The Praises of Christmas and the New Year
The Praise of Faith that Believes Without Seeing -- New Year 2012
by Laurie Hopkins
“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32
“And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” Luke 2: 38
How is 2012 progressing for you so far? Are you sorry to see the old year out and still holding on to it? Or are you relieved to see the old year out and looking forward to new beginnings? Have you taken time in this busy season to sit and wait upon the Lord for direction and encouragement for this New Year?
I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to “retreat” with a powerful group of Christian woman for a weekend of refreshing, reflection and fellowship. I didn’t really have the time and could have used many excuses not to go, but God….. I am learning that when God calls for us to sit and wait on Him, we must go quickly so as not to miss even one syllable of His precious Word that He wants to breathe into our lives. He will redeem the time we take from our busy lives and enlarge it and use it I and bless it.
In the passages above we read of Simeon and Anna. I have to admit that of all of those in the Christmas story, I am most fascinated with their stories and specifically with their praise. Both Simeon and Anna waited on the Lord. They knew the Messiah would come and so they waited, in faith, for the day the Lord would fulfill His promise.
Simeon was led by the Holy Spirit into the temple at the right time. God granted Him spiritual vision to look at the baby Jesus with His parents and to see in Him the Saviour that the Father had promised. As Simeon held the Child, he praised the Lord. “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I am waiting on the Lord, sometime I become a bit impatient and then even doubtful as time moves on – so much so that when the promise is fulfilled, I sometime miss it! But not Simeon. He waited patiently, was obedient to the Holy Spirit’s direction and then, when his eyes saw the Child, he immediately recognized the salvation of the Lord!
What faithfulness in Simeon – to look at a Baby and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that THIS was the fulfillment of the promise. He didn’t wait to see Him grow, to watch his “career”, or insist on knowing HOW the promise would be fulfilled through a Babe – he just had faith in what he could not yet see and opened his lips wide to praise the Father. “My eyes have seen your salvation.”
His spiritual eyes could see the fulfillment in the seed and that was enough. What a precious picture - can you just see him with this Child in his arms, lifted up toward the Lord, with the praise of the faithful ringing through the temple?
And along comes Anna at this exact moment. She sees Simeon and the Child and “in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord.” Her spiritual vision was also attuned and as she watched Simeon lift the Child high and praise the Lord, she too began to give thanks. She had not even TOUCHED the Child but believed in faith that this was the Saviour that has been promised. Her praise continues as she goes out and tells everyone who “looked for the redemption”, that the promise had come.
Both Simeon and Anna saw a Baby in the temple; only the beginning, a seed of a promise. But neither wasted any time in lifting their voices and praising God; believing in the growth of that seed into the fulfillment of salvation. They did not ask how or even stick around to see it. They just believed in faith, that which they could not see in the physical, but that which God promise would surely come to pass. And then they praised Him. The praise of faith that believes without seeing; how sweet to the ears of the Father!
At our retreat we talked about dreams; possible dreams and impossible dreams. Someone pointed out that there really are no impossible dreams “For with God nothing will be impossible” Luke 1:37 Perhaps those dreams that seem possible are ones we know we can accomplish in our own strength and those that seem impossible are those that we know we could never accomplish without the supernatural Hand of God on our lives. Do you think that seeing the Baby Jesus and believing salvation was at hand could have been an impossible dream for Simeon and Anna? Perhaps the impossible came in the form of seeing a Child and knowing that the dream was accomplished without ever understanding the how and when? But that didn’t stop Simeon and Anna.
What dreams and promises has God placed in your heart? God places those desires in our hearts and then He fulfills then in the right time. “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 Why not pause right now and wait upon Him at the beginning of the New Year? Ask Him to reveal those desire and dreams to you, the ones that He has placed in your heart. Be honest, write them out – take the time and God will redeem that time. And even as you write begin to praise the Lord for the fulfillment of those dreams and promised.
You are loved! How do we know? Because the Word of God tells us, “That God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 And how do we receive that everlasting life? “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10: 9 Perhaps you do not yet know Jesus as Lord and Saviour of your life. Do not delay, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23 Today is the first day of the rest of your life. “For He says: "In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now [is] the accepted time; behold, now [is] the day of salvation.” 2 Chronicles 6:2 TODAY IS THE DAY OF SALVATION!
For those of us who are the people of the Lord, let us pray that the Holy Spirit would blow into and through our lives, ensuring that 2012 be the year when the sweet sound of the praises of faith without sight, blow over all those around us as they rise to the throne room of the Lord!
Let us pray together!
Oh Sweet Holy Spirit, blow through this nation even now! Rise up these dry bones once again into a mighty army for Your work. The time is short and the harvest is plenty. Train us up Lord; strengthen us and grant us boldness to do Your work! Grant each and every one of us a fresh revelation of the power of faith and praise on our lips. Teach us Lord that You must be a priority in our lives and that we must take time to wait on You – You always redeem the time but we must be obedient in order to see that fruit. We believe that as our praise of faith rises to You it will blow over and through those around us and draw them into Your kingdom. A mighty army of those that KNOW the power of faith and praise and the joy of dreams and promises, that are yet to be fulfilled. We thank You for the Blessed Saviour, Jesus Christ and pray these things in His name! Amen and Amen and Amen.
“Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss my feet sine the time I came in. You did not anoint my head with oil, but this woman anointed my feet with fragrant oil. “
Luke 7: 44-46
“For in that she has poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.”
Spring is coming! The time of year we celebrate the thaw of winter and welcome new life in its many forms. It is also the time of year that we begin to look toward Easter – the celebration of the ultimate LIFE in the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Each year as we begin to contemplate Easter, the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with precious and costly oil, comes to my mind. I love the picture I get in my mind and the thrill in my spirit as I read about this woman, her gift and the response of her Lord.
Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary defines the term anointed in this way: 1: to smear or rub with oil or an oily substance 2 a: to apply oil to as a sacred rite especially for consecration b: to choose by or as if by divine election; also: to designate as if by a ritual anointment.
Unger’s Bible dictionary goes on to explain that the use of anointing oil became associated with consecration and in that way “persons and things set apart for sacred purposed were anointed with the oil of holy ointment”. Furthermore “the anointing with oil was a symbol of endowment with the Spirit of God for the duties of the office to which a person was consecrated.”
Most often when we hear the word anointing we think of being “anointed” to carry out a task, such as a gift. You will often hear people refer to people who use their gifts, as anointed by God. They may be singing, preaching, writing, praying, dancing, or serving the Lord and others in various ways. In this instance we are referring to the power of God that flows in and through a person when they are open and surrendered to allow the Holy Spirit to move in them. The things they do they do not do in their own strength but in the power and blessing of God.
As we start let us clarify our term and how we are using it in this context. In a specific sense I am talking about the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and her tears. In a more general sense I want us to think about the anointing that the Holy Spirit pours out on us as we seek to live for the Lord each day. I also want us to think about the ways in which we are called to “anoint” our Lord and Saviour.
As I read, once again, the account of this woman who anointed Jesus with sweet and expensive perfume and with her own tears and washed his feet with her hair, the Lord spoke sweetly into my spirit about the anointing. These are the things that the Father reminded me of.
The anointing is:
1) Spirit led
The anointing is Spirit directed and led. When we open ourselves up to a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit will grant us sweet revelation and direction and guide and direct our steps. Sometimes this may lead us to do things that may seem unusual to us or to others, things that are “out of the box”. This is because the Lord works in ways in our lives that are beyond what we often can understand when we think about them in the physical realm.
