She may be unnamed in the Bible, but one woman knew the importance of touch better than anyone. She had a terrible health-problem and had been bleeding for twelve years. Mark is the gospel-writer who goes into most detail about her situation (Mark 5:24-34). Having suffered under several doctors, she was getting worse rather than better. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind Him in the crowd. Ignoring the risk of humiliation and the fear that could have plagued her, she reached out to touch Jesus because she thought: “If I can just touch His clothes, I will be healed”.
In this woman’s case, touch brought her physical healing, but it can also heal the emotions. I think of my friend Carol. At times when I can’t articulate how I’m feeling, a hug from Carol seems to spread not only her love, but God’s peace and love too. Not everyone is comfortable with physical touch and not every culture welcomes it, but for me, it goes very deep. When given by a friend or family-member, it reassures me I’m accepted and loved.
Let’s take ourselves back to the early church. Jesus has died and risen; the Holy Spirit has empowered His followers to start talking about the difference He’s made in their lives, and people are hearing them. A Jew called Apollos learnt about Jesus and eagerly spoke about Him, but the only baptism he knew was that of John the Baptist – Jesus’ forerunner. John’s teaching had prepared him for Christ’s coming, but he hadn’t been baptised (immersed) into Christ, so Priscilla and her husband Aquila “took him to their home and helped him better understand the way of God” (Acts 18:26). This resulted in Apollos travelling to southern Greece and being a great help to believers there.
If you’re ministering as part of a couple, Priscilla and Aquila could be your example. They certainly remind me of some friends of mine, Kate and Neil, who spent quality time with me and helped me better understand the way of God. They’re such special people. They seem to be on the go virtually from the moment they wake up till their heads touch the pillows and wherever they are, they brighten up their community. Could you be that supportive presence to someone else, investing in them to meet their need and help them grow?
Have you read “The Five Love-Languages” by Gary Chapman? It would probably be in my top five favourite books because of the impact it’s had on me. Today, on International Women’s Day, I want to start a series on some women in the Bible (and some of the women in my life) who’ve shown these five different facets of love.
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David was chosen to be king over Israel long before he actually reigned. His predecessor (King Saul) had disobeyed God and been rejected by Him, so there was an in-between stage. Saul was still alive and therefore still king, but David was avidly following God, knowing he would be next. It’s during this time that we meet Nabal and his wife Abigail. David appeals to Nabal’s generosity, since his men have never harmed or stolen from any of Nabal’s shepherds, but Nabal doesn’t recognise David as an important man. Out of all his wealth, he gives him nothing. When Abigail hears about this, she hastens to right the wrong (1 Samuel 25:18-35). She brings the gift her husband failed to give, and speaks words of blessing over David. “The Lord will certainly let your family have many kings, because you fight His battles. As long as you live, may you do nothing bad. Someone might chase you to kill you, but the Lord your God will keep you alive. He will throw away your enemies’ lives as He would throw a stone from a sling. The Lord will keep all His promises of good things for you. He will make you leader over Israel.” David heeds those words and thanks to her dedication, many lives are spared.
My friend Alex speaks encouraging words over my life. For example, if I think I’m not writing enough songs, she’ll say: “Maybe God wants you to use what you’ve got.” Her timely words lift my spirit. Can you lift someone’s spirit with your life-affirming words today?
I’ve just been reading “Romans 8-16 for You”. I’m nearly halfway through it now and I can recommend it. (Obviously, the book of Romans doesn’t start at chapter 8. There is a prequel, but that’s also very good.) Today, my focus was on Romans 11.
In verses 34-35, Paul refers to Isaiah and Job as he praises God. The author points out that knowing Scripture intimately can ignite praise, within the heart and as an outward expression. He maintains there should be no worship without truth. Jesus said: “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17), so in other words, there should be no worship without the Word of God. Worship doesn’t come from repeating certain phrases over and over; true worship comes from meditating on the Bible.
In addition, he says, it’s the same the other way round – there should be no study of the Word without worship. Study of the Word is more than knowing what it says, or even applying it to ourselves: It’s a gateway into the praise of God. As such, we should never come to the Bible detached, but always expect to be disturbed/comforted/challenged.
