Do you ever get discouraged? Do you sometimes feel, ‘Is this all worthwhile? Are we actually getting anywhere?’ Are you ever tempted to ‘lose heart’? If you are, you are not alone. Paul was almost certainly tempted himself to lose heart, and he wrote to other Christians who were also tempted to do so.
Yet Paul wrote, ‘We do not lose heart’ (2 Corinthians 4:1,16). ‘We do not throw up our hands and walk off the job’ (v.1, MSG). Why not? Paul explains that it is because in Jesus we have received a ‘treasure’ (v.7). The treasure is the message of Jesus. It is because the message that Paul has to proclaim is so amazing that he starts and ends by saying, ‘Therefore… we do not lose heart’ (vv.1,16).
Yet the treasure is inward and unseen. Paul describes it as being in ‘jars of clay’ (v.7). Our culture emphasises the outward and the seen. The media is dominated by money, possessions, houses, cars, food, physical beauty and outward success. The Bible is very different. It stresses the importance of the invisible – the inward and unseen aspects of our character: the thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that determine our outward behaviour. ‘For what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal’ (v.18). The invisible is eternal.
My kids start school today, this time all of them. They were all excited to get on the bus and to start their first day.
They seemed well prepared. My wife and I saw them off after getting them breakfast, packed lunches and packed backpacks prepared and ready. It was only later that I felt I may not have been ready for this day.
It was a first! A first day at the start of elementary school year. A first for all of them together to get on the bus. It was a first for us to say goodbye to them – all of them – as they got on the bus for school.
We knew and had prepared for this days in advance; yet, in retrospect I found that I had not given thought to myself or my own preparedness for today. Yes, I well knew that this was a week full of change, but I hadn’t really considered much of my reaction and how I’d feel or react about all the changes. I got choked up, more than I expected.
I even had lost my train of thoughts, allowing them to be derailed last night and succumbing to a tangential sidetrack that wholly distracted my mind from the events of today. This distraction even threatened to take my attention away from the firsts that happened at the bus stop. Thankfully I’d recognized my mind and attention was being diverted and brought it back to focus on my kids. I nearly lost my enjoyment of those moments thanks to my distracted self.
Too easily I feel that I can allow legitimate things, that can be good in their own way, to become too much of a distraction of my life. This could include time and efforts at work, enjoying a hobby, exercise, a mental break with a phone app, or most anything. They each may have their usefulness and acceptable allotment of focus. Still, what’s the priority? In that moment and time, what should I be focusing on? The moment or moments I recognize that they are sapping energy, time and effort away from more meaningful life priorities are the moments I really need to self check myself to see what I am doing.
I say this of myself, since I know what can be a easy tendency. What about for you?
Being aware and mindful of present things is not always easy, yet I think it’s well worth it to recapture our attention to be more diligent at being present where we are.
Yay, the weekend started. Monday is a Labor Day, a day off from work for me.
The average person will spend approximately 150,000 hours at work in their lifetime – that is to say, about 40% of our waking lives are spent at work.
‘Is God interested in our work? Many people do not see God as a 24/7 God, but as a withdrawn actor confined to a Sunday show with a declining audience. There is a widespread view that God and work simply don’t mix: the competitive, cut-throat demands of the working world are seen as the obvious enemy of Christian compassion and love. But the God who created and sustains the world is also the God of the workplace. If the Christian faith is not relevant in the workplace, it is not relevant at all.’
– Ken Costa in his book God at Work.
Whatever kind of work you are called to, it will probably occupy a large proportion of your life. Work is an important part of God’s ‘economy’. It is part of what you were created to do, and will be part of what you do in heaven. Work has an intrinsic value. The Bible has a lot to say on the subject of our work.
A busy father was looking for a way to entertain his young daughter. He found a map of the world in a magazine and cut it into pieces. He gave the pieces to his child and suggested she try to piece the map back together.