We need to remember several things about this woman. First of all, she was a woman. In Biblical times women did not have the same status as today and it would have been very unusual for a woman to show up in the midst of a meal being celebrated by a group of men. Also, the Bible tells us that this woman was a sinner (Luke 7:37). Furthermore, we are told that she washes Jesus feet with her hair. That would have been a disgraceful action, for a woman to let down and uncover her hair in the presence of a group of men.
Now imagine the situation, not only does this woman, who is a sinner, enter the house of a Pharisee (one of the religious elite), she directly approaches Jesus, lets down her hair and begins to wash His feet. Can you imagine that she was willing to act in what would be considered such an outrageous way “just because”?
In reading further, Jesus indicates that the woman has been forgiven much (Luke 7:47). She is obviously overwhelmed with gratefulness for the touch of the Lord on her life. But even more so than that, it would appear that she has also received revelation from the Father and that her steps are Holy Spirit led. Jesus indicates that “For in that she has poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.”Matthew 26:12 Although her intention may have been extravagant thanks and worship towards Jesus, her actions were symbolic of the preparation of the Lord Jesus for his death and burial and subsequent resurrection – none of which this woman would have had knowledge or understanding of, apart from the Spirit of God.
2) Often leads to criticism
As mentioned above, the anointing of the Lord on our lives often causes us to do things that may seem unusual to others or even to ourselves. Do you think that this woman woke up that morning and thought to herself, “Well this is the day that I’m going to break all kinds of “social/cultural” norms and hunt down Jesus and wash His feet with my hair and my very expensive oil”? Not likely; especially not likely if she would have stopped and really thought about the reaction of those around her.
The Bible tells us in Luke 7:39 that the Pharisee thought to himself, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” And in Matthew we read, “But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.”” (26:8).
Although her actions were Spirit led and an indication of extravagant thanks and love for the Lord, those around Him had nothing but criticism of her actions, pointing out her “past”, that she was a sinner, and that her actions were selfish and wasteful.
The anointing is costly. If you remember in the Old Testament when David asked for the threshing floor of Ornan in order to build an altar to the Lord? Ornan offered the threshing floor, the oxen, and implements for free. But David replied: “No, but I will surely buy it for the full price, for I will not take what is yours for the Lord, nor offer burnt offerings with that which costs me nothing. “(1 Chronicles 21:24). That which we sacrifice onto the Lord must cost us something. In the same way, the anointing is costly. It involves sacrifice – whether that is the financial cost or the emotional cost or the sacrifice of obedience in putting oneself “out there” for people to see.
For this woman, the anointing of Jesus was very costly. Not only was the perfume or the oil within the box very costly (costly enough that the disciples wondered why it wasn’t sold for money to feed the poor), but also the box itself was very costly. She did not gently open the box and just dribble a bit of oil out to be used. She broke the box, never to be used again, and poured out the contents upon the Lord.
It was also very costly for this woman, emotionally and socially. She broke social/cultural norms, which would not be looked upon very favourably, and could possibly have endangered her future status in the community. She was willing to disregard what people already thought of her and to disregard what they would think and/or say about her afterwards. Her only thought and focus was on the Lord.
4) Always leads to a blessing
The anointing of the Lord always leads to blessing. As we allow ourselves to be used of God and moved by the Holy Spirit and as we use our gifts for His glory and His will, blessings will reign down. Others will be blessed as God speaks through our actions. We will be a witness to others of the mighty power of God, as He moves in us. We will be blessed as we allow the Holy Spirit to move in and through us and to guide and direct our lives. Oswald Chamber stated: “Joy comes from seeing the complete fulfillment of the specific purpose for which I was created and born again, not from successfully doing something of our own choosing.”
This woman was created to worship the Lord and anoint Him for his burial. She was a witness to those who sat around Jesus of the extravagant love and thankfulness that she had for the Lord. She was a witness to those present of the joy and freedom of moving in the Spirit. Jesus blessed this woman. “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” Matthew 26:13 When we are willing to move in obedience, we will receive our approval from the Lord.
This sweet whisper of the Lord, as I contemplated the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus, once again leads me to consider some tough questions.
Do we clearly understand that the anointing is Spirit led, costly, often leads to criticism but always leads to blessings? Are we willing to surrender ourselves to the Spirit, to be led “out of the box?”
Are we willing to sustain the criticism and misunderstanding of our actions that the anointing may lead to?
Are we willing to suffer the costs of the anointing; financial, emotional, social, physical, and societal? Or do we just seek the blessing and the kind words that sometimes come when we allow the anointing of the Lord to fall upon us?
Consider for a moment? How do we, today, anoint Jesus? Perhaps we can anoint Jesus through our own extravagant, Spirit led, worship and thanks and our willingness to allow others to see us “undone”, as the “woman in the city, who was a sinner” (Luke 7:37) did.
Let us pray together:
Mighty God, Heavenly Father, He Who sees and hears us, Redeemer and Friend; we come to You once again and worship at Your feet. We thank you once again for Your Living Word that speaks to us each time we open it. We thank You for this account of this woman – a nameless woman – who has so much to teach us about worship and praise and thankfulness and being led by the Spirit, regardless of cost. As we approach this Easter season when we once again focus on the precious gift of Your Son Jesus Christ on the cross, won’t You please open our hearts and stir our spirits to be open and willing to be led by Your Spirit. We spend so much time pondering the cost of our faith and our surrender – how it will affect every minute detail of our lives, but we spend so little time considering the great cost of allowing Your Son to go to the cross to bear our sin. Forgive us Father, for our thoughtlessness and our unwillingness to offer the sacrifice of obedience and dedication onto You. Stir up our spirits; we cry out for a mighty move of God in our lives, in our families, in our Churches, in our Country and in our world, this Easter Season. We ask it all in the precious Name of Jesus. Amen and Amen and Amen.
