restores his people.
Will you be one who will make a decision to willingly make a difference in your community (both church and your suburb) for God? Will you –
- Let go of whatever is holding you back?
- Run the race of life with energy and passion in the role God has given you?
- Keep your eyes fixed on him?
Tommy Barnett, founding pastor of America’s Dream Center, once said that you don’t need any special training or degrees to do big things for God – you just have to ‘see a need and fill it.’
My prayer is that not only will we acknowledge and trust God to help us with our own challenges but that we would see needs in those around us and promptly fill them. That we flow in whatever ministry our Lord has chosen for us.
And that we’d recognise a prime time can so easily be any given Sunday – even when it seems that those around us are lost in worshipping Jesus! Beyond being blessed ourselves, let’s stand in the gap for others.