After a very short time, she said she had finished. He was very surprised by how quickly she had done it. He asked her how she had managed to do it so fast. She replied, ‘I noticed when you took the page out of the magazine that on the back of the map of the world there was a picture of a man and a woman. I thought that if I could put the man and the woman back together, I could put the world back together.’
Marriage and family life are hugely important. They are part of God’s natural order, and are a vital part of the fabric of society. Pope John Paul II once wrote that family is the ‘foundation’ of society and ‘nourishes’ society continually.
The Bible has a great deal to say about family life. Not only do we have a natural family but, as Christians, we are part of the church, which the New Testament sees as ‘the family of God’.
Children and the next generation
Every generation has a responsibility to think about the future and to planfor it. We should be concerned, not just about what happens in our time but also about the next generation. The psalmist is concerned for the next generation: ‘Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord’ (v.18).
Jesus is the key for every generation. Interestingly, the writer to the Hebrews quotes verses 25–27 of this psalm and applies them to Jesus (Hebrews 1:10–12): ‘Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8). He ‘laid earth’s foundations a long time ago, and handcrafted the very heavens’ (Psalm 102:25, MSG). Jesus will be there forever: ‘Year after year you’re as good as new’ (v.27, MSG).
The psalm ends with this hope for the next generation: ‘Your servants’ children will have a good place to live and their children will be at home with you’ (v.28, MSG).
This is a hope, a prayer and, to some extent, a promise. Whilst everyone is responsible for their own lives, there is a sense in which God treats people as families. We can hope, pray and believe that our children, grandchildren and their descendants will live in his presence and be established before him (v.28).
Lord, I pray for my own family and for those in the church, that we will live in your presence and that our children will grow up to know, love, serve and be established before you.
1 Corinthians 16:5-24
Family and homes
Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia, has a big sign outside saying: ‘Welcome Home’. The vision of Brian and Bobbie Houston, the senior pastors, is that everyone who comes to the church will be welcomed, loved and given the hospitality that we would give to a guest in our own home.
We need to recapture this New Testament vision of church as a home. Of course, the early Christians did not have church buildings. They met in homes (v.19). Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘If Timothy shows up, take good care of him. Make him feel completely at home among you’ (v.10, MSG).
The church is the family of God. God is our father. Paul sees the whole church as a family. He talks about other Christians as his ‘brothers and sisters’ (v.15). The church is not an organisation you join; it is a family, where you belong.
Paul, who was single and did not have his own wife or children, loves the Corinthians and sees them as his family. He found spiritual refreshment by spending time with them (v.17). He ends his letter, ‘I love all of you’ (v.24, MSG). He expects them to ‘love the Lord’ (v.22) and to love one another. They should express this love by greeting ‘one another with a holy kiss’ (v.20).
This is not just a nice theory; it is very personal. He longs to see them (v.5). He knows that they will ‘help’ him (v.6). He does not want to spend only a short time with them; he wants to spend much longer ‘if the Lord permits’ (v.7). Paul’s message in his letters flows from his love and concern for the people in the church. He practiced what he preached when he wrote ‘do everything in love’ (v.14).
The only reason Paul is not coming sooner is that ‘a great door for effective work has opened to [him], and there are many who oppose [him]’ (v.9). (It seems that whenever God opens ‘a huge door of opportunity for good work’ we should expect that there will also be ‘mushrooming opposition’, v.9, MSG.) Do not let such opposition deter you from making the most of great opportunities when they arise.
He goes on to talk about Timothy, whom he describes elsewhere as his son in the Lord (4:17). He then speaks about his ‘brother Apollos’ 16:12) and goes on to talk about ‘the family of Stephanas’ (v.15, MSG). It appears from the New Testament that it was quite common for whole families to be converted and baptised together.
We also see in this passage an instance of a married couple having a joint ministry. Aquilla and Priscilla ran a church in their home (v.19). Here, Aquilla is named first. However, more commonly Priscilla is the one whom Paul names first (see Romans 16:3). It is clear that they ran the church together.