“And He answered not a word.” Matthew 27:14 How time flies! It is the beginning of April once again. What a lovely time of year. The sun throws off a different light and it lasts longer into the evening. The buds are beginning to show and I even have crocuses and tulips coming up in my garden. And with spring, comes Easter. For Christians, Easter is both a somber and reflective as well as a celebratory time of year! In prior weeks we took some time to consider the woman who anointed Jesus with the contents of her alabaster box. We reflected on the cost of that anointing. As Good Friday approaches we become even more reflective as we consider the cost of the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary. Often we focus on the moment of the cross and then the joy of resurrection. But today I would like us to back up a little bit and reflect on an earlier passage. Matthew 27:14 says “And He answered not a word.” Let’s look at the context of this passage. In the evening, Jesus and his disciples were in the Garden of Gethsemane. He left them to go and pray, taking Peter, James and John with Him. Jesus says to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with me. “Matthew 26:38 Then Jesus goes on a bit farther by Himself and begins to pray. Even as I read the Word of God I can only imagine the anguish of His prayer, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26:29 He checks on the three disciples to find them sleeping. How alone He must have felt in that moment. And then He returns to prayer again, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Matthew 26:42 He returns and finds the disciples sleeping once more and once again returns to His Father in prayer, committing to the will of God, despite the horror of those things He knows He will endure. It is in the Garden of Gethsemane that evening that Jesus is betrayed by one of His own disciples, and allows Himself to be arrested. His disciples flee and He is taken before the high priest. As the chief priests, elders and council sought to find false testimony against him, even as false witnesses came forward and made false accusations, He said nothing in defense of himself. Even when the high priest asked “Do you answer nothing? What is it these men testify against you?” (v. 62) “Jesus kept silent.” (v.63). Jesus did not defend Himself against all accusations. He could have said: “It wasn’t me”, “I wasn’t even there at that time”, “these men haven’t even seen me before”, or he could have begun to accuse his accusers in response. Defending Himself may have spared His very life! What He did next, may not make sense to us. He declared who He was! “Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven. (v. 63-64). This very declaration was then used against Him – a charge of blasphemy that was followed by physical abuse and humiliation. In the morning, He was delivered to Pontius Pilate. And again, when asked the question, “Are You the King of the Jews? Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.”” Matthew 27:11 But when accused by the chief priest and elders He remained silent. Even Pilate was amazed at His silence, “’Do You not hear how many things hey testify again You?’ (v. 13) But the Lord did not speak! “But He answered not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.” (v. 14). And because of His silence He is scourged and handed over to the people to be crucified. Stripped, mocked, and forced to begin the assent to Calvary to hang and die on the cross. What would have happened if Jesus had defended Himself? What if He had offered up words of argument and debate? He may have won Pilate over and the decision to hand Him over to the people to be crucified may not have been made. What about earlier in the Garden of Gethsemane? At that time He even tells the soldiers, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” Matthew 26:52-54 So why, did Jesus allow Himself to be arrested and not defend Himself against the false accusations that surround Him, knowing it will ultimately lead to His death on the cross? He Himself gives us the answer: “How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?” Matthew 26:54 How often does our tongue and our defence of ourselves thwart the plan of God in our lives? When we defend ourselves before man and choose not to state who we are in Christ, three things happen: 1) It takes our eyes and the eyes of others off Jesus and puts the focus on us. 2) It damages our witness, snuffing out the light that we are commanded to be to those around us. 3) It leaves us feeling and acting self sufficient. Jesus kept His eyes on the Father as he knelt in anguished prayer, requesting that the cup pass from Him, but committing to drink the cup if it was the will of the Father. Jesus turned the eyes of others toward the Father as He clearly stated who He was, even though that statement fueled the accusations of the people. Jesus was The Light of the world, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Master and Saviour. He went willingly to the cross of Calvary in order that He would, once and for all, make atonement for our sins (past, present and future), that our relationship with the Father would be restored. And we, His people, are called to be a reflection of that light in the world. Even Jesus was not self sufficient. He didn’t have his own plan and agenda. In John 14:9 when the disciples ask Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus responds, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seem Me has seen the Father, so how can you say, ’Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.” At any time Jesus could have defended himself or called in an army of angels to defend Him, but instead He goes to the Father in prayer and asks for the cup to be taken from Him. But as He prays and knows that this is the will and plan of the Father, He willingly submits to it, leans on the Father and states, “Your will be done.” Matthew 26:42 Oh the lessons to be learned this Easter season. May we be still and submitted before the Lord and His will and His plan for our lives regardless of the cost! And be willing and courageous to clearly state who we are in Christ rather than defending ourselves before man. Let us pray together Mighty Father, Holy God, King of King and Lord of Lords, Master, Saviour, Friend, we come before You this day and fall onto our knees in gratitude and praise and thanksgiving. We cannot bow low enough to worship at Your precious feet. Feet that willingly walked the path from the Garden of Gethsemane to the courts of the high priest and the judgement seat of Pilate, to the cross of Calvary, to the depths of Hades, to the glory of the right Hand of the Father! Most precious Father, we ask even now that You would teach us to be still in Your presence and in the presence of those that accuse us falsely; that we not be concerned with looking good in the eyes of man, but that we be most concerned with standing strong as Children of the Living God, brilliant lights and mighty witnesses to Your love, mercy and saving grace. We ask these things in the precious name of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. Amen and Amen and Amen.
“And He answered not a word.”
How time flies! It is the beginning of April once again. What a lovely time of year. The sun throws off a different light and it lasts longer into the evening. The buds are beginning to show and I even have crocuses and tulips coming up in my garden. And with spring, comes Easter.
For Christians, Easter is both a somber and reflective as well as a celebratory time of year! In prior weeks we took some time to consider the woman who anointed Jesus with the contents of her alabaster box. We reflected on the cost of that anointing. As Good Friday approaches we become even more reflective as we consider the cost of the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary. Often we focus on the moment of the cross and then the joy of resurrection.
But today I would like us to back up a little bit and reflect on an earlier passage. Matthew 27:14 says “And He answered not a word.” Let’s look at the context of this passage.
In the evening, Jesus and his disciples were in the Garden of Gethsemane. He left them to go and pray, taking Peter, James and John with Him. Jesus says to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with me. “Matthew 26:38 Then Jesus goes on a bit farther by Himself and begins to pray. Even as I read the Word of God I can only imagine the anguish of His prayer, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26:29 He checks on the three disciples to find them sleeping. How alone He must have felt in that moment. And then He returns to prayer again, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Matthew 26:42 He returns and finds the disciples sleeping once more and once again returns to His Father in prayer, committing to the will of God, despite the horror of those things He knows He will endure.
It is in the Garden of Gethsemane that evening that Jesus is betrayed by one of His own disciples, and allows Himself to be arrested. His disciples flee and He is taken before the high priest. As the chief priests, elders and council sought to find false testimony against him, even as false witnesses came forward and made false accusations, He said nothing in defense of himself. Even when the high priest asked “Do you answer nothing? What is it these men testify against you?” (v. 62) “Jesus kept silent.” (v.63).
Jesus did not defend Himself against all accusations. He could have said: “It wasn’t me”, “I wasn’t even there at that time”, “these men haven’t even seen me before”, or he could have begun to accuse his accusers in response. Defending Himself may have spared His very life!
What He did next, may not make sense to us. He declared who He was! “Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven. (v. 63-64). This very declaration was then used against Him – a charge of blasphemy that was followed by physical abuse and humiliation.
In the morning, He was delivered to Pontius Pilate. And again, when asked the question, “Are You the King of the Jews? Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.”” Matthew 27:11 But when accused by the chief priest and elders He remained silent.
Even Pilate was amazed at His silence, “’Do You not hear how many things hey testify again You?’ (v. 13) But the Lord did not speak! “But He answered not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.” (v. 14).
And because of His silence He is scourged and handed over to the people to be crucified. Stripped, mocked, and forced to begin the assent to Calvary to hang and die on the cross.
What would have happened if Jesus had defended Himself? What if He had offered up words of argument and debate? He may have won Pilate over and the decision to hand Him over to the people to be crucified may not have been made. What about earlier in the Garden of Gethsemane? At that time He even tells the soldiers, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” Matthew 26:52-54
So why, did Jesus allow Himself to be arrested and not defend Himself against the false accusations that surround Him, knowing it will ultimately lead to His death on the cross? He Himself gives us the answer: “How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?” Matthew 26:54
How often does our tongue and our defence of ourselves thwart the plan of God in our lives?
When we defend ourselves before man and choose not to state who we are in Christ, three things happen:
1) It takes our eyes and the eyes of others off Jesus and puts the focus on us.
2) It damages our witness, snuffing out the light that we are commanded to be to those around us.
3) It leaves us feeling and acting self sufficient.
Jesus kept His eyes on the Father as he knelt in anguished prayer, requesting that the cup pass from Him, but committing to drink the cup if it was the will of the Father. Jesus turned the eyes of others toward the Father as He clearly stated who He was, even though that statement fueled the accusations of the people.
Jesus was The Light of the world, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Master and Saviour. He went willingly to the cross of Calvary in order that He would, once and for all, make atonement for our sins (past, present and future), that our relationship with the Father would be restored. And we, His people, are called to be a reflection of that light in the world.