The family of the church is made up of single people like Paul, married couples like Priscilla and Aquilla, and whole households like those of Stephanas. Together we make up the family of God.
What Paul writes applies to us all: ‘Keep your eyes open. Hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute and love without stopping’ (1 Corinthians 16:13–14, MSG).
Lord, please give us such love for one another that whether we are single or married, we all experience the riches and refreshment of being part of the family of God.
2 Chronicles 24:1-25:28
Parents and children
Good parenting is a huge advantage in life. Joash’s father died when he was a baby and he became king at the age of seven. His mother ensured that he was ‘taught and trained by Johoiada the priest’ (24:2, MSG). He clearly received a good education and ‘did what pleased God throughout Jehoiada’s lifetime’ (v.3, MSG). Joash had a family of his own which included ‘both sons and daughters’ (v.3, MSG).
God had promised his blessing on David and his family. Kingship passed down the family line. However, although God’s love was unconditional, each person was responsible for how they responded to this love. ‘The book of Moses’ (probably a way of referring to ‘the Law’, the first five books of the Old Testament) is quoted in support of the fact that ‘parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each of you will die for your own sins’ (25:4). (‘We each pay personally for our sins’, MSG.)
We see this principle worked out here. Joash started out well. He ‘did what was right in the eyes of the Lord’ (24:2). He ‘decided to restore the temple of the Lord’ (v.4). Everyone joined in: ‘All the officials and all the people brought their contributions gladly, dropping them into the chest until it was full’ (v.10). ‘They rebuilt the temple of God according to its original design’ (v.13). (Buildings for worship do matter and can be restored if everyone gets involved.)
Sadly, Joash’s reign did not end well (vv.17–27). It is so important not just to start well but also to finish well.
Tragically the same pattern was repeated in the life of his son, Amaziah. He started well (25:2), but did not finish well. He became ‘arrogant and proud’ (v.19) and ‘turned away from following the Lord’ (v.27).
Lord, help us to be good examples and to finish well. I pray that family life would once again be the foundation to nourish our society continually. May there be a reversal in the decline in marriages and a restoration of strong families.
History is in many ways a story of influence. Leadership is about influence. Everyone influences someone. Therefore, in a sense, everyone is a leader. Sociologists tell us that even the most introverted individual will influence 10,000 other people during his or her lifetime. We all influence one another in all sorts of ways – from what to have for lunch and what films to watch, to more important matters of truth and ethics.
My life has been influenced by so many people – my parents, teachers, friends and family. Just as I have been influenced by others, inevitably what I do and say will influence others for good or ill.
As the African proverb puts it, ‘If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent the night with a mosquito.’ The mosquito makes a difference in an annoying way, but the principle is the same. One person can stop a great injustice. One person can be a voice for truth. One person’s kindness can save a life. Each person matters.
How can you maximise your influence and use that influence for good?
In his book, The Vision and The Vow, Pete Greig tells of how a distinguished art critic was studying an exquisite painting by the Italian Renaissance master Filippino Lippi. He stood in London’s National Gallery gazing at the fifteenth-century depiction of Mary holding the infant Jesus on her lap, with saints Dominic and Jerome kneeling nearby. But the painting troubled him. There could be no doubting Lippi’s skill, his use of colour or composition. But the proportions of the picture seemed slightly wrong. The hills in the background seemed exaggerated, as if they might topple out of the frame at any minute onto the gallery’s polished floor. The two kneeling saints looked awkward and uncomfortable.
Art critic Robert Cumming was not the first to criticise Lippi’s work for its poor perspective, but he may well be the last to do so, because at that moment he had a revelation. It suddenly occurred to him that the problem might be his. The painting had never been intended to come anywhere near a gallery. Lippi’s painting had been commissioned to hang in a place of prayer.
The dignified critic dropped to his knees in the public gallery before the painting. He suddenly saw what generations of art critics had missed. From his new vantage point, Robert Cumming found himself gazing up at a perfectly proportioned piece. The foreground had moved naturally to the background, while the saints seemed settled – their awkwardness, like the painting itself, having turned to grace. Mary now looked intently and kindly directly at him as he knelt at her feet between saints Dominic and Jerome.
It was not the perspective of the painting that had been wrong all these years, it was the perspective of the people looking at it. Robert Cumming, on bended knee, found a beauty that Robert Cumming the proud art critic could not. The painting only came alive to those on their knees in prayer. The right perspective is the position of worship.
Goliath was a giant. He was nine-feet tall, a champion, wearing heavy armour, standing and shouting, defying the people of God (1 Samuel 17:1–11). As well as physical giants, there are metaphorical ones. A ‘giant’ is a big, seemingly insurmountable problem or issue.
‘Personal giants’ could include giant personal challenges in relation to your health, marriage, family, relationships or lack of relationships, job or lack of job, other work issues, or some sin, temptation, addiction, fear, loneliness, discouragement or debt.
‘National giants’ in the UK include terrorism, gang violence, homelessness, the breakdown of marriage, family life and community, exploding prison populations, failing schools and the decline of church congregations. There is therefore the giant task of evangelising the country, revitalising the church and transforming our society.
‘Global giants’ include extreme poverty (as a result of which thousands of children die each day), preventable disease (millions dying of diseases for which we have a relatively easy cure), the need for universal primary education (almost one billion people unable to read) and the need for worldwide water sanitation (which could be funded by the amount of money that Europeans spend on ice-cream every year).
There are two possible attitudes when facing a giant. One is to say, ‘It’s so big, there’s nothing I can do.’ The other is to say, ‘It’s so big, I can’t miss!’
God loves the entire world. He wants all nations and peoples to know him, worship and love him.
The psalmist prayed for God’s blessing on his people in order that ‘your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations’ (v.2).
We see in this psalm that the global vision for the people of God beyond their own borders was foreshadowed in the Old Testament.
The psalmist prays for the entire globe (vv.3–5). If we are to tackle the global giants, we need a global vision. The words of this psalm are all about God. The size of your vision will be dependent on the size of your vision of God. As A.W. Tozer put it, ‘What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.’
Lord, be gracious to us and bless us. Make your face shine upon us. Make your ways known on earth and your salvation among all nations. May all the people praise you.
Testify about Jesus
There is nothing more important and no greater privilege in life than to be a friend of Jesus. Jesus says, ‘You are my friends… I no longer call you servants… I have called you friends’ (15:14–15).
Having Jesus as your friend allows you to tackle the giants in your life, in the church and in society from a unique standpoint.
Personal Jesus tells us that there are two secrets of Christian fruitfulness.
First, there is pruning (vv.1–2). The purpose of pruning is so that you can bear even more fruit. Pain, sorrow, sickness and suffering, loss, bereavement, failure, disappointment and frustrated ambition are some of the ways your life is pruned.
Pruning can seem cruel; branches are left jagged and exposed to face the harsh winter. But the purpose of pruning is to give way to newness of life. When spring and summer come, there is an abundance of fruit. The sharp pruning knife will, in the end, bring fruitfulness and blessing.
The second secret of fruitfulness is closeness to Jesus (v.4). You cannot take on the giants by yourself. Jesus says, ‘When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing’ (v.5, MSG). You will only succeed in tackling the giants if you stay close to Jesus.
Cultivate a growing friendship with Jesus (vv.14–15) by spending time with him, walking with him, praying and listening to him through his word, following his desires.
Jesus says that if you stay close to him (‘remain in him’) three things will happen in terms of fruitfulness. First, your prayers will be answered (v.7). Second, God will be glorified (v.8). Third, your joy will be complete and overflowing (v.11, AMP).