Even Jesus was not self sufficient. He didn’t have his own plan and agenda. In John 14:9 when the disciples ask Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus responds, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seem Me has seen the Father, so how can you say, ’Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.” At any time Jesus could have defended himself or called in an army of angels to defend Him, but instead He goes to the Father in prayer and asks for the cup to be taken from Him. But as He prays and knows that this is the will and plan of the Father, He willingly submits to it, leans on the Father and states, “Your will be done.” Matthew 26:42
Oh the lessons to be learned this Easter season. May we be still and submitted before the Lord and His will and His plan for our lives regardless of the cost! And be willing and courageous to clearly state who we are in Christ rather than defending ourselves before man.
Let us pray together
Mighty Father, Holy God, King of King and Lord of Lords, Master, Saviour, Friend, we come before You this day and fall onto our knees in gratitude and praise and thanksgiving. We cannot bow low enough to worship at Your precious feet. Feet that willingly walked the path from the Garden of Gethsemane to the courts of the high priest and the judgement seat of Pilate, to the cross of Calvary, to the depths of Hades, to the glory of the right Hand of the Father! Most precious Father, we ask even now that You would teach us to be still in Your presence and in the presence of those that accuse us falsely; that we not be concerned with looking good in the eyes of man, but that we be most concerned with standing strong as Children of the Living God, brilliant lights and mighty witnesses to Your love, mercy and saving grace. We ask these things in the precious name of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. Amen and Amen and Amen.
by Laurie Hopkins
“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7
“Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Luke 2: 14
“Then the Shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. ‘ Luke 2:19
This advent season we have been talking about Praise! What a wonderful topic at any time but especially at this time of year as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and as we prepare to welcome 2012. The Word of God tells us that God is holy “Enthroned in the praises of Israel.” (Psalm 22:3). Do you understand what that means? God is lifted up and is in the midst of our praises! Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary defines enthrone as “to assign supreme virtue or value to: exalt”. How exciting is that thought! When we step out in faith and obedience and open our mouth to praise the Lord, we exalt Him and place him in a high and virtuous place and at that moment He comes and inhabits our praises. He is there in the midst of us.
In Zephaniah 3:17 we read “The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” The word rejoice in this passage comes from the Hebrew word Giyl which means to spin and twirl. Think about it, Our God, the Mighty One is dancing over us with gladness. How amazing is that?!
Throughout the Christmas story we see various types of praise. We’ve already talked about Praise in Uncertain Circumstances and Revelation Praise. Now let’s look at the Praise of Thanksgiving. Mary and Zacharias and Elizabeth were all thankful to the Lord in their praise but in an indirect way. As the Christmas story culminates with the miraculous birth of the Saviour we begin to hear some pure Praise of Thanksgiving.
“Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 24-7).
The promised Child has been born, in a stable, surrounded by animals and attended only by his mother and Joseph. It seems like a lonely scene. But what was happening elsewhere while this Miracle arrived in the world?
“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: you will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manager.” (Luke 2:8-12).
Once again a wonderful picture of how God is always at work even though we cannot see what he is doing. If Mary and Joseph had just looked at the stable and the animals and the manger and focused on their immediate circumstances, it would be likely that they may have felt alone and dejected. But I believe that as that Precious Baby was born, even then, they were filled with peace as they found themselves in the presence of their Saviour. And meanwhile, even though they were not aware, God was at work out in the fields, proclaiming the Good News of the birth of the Christ Child. We are never alone and we can never trust only in what we see around us. We must always know in our hearts, minds and spirits that the Father is always at work in ways we may not see or understand.
Now, let’s look at what is going on in the country side. There are shepherds, minding their own business, taking care of their sheep, when all of a sudden an angel appears and they are surrounded by the glory of the Lord. Not a regular evening in the fields by any stretch of the imagination! This angel assures them that there is no reason to fear because the news is good, and it is more than good, it is miraculous. The Christ Child has been born! The Promise of the Father has been fulfilled! And even better, it has happened nearby! How excited they must have been.
The proclamation of the angel of the Lord resulted in Praises of Thanksgiving bursting forth from the heavens! “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2: 13-14).
The Word of the Lord and the Glory of the Lord changes lives. When you hear the Word, really hear the Word in your spirit, and find yourself in the Presence of Almighty God, you will never be the same again. The shepherd’s lives were changed forever. The shepherds had to know, had to see this Baby. There was no hesitation in their decision, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2: 15). The Proclamation and praises of thanksgiving that come forth from us will touch the lives of others and spur them on to action, just as the shepherds were moved to action after hearing the Good News and the praises of the heavenly host!
“And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who hear it marvelled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. “
The shepherds went and found the Christ Child – and it was all as they had been told. Thanksgiving comes in many forms. The shepherds began their praise of thanksgiving by sharing the proclamation of the Lord with everyone they met. They were not only able to say, “we were told”, but also, “we saw”! When the Lord speaks into our lives and we experience the joy and peace that comes from seeing His promises fulfilled, we can begin to praise in thankfulness by sharing our experiences with those around us, that they may be drawn to the Father.
But the shepherds didn’t stop there and their praise didn’t stay in the stable. The shepherds went back home. And as they went they went “glorifying and praising God”. They recognized the fulfillment of the Promises of the Lord in the birth of this Child. They shared their information with all those they met. And even as they returned home to their everyday duties and tasks, which would never be the same again, the praise of thanksgiving was continuously on their lips. Can you imagine the story that these shepherds had to share for the reminder of their days? Sitting around the fire at night watching their flock, “do you remember when”, “you should have been there”, “it was amazing”, “I’ve never been the same”. Can you imagine the joy they enjoyed in sharing this with their families, spouses, children and grandchildren, in years to come? Can you imagine how many times when life got hectic and chaotic that they were able to sit back and remember the faithfulness of God in fulfilling His promises and how it felt to be in the presence of the Saviour? And even then, the praise of thanksgiving would once again rise within them and strengthen their spirits!
Do the praises of thanksgiving flow off our tongue and through our lips? Are the praises of thanksgiving evident in our actions, words and attitudes? Do those around us know of the faithfulness of God in our lives? Have we even acknowledged the faithfulness of God in our lives? This advent season I pray that God will grant us a supernatural realization of how blessed we are by Him every moment of every day. And from that realization, I pray, the praises of thanksgiving will rise within us like a mighty wave that is unable to be held back; that we will open our mouths and our lives and let the praise of thanksgiving flow so sweetly from our words and our lives that all those around us will want to know what it is that we have! Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Sharing the love and joy and peace of our Saviour with the world!
“Behold, the virgin shall be with Child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23).
The Saviour is born!
Father grant us sweet and supernatural revelation this advent season, that we, like those shepherds of long ago, will never be the same again; that the praise of thanksgiving will be continually on our lips and shown forth in our lives! We ask this in the most precious name of that Babe born on Christmas morning, Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen and Amen and Amen
by Laurie Hopkins
“But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Luke 1: 43
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.”
Luke 1: 76
Here we are again, another Christmas season in which to rest in the Father and take time to reflect on the precious gift of His blessed Son, Jesus Christ. Oh what human mind could wrap itself around the power and majesty, grace and saving power that arrived that Christmas morning, wrapped in the covering of human flesh, even the flesh of a newborn babe?
Even those who were directly involved and present at His birth couldn’t fully comprehend the meaning of His arrival. As we reflected last week, Mary was able to lift her voice in surrender and praise to the Father even as she realized the uncertainty of her future as the mother of a Child born of the Spirit, the very Son of God. But even as she praised the Lord she did not fully understand the things that were to come. That was what made her praise so sweet in the hearing of the Father!
This week I would like for us to consider a different type of praise; the praise that, even as it bursts forward from the lips of mankind, grants sweet revelation from the Father. Let’s take time to look at the praise of two individuals, Zacharias and Elizabeth.