Jesus wants you to be filled with joy and fully alive. There’s no greater joy than to know you are valued, precious and loved by God and to love others as you are loved. There’s no greater joy than giving eternal life to others in and with Jesus.
Church There are massive giants facing the church today. The biggest giant is disunity. Nothing is more of a hindrance to the message of Jesus than division between Christians. Disunity will only be overcome by love. Jesus said, ‘My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends… This is my command: Love each other’ (vv.12–13,17).
Society Jesus warns us that we will face the giant of a world that hates us (vv.18–19). He says, ‘If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also’ (v.20). He says, ‘Those who kill you will think they are offering a service to God’ (16:2). There are parts of the world where this is literally true today.
But there are also other more subtle forms of hidden persecution. No one likes to be rejected, looked down on, made fun of or ridiculed. Jesus warns that, wherever you are, you should expect opposition, hatred and even persecution.
On our own we would have no answers but Jesus says, ‘When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify’ (15:26–27). The Holy Spirit enables you to testify about Jesus and to take on these giant challenges, to see our society transformed.
Lord, thank you that you call me your friend. Help me to love others as you have loved me.
1 Samuel 16:1-17:37
Trust in God
David was extraordinarily gifted – naturally as well as supernaturally. He was handsome and in good health (16:12). He was talented musically (v.18). He was a gifted speaker (v.18). He had athletic ability (17:1–37; 18:11). He was a leader (18:13). He was successful (vv.14,30). He was famous (v.30).
Yet it was for none of these reasons that God used him. The Lord said to Samuel, ‘The Lord does not look at the things people look at. Human beings look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’ (16:7).
David was outraged by Goliath’s defiance of the living God (17:26). He was a courageous leader. He says, ‘Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine [Goliath]’ (v.32). What lessons can we learn from the way in which David tackled this giant?
Reject rejection Eliab said to David, ‘What are you doing here! Why aren’t you minding your own business, tending that scrawny flock of sheep? I know what you’re up to. You’ve come down here to see the sights, hoping for a ringside seat at a bloody battle!’ (v.28, MSG).
Yet David ‘turned away’ from Eliab (v.30).
The lesson we learn here is not to be put off if rejected or ill-treated. As Joyce Meyer writes, ‘God is not looking for someone with ability but someone with availability… keep your heart pure by refusing to allow hatred, offense, bitterness, resentment or unforgiveness to stop you.’
Get involved David said to Saul, ‘Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him’ (v.32). He volunteered his services. I am always so moved and impressed by the way in which our congregation are willing to volunteer their services: praying, serving and giving.
Trust God Saul says to David, ‘You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy’ (v.33). Yet David replies, ‘The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine’ (v.37a). He trusts God because he knows that God is with him (see 16:18; 17:37b; 18:14).
Ultimately, the reason that David was able to tackle Goliath was that he was anointed by God: ‘Samuel took his flask of oil and anointed him, with his brothers standing around watching. The Spirit of God entered David like a rush of wind, God vitally empowering him for the rest of his life’ (16:13, MSG). The only way you will be able to tackle the giants in your life, in society and in the world, is through the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, as I face the giants, I need the anointing of your Holy Spirit upon me and your presence with me. Give me courage not to run away, not to lose heart and not to give up.
John Newton mentored a man called William Cowper (1731–1800). Cowper had experienced tragedy. His mother died when he was six. His father died while he was still young. He qualified as a barrister. Outwardly he was successful. However, he suffered from serious depression. When applying for an administrative post in the House of Lords that entailed a formal examination, he was so disturbed by the prospect of the exam that he attempted suicide. For the rest of his life he suffered from mental illness.