In Luke we read: “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. He wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.” (Luke 1: 5-7)
I never cease to be amazed at the faithfulness and timing of the Lord. All things are fulfilled in His perfect timing! Zacharias was a priest, set aside to serve the Lord. Elizabeth was of the daughters of Aaron (of the daughters of the priesthood). The Bible tells us they were righteous and blameless before the Lord, but yet they were without a child; a tragic condition for any woman to find herself in Biblical times. Why had God withheld this blessing from Zacharias and Elizabeth?
Have you ever heard the expression, “all things are not as they seem”? Well this is a perfect example. It would seem that the Lord had withheld the blessing of a child from this couple, long past the time when it would be “humanly” possible for any hope. But God……..
As we read further we find Zacharias in the temple preparing to “to burn incense”. We understand that this was something that a priest only performed once in his lifetime. And this was indeed a “once in a lifetime” experience for Zacharias as the angel Gabriel met him there, announcing to him that his prayers had been heard and that his wife would bear a child. His barren and advanced in age wife would not only bear a son but that son would have a mighty calling on his life: “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children.’ And the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1: 15-17)
Now as would be understandable, Zacharias is a bit overwhelmed and doesn’t really take this all in. He actually questions Gabriel, asking for a sign. This is a priest of God, one who serves the Lord in the temple as his livelihood, one who would be familiar with the prophecy of and anticipating the arrival of the Messiah. And yet, he is overwhelmed with the thought that God is able to cause a barren woman to bare the child who will grow to be the forerunner of the Lord. As a result of his unbelief he remains mute until the time of the naming of his son, John.
Fast forward a bit. Elizabeth is with child. The pregnancy progresses as it should and the time comes to deliver the promised child. Zacharias has literally watched all this in silence! And now the time has come to name the child. As the relatives are ready to name the child based on family tradition, the mother speaks up, “No, he shall be called John.” (v. 60). Everyone is confused and they look to Zacharias to confirm his wishes. He asks for a writing tablet and as he writes “His name is John”….immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God.” (v. 61, 63-64)
Have you ever thought about why his tongue was loosed at that moment? Why not when he returned home and Elizabeth discovered that she had conceived? Why not when the child was delivered? Why was it at the moment that Zacharias wrote on the tablet “His name is John”? Even as I began to write this devotion the Lord spoke into my spirit, “obedience and belief release the tongue of praise”! In writing “His name is John” Zacharias was demonstrating obedience to the Lord and belief in the promise of the Lord not only regarding the birth of this child but of the plan the Lord has for this child’s life! How amazing is that?
As soon as his tongue was loosed, Zacharias began to praise the Lord. Wouldn’t you have loved to be there in that moment? I can only imagine how amazing the praise was that came from those lips that had been bound – all the amazing things that Zacharias had to endure silently now burst forth from his lips towards his God! God had heard his prayers, had sent him an angel, and had promised a son, a son that would be the forerunner of the Messiah…and all had come to pass just as the Lord has promised through his angel.
That in itself is exciting praise. But it gets better! God blessed Zacharias’s praise by granting him revelation. We read “Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesised, saying: Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His Holy prophets.” (v. 67-70). Zacharias whose tongue was bound because of his unbelief now speaks freely of the coming of the Messiah! And he doesn’t stop there; he continues to speak prophecy over the son that he didn’t even believe would be born! “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest, for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us.” (v. 76-78).
This revelation of the Messiah and of Zacharias’s own son as the prophet of the Highest could only have come from God as the Holy Spirit descended upon him. Here we see not only the Praise of Obedience but also the Praise of Revelation, through the Holy Spirit, that comes with it!
Now, let’s move back a few steps and consider Elizabeth. Elizabeth is barren and advanced in age. “Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked upon me, to take away my reproach among my people.”” (Luke 1: 24-25) Elizabeth recognizes and acknowledges God’s hand on her situation right from the beginning. After Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel and surrenders her body to birth the Son of God, she goes to visit Mary, as the angel has also told her the news about Elizabeth’s blessing. “And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among woman and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” (Luke 1: 41-45)
Here we see again the Praise of Revelation brought forth by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth hears the voice of Mary and the babe in her own womb leaps for joy as he recognized the presence of His Lord, even from the womb! At that moment Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit opened her mouth and granted her revelation that Mary was carrying the Son of God! Furthermore, the Lord blesses Mary for her belief through the lips of Elizabeth as she Praises God.
Oh the mighty work of the Father through the precious Son, Jesus Christ and through the working of the Holy Spirit! How amazing it is to read that the Lord grants revelation and speaks through ordinary people in ordinary situations and that the impossible is never impossible with God!
This advent season, will you take time with me to reflect on the Praise of Obedience and the Praise of Revelation? Are you waiting on the fulfillment of the promises of God in your life? Have you become weary in waiting? Have you begun to doubt what you heard or that God is able? Or has that fulfillment presented itself before you and you are yet unable to believe that it is so? Today is the day to step out in faith and to be obedient to what the Lord is speaking into your life. And in your time of obedience, as you open your lips to praise the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, He will bless you further as He grants you understanding and revelation in your life!
Let us pray together:
Mighty God, Heavenly Father, even now, thousands of years after You sent Your precious Son, we still have difficulty comprehending the fullness of what was done. This advent season we ask You, Lord, to open our hearts and minds and spirits to receive a clear revelation of the enormity of that Christmas morn. That as we willingly open our mouths to praise You and seek to be obedient to Your will in our lives, that You would grant us understanding and revelation of Your mighty and precious Word! We ask this in the precious name of Jesus. Amen and Amen and Amen.
Praise of Faith in Uncertainty
by Laurie Hopkins
“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my saviour.”
Luke 1: 46, 47
It is that time of year again! It is a time of mystery and majesty and sparkles and rejoicing. A time that I always picture in my mind as a clear, crisp night, dark but lit up with the beauty of a million sparkling stars, and a song of praise in the air! Christmas is many things to many people and in the time we are living, as Christians, we need to search our hearts and minds to be certain that we know why we are celebrating. It is not just a time for parties and gifts, for material things and pleasures that only last for a season. For Christians Christmas is a time of reflection and wonder, rejoicing and celebration and time set aside with loved ones. But the pleasure that we derive is not just for a season but for eternity through the precious gift of that Baby, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, God in the form of a baby, sent to earth from the Heavenly Father.
This advent season I would like for you to take a journey with me through the Praises of the Season. As we read through the Christmas narrative in the Word of God we see examples of many of the main characters praising the Lord. Each praise is unique and individual, just as the character and their situations are unique and individual. I believe that as we take this journey together and set aside the time to reflect and see the Lord, we will learn a valuable lesson in praising the Father, not only in the advent season, but throughout the year.
Let’s start with the beautiful praise that comes forth from Mary. Let’s review. Mary is a young girl, a virgin, betrothed to Joseph, but yet unmarried. She is visited by the angel Gabriel who announces: “Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among woman!”… “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”…”The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, the Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” …”For with God nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1: 28, 31-33, 35, 37
WOW! Can you even begin to imagine the thoughts and emotions that Mary went through as she heard this angel tell her that she was “with child” and that this was not any child, but the Son of God? Can you imagine the excitement, then the questions, then the fear? What will Joseph think? What will my parents think? Will they believe me when I tell them about the angel and the baby? Will life ever be normal again? How can I be a mother to the Son of God?!