When he was in his thirties, John Newton encouraged Cowper to begin composing hymns. He wrote powerfully of the joys and sorrows of everyday life. In 1774, he suffered such a severe episode of mental illness that he was prevented from entering into his intended marriage to Mary Unwin. He was crestfallen. Shortly afterwards, in perhaps his most famous hymn, he wrote:
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform
God is good. God is love. God loves you. God has revealed himself supremely in Jesus. All this we know. Then you read passages in the Bible that don’t seem to fit with your understanding of God. You may also have experiences in life that don’t seem to fit either.
You cannot put God in a box. He is far greater than you could ever conceive. Some passages in the Bible are mysterious. Jesus said on one occasion, ‘You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand’ (John 13:7). Sometimes that understanding may come in our lifetime. Some things we will only understand when we meet the Lord.
How should you respond when you don’t understand God?
Be honest with God
Are there times in your life when you simply do not understand why certain things are happening to you? Does it almost feel like God has rejected you? If so, your experience is common in the history of the people of God. This psalm opens with this question: ‘Why have you rejected us forever, O God?’ (v.1).
Sometimes it may seem as if God is silent and not intervening to help you in any way. As the psalmist says, ‘There’s not a sign or symbol of God in sight, nor anyone to speak in his name, no one who knows what’s going on’ (v.9, MSG).
When you go through times like this, you never know ‘how long’ this will be (v.9). You might have questions about why a part of your life is working out as it is. Or perhaps you just feel that God is distant. St John of the Cross (1542–1591) referred to these times as ‘the dark night of the soul’.
What should you do in times like this?
Ask the questions The psalmist does not beat around the bush. He pours out his heart to God. He asks God the difficult questions. ‘You walked off and left us, and never looked back. God, how could you do that? We’re your very own sheep; how can you stomp off in anger?’ (v.1, MSG).
Ask for answers ‘Refresh your memory of us… you actually lived here once! Come and visit the site of disaster…’ (vv.2–3, MSG).
You are not alone when you have these kinds of experiences and emotions. One of the great blessings of the Psalms is that you can turn to them in times of mysterious suffering and echo these prayers in your heart.
Lord, thank you that even when I can’t understand what is happening to me, I can be honest with you when I pray and pour out my heart to you.
Be open to God
Jesus told his disciples to heal the sick, raise the dead and preach the gospel. The early church got on with doing exactly what Jesus told them to do. They must have been very surprised by what happened. Yet they were open to his leading.
The mystery of healing They continued to see God’s extraordinary power at work. Peter said to a man who was bedridden for eight years, ‘Jesus Christ heals you’ (9:34). He immediately ‘jumped right out of bed’ (v.34, MSG). ‘Everybody… woke up to the fact that God was alive and active among them’ (v.35, MSG).
Yet not all are healed. Why doesn’t God heal everyone? I don’t know. Sometimes it is really hard to understand why God has not healed someone we have prayed for so much. It is a mystery.
The mystery of raising the dead Next, Peter raised the dead! Accounts of the dead being raised are rare in the Bible. It happened twice in the Old Testament – once with Elijah and once with Elisha. Jesus raised the dead three times, Paul once, and Peter raised Dorcas from the dead. The command to raise the dead occurs only once (Matthew 10:8).
In almost every case, it was a young person who was raised from the dead. None of them lived forever – but their lives were not cut off prematurely. Very occasionally God intervenes in this way. We don’t know why. It is a mystery.
Here God did intervene. Dorcas, ‘who was always doing good and helping the poor’ (Acts 9:36), became sick and died. Peter got down on his knees and prayed. She opened her eyes, sat up, and Peter took her by the hand and helped her to her feet! As a result, ‘many people believed in the Lord’ (v.42).
The mystery of the gospel The apostle Paul was later to explain, ‘This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus’ (Ephesians 3:6).
Up until this point in the book of Acts, all the followers of Jesus had been Jewish. In fact, they did not think it was possible to become a Christian without being a Jew. But God surprised them. He prepared Peter with a vision. In a trance he saw heaven open and he was told to kill and eat ‘impure’ and ‘unclean’ animals and birds. His response was, ‘Surely not, Lord!’ (Acts 10:14).