But what comes out of Mary’s mouth in response to the angels visit is not fear or worry or a list of questions. When she opens up her mouth it is filled with praise and submission to the Will of the Father for her life. “Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”” Luke 1: 38
We may think, “well, she hasn’t had time to think about the situation, she is caught or up in emotions”…..but her praise doesn’t stop there, it is just beginning! Mary quickly travels to visit Elizabeth, whom the angel has indicated is also to bear a son. Elizabeth who is advanced in years and barren! Oh the mighty hand of God!
As Mary greets
But what we hear coming from the lips of this young girl, who find herself in the middle of a complicated situation made more challenging with the responsibility she has to bear, is a song of praise:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And Holy is His name.
And his mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the sick He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”
How beautiful are the praises of the Lord on the lips of His people!
This Advent season will you join with me to take a moment each day and reflect on how we praise the Lord in complicated times, times of adversity or times of uncertainty? Are we able to open our mouth and praise the Lord because He has regarded us? Are we able to praise Him who is mighty for the great things He has done for us? Are we able to praise Him because he is Holy? Are we able to praise Him for His faithfulness? Are we able to praise Him because we walk in faith, believing that He knows the path that He has prepared for us?
This advent season, may we learn from the praises of Mary, that we too can open our lips and praise our Lord even in the midst (and probably most importantly, in the midst) of times of uncertainty, because we believe that our Heavenly Father is faithful and true!
Let us pray together:
Mighty God, Holy One, we come before You at the beginning of this Advent season and ask that You guide and direct us through this journey of reflection on the praises of Christmas. There is so much to glean from Your Word and we know that if we ask, You will guide and direct our learning and grant revelation to our hearts and minds. So today, we ask! Teach us, Father, to open our lips and praise you at all times….especially in the midst of uncertainty as Your word tells us that that You inhabit the praises of Your people. We ask this in the precious name of Jesus. Amen and Amen and Amen
by Laurie Hopkins
“You hem me in-behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.”
We have a new kitty. He is 6 months old and a joy to watch. He loves to be in small places. He will try to crawl into any hole or space that he can see, whether or not it is realistic that he will actually fit. I’ve watched him squeeze into the smallest of places and then stay there, looking rather comfortable, and go off to sleep. The other morning I watched him in bed as he made every attempt to squirm and squeeze in between my husband and I and then later to jam himself up under my arm as I slept. I sleepily thought to myself, “This kitty likes to be hemmed in”. As I thought those words I heard the voice of the Father in my spirit, “you could learn from him – look how content he is to be hemmed in”.
As I thought more about it, I spent more time watching the kitty as he continued to squeeze into small places. He seemed most content when he was “surrounded” on all sides. I also noticed that when he wants to be close, he wants to be CLOSE – as in, if I move an inch, he gets up and moves with me. Sleeping with him could be considered a full contact sport!
Then I thought about the word of God and Psalm 139:5 came to mind: “You hem me in-behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.” (NIV)
What exactly does that mean, to be hemmed in by God?
Let’s look a bit more closely at the term hem or hemmed. The Oxford Online Dictionary states the following: Hem someone/thing in – surround and restrict the space or movement of someone or something (verb).
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary offers up : rim, margin; Hemmed or hemming: to finish with a hem b : border, edge 2: to surround in a restrictive manner : confine —usually used with in <hemmed in by enemy troops> . An interesting list of synonyms was included: borderline, bound, boundary, brim, circumference, compass, confines, edge, edging, end, frame, fringe, border, margin, perimeter, periphery, rim, skirt, skirting, verge.
So to be hemmed in means to be surrounded or restricted in some way – but also has the connotation of protection as in the use of the words RIM or MARGIN, or BOUNDARY. A boundary or rim can keep people out or keep people in.
The NKJV phrases it this way: “You have hedged me behind and before, and laid your hand upon me.” (Psalm 139:5).
A hedge is also a rim or a border, something that can keep you in or keep others out.
Have you felt “hemmed in” anytime lately? In your work, your home, your spiritual life, in your pursuit of ministries and giftings placed upon you by the Lord? Was it a restricted feeling? Did you feel like there was a boundary or hedge around you that you just couldn’t get past? Did you feel confined?
Sometimes we feel that way in our lives; like something is in the way. Sometimes we feel something is keeping us from moving forward in the direction and at the speed that we think we should be going. We look around at our circumstances and we begin to blame: we blame those around us, we blame those “in charge”, we sometimes even blame ourselves – believing that someone or something is keeping us back, keeping us from moving forward in the path that the Lord has for us.
Have you ever considered that sometimes it is the Lord Himself who has stretched out His Almighty Hand upon us and hemmed us in? When I ask that is your response one of uncertainty? “Why would God do that?” Is your response a defensive one? “My God would never hold me back!” Or maybe, your response is one of curiosity, a resonance in your spirit, even as I responded as I heard the voice of God telling me to learn from the kitty?
We are children of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is our Heavenly Father, our protector, our portion, our provision. He guides and directs and keeps us in all things, since He sees the big picture.
Have you ever walked with children? Did you allow them to run freely and wildly into the street or into unprotected areas? Of course not; you hemmed them in. Perhaps by walking between them and the potential danger so they couldn’t get close to it; or perhaps by holding their hand. Or in an extreme situation you may have lifted them up in your arms and held them.
Now, think about how that child felt and perceived that situation. They may have felt trapped, restricted in their movement. Or perhaps they enjoyed the boundary and relished in the feeling of comfort and safety – especially when held in loving arms!
In the eyes of the Father we are that child. He wants us to run and play and be joyful, but He also walks between us and the dangers that lurk around us – dangers we are often not even aware of. Sometimes, He even scoops us right up into His loving arms and holds us tight.
Do we feel restricted when the Father hems us in or do we rejoice in the love and comfort of the safety of His embrace?
Perhaps we struggle because we wonder how we can be sure that God knows what is best for us. Sometimes we are so sure we are heading in the right direction and on the right path. If we look at the rest of Psalm 195 we will see why the Father is the One who knows when and how to hem us in. We are told that He knows everything about us – our coming and going, the plans He has for us, even that He “formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb” (V. 13). What intimate knowledge the Father has of us. He knows us much better than we know ourselves. And He sees the whole picture. He know what is coming and how we will respond. So why do we struggle so against the boundaries and hedges He places around us?
If a stranger on the sidewalk told us he had placed a boundary around a pothole so we wouldn’t fall in, would we not obey and be grateful? How much more when Almighty God hems us in on all sides to keep us safe and on track?
O Lord, that you would continue to hem us in on all sides and lay Your hand upon us to lead and guide us in love and comfort. Teach us, like that kitty, to love the hemmed in places and to relish in the closeness to You that we can experience in those times.
Let us Pray Together:
Almighty God, protector, portion and provision. We thank you again this day that You constantly speak to us in our day to day lives, teaching us lessons through things as small as the actions of a kitten. We thank you today Father that You do hem us in and while we are hemmed in, You lay Your mighty hand upon us to settle and quiet us and grant us peace. Teach us Father to know the hemmed in places as opportunities to move in closer and closer to You and to wait and listen for Your voice and your direction. We come before You in the precious name of Jesus, Amen and Amen and Amen.
by Laurie Hopkins
But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, "Lord, save me!" And immediately Jesus stretched out [His] hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"
Matthew 14: 30-31
How many times have we read this story about Peter and his walk on the water? Over and over we have read of his courage and his doubt and the journey in between. But last week when our Pastor was reading this passage in preparation to preach, one phrase jumped right out at me. “And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him”. And what is so special about that phrase, you ask? Well, as I heard that phrase the Lord whispered in my spirit, “he was within reach”. Oh how my heart sunk with the realization that Peter was so close to the Lord when he took his eyes off Jesus and looked to the wind and the waves – he was within reach of his goal when he faltered.