The vision, and God’s voice that accompanied it, challenged Peter not to make distinctions between clean and unclean food (vv.13–15). However, Peter also realised that this vision meant that he should not make distinctions between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ people – that is, Jewish and non-Jewish people. In tomorrow’s reading, we discover that Peter says, ‘No race is better than any other’ (v.28, MSG).
At the time, it was a mystery. ‘Peter, puzzled, sat there trying to figure out what it all meant’ (v.17, MSG). He did not realise what God was doing. Only later did he understand. God had plans that were far bigger than theirs. The good news of Jesus was not to be confined to the Jewish people – it was for everyone in the world. Thankfully, Peter was open enough to respond to God’s guidance, whether through a vision or even when ‘the Spirit whispered to him’ (v.19, MSG).
Lord, thank you that even if we do not understand some mysteries in this life, we can trust you and know that you always have a reason.
2 Samuel 23:8-24:25
Be mystified by God
This is one of the most mysterious passages in the whole Bible. All seemed to be going well. David had good people around him. He was greatly helped and supported by his three mighty men, as well as a wider inner circle of ‘the Thirty’.
Yet something terrible happened. Who incited David to count his fighting men? In this passage it appears to be God. Yet in the equivalent passage in Chronicles we are told, ‘Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel’ (1 Chronicles 21:1). This is one of only three times in which Satan is mentioned in the Old Testament.
David apparently knew that what he was doing was wrong (‘because he had counted the people, replacing trust with statistics’, 2 Samuel 24:10, MSG). He was ‘conscience-stricken… and he said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing”’ (v.10).
Given the various options, spoken by the prophet Gad, he chose to fall into the hands of the Lord, for ‘his mercy is great’ (v.14). He refused to offer a sacrifice that cost him nothing (v.24). After his sacrifice, ‘the Lord answered prayer on behalf of the land’ (v.25).
There is still much here that is difficult to understand. But the passage finishes on a note of hope and renewed relationship.
Lord, help me to trust you even in the midst of confusion and uncertainty. Thank you that, one day, your wisdom will be fully revealed. Thank you that you are good and that your love endures forever.
‘Houston, we’ve had a problem,’ were the words of Jim Lovell on the evening of 13 April 1970. Nearly fifty-six hours into the mission to the moon, an explosion aboard the spacecraft plunged the crew into a fight for their survival. Within less than a minute there was a cascade of systems failures throughout the spacecraft. ‘It was all at one time – a monstrous failure,’ said NASA’s flight controller.
The spacecraft looped around the moon, using its gravity to return to earth. Millions of people followed the drama on television. Eventually, the capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean near Tonga.
In an article headed ‘Apollo 13: From Disaster to Triumph’ the BBC science reporter wrote, ‘Although the mission was not a success from a conventional perspective, it was a triumph of ingenuity and determination’. Jim Lovell said it showed the people of the world that even if there was a great catastrophe, it could be turned into a success.
The supreme example of triumph coming out of apparent catastrophe is the cross. What seemed to the world to be the ultimate defeat was in fact the ultimate triumph.
Back in the 1960s, the band The Monkees sang about how no one seemed to believe in absolute morals anymore. In Shades of Gray they sang:
When the world and I were young, Just yesterday. Life was such a simple game… It was easy then to tell right from wrong… Today there is no black or white, Only shades of gray.
Now the expression ‘shades of grey’ has come to be associated with the notorious and controversial books and films with that name.
Many today no longer believe there is such a thing as absolute right or absolute wrong. Stark contrasts and black-and-white distinctions are not always easy to swallow in a society in which relativism is the order of the day. Everything is relative – a matter of degrees.
As followers of Jesus we cannot give in to these relativistic ideas. We must be open to the prophetic voice of Scripture, which often traces stark contrasts, urgent ethical choices and diverging paths in the midst of complex problems and situations.