How my heart broke within me when that gentle rebuke of the Father reached my heart and spirit. “Did you hear me, My Child,” the gentle Voice spoke into my ear. “You are within reach, don’t remove your gaze from me and falter, you are within reach.”
Peter, the disciple we love to love but so often find ourselves frustrated with. Why? Perhaps because we see so much of ourselves in him - of what we want to be and so much of what we already are. But even as the Lord whispered in my spirit, I knew that there was much more to learn from Peter’s walk on the water than the obvious miraculous fact that he defied the laws of nature. Let’s break this story down and see what lessons we can learn from this disciple that we so often identify with!
1) Commands in the midst of Contrary Situations
This story starts out with a command. Jesus has sent his disciples out in a boat and has commanded them to go before Him to the other side. But now the disciples find themselves in a situation, “but the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.” How many times have you heard the voice of the Lord guiding and directing you in a particular way and before you are far on your journey a “contrary situation” makes itself known? Have you ever thought or even asked, “why didn’t you see this coming, Lord, You are the one that set me on this path, did you not see this situation ahead?” We forget that our Lord knows all things and indeed He knew of this situation. We often forget that He is in control and has a plan.
Where was the Lord when this storm came up? First He was on the mountain in communion with the Father and then He was heading toward the boat in the storm. In our lives He is in the same places….interceding before the throne of grace on our behalf and heading in our direction to guide us through the storm. Even as the disciples cry out in fear, Jesus speaks and assures them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”
2) Challenging the Lord
Leave it to impetuous, spontaneous Peter to challenge the Lord. Initially the disciples cried out in fear when they saw Jesus coming near to them on the water because they did not recognize Him. But even though they didn’t recognize Him in the physical, Peter knew His Voice! Often we can’t see the forest for the trees in the situations we find ourselves in. We can’t see the Lord and sometimes we even have a hard time hearing Him. But then…..His sweet voice speaks and we know beyond a doubt that our Lord and Saviour is in the house (or near the boat)!
As soon as Peter heard the voice of Jesus, he responded with a challenge “Lord if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” When I read this I think, who else would Peter think it was walking on the water? But when I stop and think about it I understand Peter’s response. Too often, even as I hear the voice that reaches to the depth of my spirit and resonates wither, I still feel the need to throw down my fleece and question the Lord. “Is it really you, Lord?” “Is that really what you said?” “Is that really what you meant?” Sometimes we are not even that tactless in questioning the Lord. Sometimes it shows up in much more subtle ways, like when I pray, “Lord, I know you love me and you have a plan for me, so if you will just show me the path, I will follow.” The problem is that the Lord has shown me the path several times and I’m just not really sure it lines up with the way “I” see this journey proceeding. I’m really just challenging the Lord.
But oh the patience of our Lord and Saviour, how willing He is to lead us like a child. So He said to Peter, “Come.” Jesus didn’t give a long explanation, review the plan, or criticize Peter, He just lovingly called out to Him, “Come”. Oh how sweet that one Word from the Lord is!
3) Courage/Confidence in the Word of the Lord
Even though Peter challenges the Lord, when the Lord speaks, Peter steps out of the boat onto the stormy sea in courage and in confidence in the assurance of the Lord’s command to “come”. What faith! What courage! What confidence to move at that one Word “Come”. Oh for the courage and faith of Peter, that willingness to jump out of the boat without looking first, just because the Lord has spoken. Oh that the Lord would grant us the grace to grow in our faith, faith the size of a mustard seed that would allow us to walk on water and move mountains.
4) Circumstances- when reality shows up
Sooner or later, no matter how courageous or spontaneous we are, reality kicks in. Once he is walking on the water, physical reality takes a swipe at Peter. The adrenaline of his desire to be nearer to Jesus and to move at His command turns to a view of the circumstances around him. The wind was boisterous, his fear begins to take over and he begins to sink.
How many times have you been on the crest of the wave one minute, singing the praises of the Lord and promising never to turn back, and the next moment you get hit with a face full of cold salt water spray that leaves your trembling and in tears?
5) Cry Out – when we falter
Although Peter gets hit with the physical reality surrounding him, causing him to fear and sink, he doesn’t go down quietly to the bottom of the sea. Even as he falters, Peter knows to cry out to the Lord, “Lord save me!” The Lord reaches out and catches Peter and brings him into the boat.
Who do you cry out to when you falter? Do you turn to family, friends, spiritual leaders, or even the world? Our first cry for help should be to the Lord “for He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5.
6) When the wind Ceases
Oh the faithfulness of the Lord. Even as Peter faltered and cried out, the Lord was within reach. That also means that Peter was within reach of his goal, his destination, Jesus. How discouraging a thought- Peter faltered just before he reached the Lord. How discouraging that we often find ourselves in the same place. They say that the darkest hour is just before dawn, and likewise the place of falter is often just before we reach that next step, when we become overwhelmed by the circumstance around us and drop our gaze from the eyes of Jesus to the wind and the waves. But what a precious truth, that no matter how strong the waves and the wind Jesus is never out of our reach.
Once Jesus reaches out, we can expect a gentle rebuke for averting our gaze, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” but even as we receive the rebuke, the Lord is in the process of putting us back on the right path!
7) Cross over – Ultimate Destination
I love how this story ends. “When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret.” At the beginning Jesus commanded the disciples to cross over before Him to the other side. And here we see that no matter what happened in between, they DID cross over to the other side.
When Jesus speaks, things happen. And on the journey from one side to the other, we, as Peter, grow. There will be some courageous action, some adventure, some storms, some fear and doubt, the touch of the Master’s Hand, perhaps a gentle rebuke, but in the end, we will cross over to the other side.
How sad that Peter was within reach of Jesus when he faltered and began to sink. How often do we find ourselves in the same boat (or out of the same boat?). We are on the path, living abundantly as we walk out the journey the Lord has set before us, realizing our hearts desires, in sweet communion with our Lord and Saviour. And then one day things don’t LOOK the same. A bit of fear creeps in and we feel the need to “check” with God to see if He is really pointing us in that direction or if we are really hearing from Him. God speaks and we recognize His sweet Word “COME!” An act of courage and adventure follows, walking on the water as it were. All is well, until that fear that we allowed in earlier becomes louder and more boisterous and things definitely begin to LOOK askance. And that is where we falter. We allow the circumstances we see in the physical to open the door to fear – and when we fear, our spiritual sight becomes weak and dim and we can’t see beyond the physical to the promise that the Lord made that we would cross over. Oh that the Lord would increase our staying power!
Oh how precious the Promises of the Lord are and how we must cling to them with all our strength and resist the urge to use our natural vision and understanding when the Lord has given us spiritual vision and understanding.
And oh how precious the faithfulness of our God who grants us sweet revelation of His Word and speaks a gentle rebuke and reminder to our spirit; words of life into our situation and into our lives. Praise be to our Faithfull God!
Let us pray together:
Heavenly Father, Master of the wind and the waves, we come to You and praise Your Most Holy Name! How precious is Your Word, living and active, speaking into our very lives and spirits each time it is read and rightly divided! We thank You today Father, for your Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. We thank You for His life, death and resurrection, and that He now sits at Your right Hand, interceding for us in the Heavenly places but never out of our reach. We thank You Father that when Your Word goes forth it never returns void; that when You speak into our lives, things happen and that we grow and mature through the journey. Teach us Father, to have staying power. Teach us to keep our eyes on our Lord and Saviour and not to falter. Oh that we would remember that Jesus is always within reach, we just need to cry out and He will set forth His Hand into our situation. Sharpen our spiritual sight and dim our focus on our physical circumstances that we may stay the course that You have set before us! We ask these things in the precious name of Jesus. Amen and Amen and Amen.
by Laurie Hopkins
"Shedrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchandnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.’”
How often have you prayed for the will of God to be done in your life? Many of us pray that regularly. But do we really know what we are praying? What about if we word it differently? What if we pray, “God if it is your will that I walk through this very difficult time, even though you could prevent that from happening, then I will still worship You”. That sounds a bit iffier, doesn’t it?
But that is basically what Shedrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego prayed to God as they spoke to King Nebuchadnezzar. They said, “We know and believe that God can deliver us from this fiery furnace, but in the event that that is not His will for us, we will still worship and abide by His law and not bow down before your image”. In other words, even if God may not keep us from the fiery furnace, we will still trust in His will for our lives.
In this passage we find a powerful statement of faith and trust and a bowing to the will of the Father for our lives. This is a great statement of understanding that the Lord’s plans are much higher than our plans and only He can see the “whole” picture. And the rest of the story is a beautiful picture of what happens when we understand that God never promised we wouldn’t encounter any trials and tribulations, but that He would bring us through.
Isaiah 42:3 When you pass through the waters, I [will be] with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.
Let’s look at four lessons that we can apply to our daily walk with the Father:
Ø We are not to worship God for the blessings He bestows on us, but because He is God, He is Holy and is He worthy of our worship.
These three young men of the tribe of Israel found themselves captive in a foreign country, a country that worshipped other gods. But to this point God had provided for their needs and their safety and had begun to set them up for a promotion! Now they find themselves faced with a decision: will they bow to the idol of the King and disgrace their Lord, or will they refuse to disobey the commandments of the Lord and take their chances with an angry King and a fiery furnace. What do we do when we find ourselves in similar circumstances? Are we tempted to compromise when the risk is more evident than the blessing? I pray today that we are walking so closely to our Father and allowing His mighty Holy Spirit to move freely in us, so that we too will have the faith and the confidence to take the high road – even if it may be a warmer journey!
These young men demonstrated great faith and assurance that God’s will would be done no matter if they found themselves in the fire for their obedience to their Lord. I pray for the passion and boldness of faith demonstrated by these young men, in my own life.
Ø We are not only to worship God on the Mountain Top but also in the Valley
Shedrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego had already witnessed the blessing of the Lord on their lives. Their lives were spared from the enemy when they were taken in to captivity. They were chosen to be educated in the “the language and literature of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:4). They had already experience the blessings of being obedient to the Lord. When they refused to defile themselves by eating of the Kings food and requested only vegetables and water, the Lord made them stronger and healthier than all the others that ate at the King’s table. When Daniel interpreted the dream of the King, he petitioned for his three friends and they were given a further promotion. They have been to the Mountain Top. But here is the challenge. It is often easier to worship the Lord faithfully on the mountain top when all is well and when the favor of the Lord is raining down upon us. But how do we react when we find ourselves in the valley? When the rain becomes a torrent and the fires burn? It is at that time, that we CHOOSE to worship the Lord. Worshiping the Lord is a choice. It doesn’t depend on our feelings or our mood, but on our desire to be faithful in all things and at all times.
Job was a righteous man, blessed abundantly by God. But even when everything he had was taken away and his wife advised him to “curse God and die” Job CHOOSE a better path. But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Job 2:10 Later on Job went on to say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Job 13:15
In essence that is what Shedrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego said, “Our God is ABLE to save us, but if not…we will worship Him all the same by our obedience to His Word, and NOT bow before this idol.”
Have you been doing much worshipping in the valley you find yourself in? Or do you only sing and dance and bless His name on the mountain top?
Ø We are not promised a life that is trouble free, but instead, peace and hope in the knowledge that Jesus reigns.
Jesus was very clear when he told the disciples, These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." John 16:33 Jesus never promised the disciples, or us, that once we accepted Him as Lord and Savior of our lives and as we walked with Him, that life would be easy and without trials. As a matter of fact He said, “YOU WILL have tribulation….” But Jesus does promise that he had OVERCOME the world. That is where we get our peace; in and through Jesus Christ. The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7
Shedrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego understood this concept clearly. We don’t hear them grumbling and murmuring about the situation they find themselves in. Instead we see them standing strong and clearly speaking forth the Word of God. Hallelujah!
Oh that we would have the faith and courage to do the same in our daily lives.
Ø God’s plans are so much higher than our plans.
God sees the whole picture where we only see that which directly surrounds us. And what we see with regards to our circumstances is colored by our emotions, experiences and that which we want to see and believe. God is omnipotent; He sees all, knows all and has a plan for each and every one of us. His plan is not affected by our emotions and our past experiences. We often don’t understand that what we are going through now is preparing us for what God has in store for us. If we don’t go through now, the promotion won’t be forthcoming!
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 God’s plan is always for good and never for evil, but with our limited and focused vision we often can’t see the forest for the trees.
Shedrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego may have had trouble seeing life beyond the fiery furnace, but they CHOOSE to stand firm and speak the Word of God into their situation. They KNEW that even if the Lord allowed them to go into the fire that He would bring them through!
Are you, even now, wondering about God’s plans for your life? Can you see in hindsight the things He has allowed you to go through in order to strengthen you and set you on a particular path? Now you need to take the knowledge and BELIEVE that He will continue to do that in your life. Even when you can’t see ahead to what He has planned.
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper [in the thing] for which I sent it. Isaiah 5:11 God’s Word always accomplishes what it is sent forth to do. So rest assured in the promises of the Father for your life!
So how does the story end? Well, the King was furious and turned up the fire 7 times hotter, so that even the King’s men, who threw Shedrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego into the fire, were killed. WOW, that is hot!
Blessings abounded even in the midst of the fire! Shedrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were thrown into the fire bound. They came out of the fire neither singed or with the smell of the fire on them. Their bonds were released and in the midst of the first they encountered the Lord! Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste [and] spoke, saying to his counselors, "Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?" They answered and said to the king, "True, O king."
Dan 3:25 "Look!" he answered, "I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God." Because they had great faith in the will of the Lord for their lives, the Father not only used them as a great witness to the King He secured them yet another promotion in the earthly kingdom.
Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon. Daniel 3:28- 30
Not too bad for three young men taken in to captivity by the enemy!
Oh that our ears and hearts and spirits would be open to receive the lessons the Father has for us today. To stand strong in our faith despite the….”but if not”….and allow the Father to work wholly and completely in and through our bodies, His temples!
Let us pray together:
Holy Father, omnipotent and Mighty God, we come before you this day and bless Your most Holy Name. We thank You once again, Father for Your precious Word and for the wisdom You grant to us as we seek to understand Your Word. We thank You for these three young men who CHOOSE to allow You to move wholly and completely in and through their lives, who stood strong and courageous in the face of the fiery furnace, and in doing so allowed You to work out Your will in their lives. If there had not been an idol, there would have been no furnace. If there had not been a furnace these young men would not have encountered their Lord in their midst; their bonds would not have been burned off; there would not have been a mighty witness for the Father and there would have be no further advancement in the kingdom of their enemy. If they had not declared their faith and willingness to allow Your will to be done, through their statement “but if not” there would have been no lesson for us to learn today. Teach us Father to be faithful, to trust You despite what we see around us, and to be obedient to Your Word at all times, and to worship wherever we find ourselves, that we may grow in our walk with You and be a mighty witness for You to those around us. We ask all this in the precious name of Jesus, Amen and Amen and Amen.