I was so encouraged by that. I’m quite a sensitive person; I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. Sometimes when we sing the worship-songs at church, I find the lyrics confronting and get very emotional. Sometimes, a truth in the Bible does disturb or challenge me. If that happens for you too, perhaps we can take comfort from the fact that we’re alive spiritually. We’re not detached; we haven’t tuned God out. He’s still working in our lives, and surely that can only be a good thing.
This morning, I had the first instalment of Bible Gateway’s new thanksgiving devotional. (You can sign up here to get the Email twice a week.) I wish we had thanksgiving here in the UK. It never does any harm to remind ourselves to be grateful.
Anyway, today’s passage was Exodus 15:1-19 (the song of praise sung to God after He miraculously parted the Red Sea for the Israelites). Verse 17 jumped out at me; I hadn’t noticed it before. They sing about how the nations will hear of God’s power. “All who live in Canaan melt away; terror and dread fall upon them.” Then in verse 17: “You will bring them in and plant them on Your own mountain” – amazing. They’re proclaiming with absolute certainty that God will bring them into their promised land.
It immediately made me think of later on, when they were in the opposite frame of mind. They wander through the desert, camping when God tells them to camp and moving when He tells them to move. They get to the border of the promised land, and Moses sends twelve spies in to explore. They come back with an evaluation. “It is indeed a bountiful country – a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there” (Numbers 13:27-28).
Only Joshua and Caleb were optimistic. Most of the spies were terrified and told the people: “The land we travelled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there” (Numbers 13:32), and it was their fear that rubbed off on the rest of the community. Joshua and Caleb tried to motivate everyone, but the people talked about stoning them (Numbers 14:6-10). This resulted in their having to remain in the wilderness for forty years. From that generation, only Joshua and Caleb lived to enter the promised land.
If only the Israelite community had remembered what God did for them – how unstoppable they felt after He led them across the Red Sea. It encourages me to stay strong in my faith – not just when things are going well, but also when times are hard and things seem to be against me. God’s truth is still true, and He’s still worthy of my love and all I can give Him.
This morning, I read a tweet that said the following. “What is God’s will for my life? Surprising answer: 1. 24-7 joy. 2. 24-7 prayer. 3. 24-7 gratitude.”
I can see where this comes from. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we’re told: “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus”, but what about Jesus? What about when He said: “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38), or when we read that while Jesus lived on earth, He prayed tearfully and was heard because of His reverent submission (Hebrews 5:7)? Was the Son of God a rebel because He wasn’t 24-7 joyful?
I have a deep love for Jesus. I believe He was faultless and not rebellious at all, so maybe 24-7 joy is more about attitude than a show of emotion. While Jesus was in Gethsemane – his soul so overwhelmed with sorrow, being all-knowing, I imagine He was grateful when He thought of the people His sleeping friends would later become. We’re told Jesus endured the cross because of the joy that awaited Him (Hebrews 12:1-2); that is, the joy of completing His saving work for us – of being with the Father, and seeing countless people come into a relationship with God because He died in our place.
Jesus endured the cross by focusing on what awaited Him. In other words, He was centred on joy even when His soul was sorrowful.
When you read about 24-7 joy and 24-7 gratitude, don’t take it as an indictment because you feel sadness. Take it as a reminder that even in your grief, you can find the joy in life and things to be grateful for.
The other week, I was having lunch with friends. We were talking about Brexit, which is pretty big on the news these days. Will Boris Johnson get us out of the EU on October 31st, or will his opponents thwart him so they can keep extending the deadline? Whichever outcome you favour, you’d have to say there’s a lot of uncertainty here at the moment. To some it feels like a bit of a crisis.
Well, our friend told us over lunch that a Christian leader had said: “What crisis? There isn’t one, because God’s in control.” I get where the man’s coming from, but it sounds quite dispassionate. Is that something Jesus would say?
Read the rest at my friend Alex’s website, Worship Unlimited Ministries, and please keep Alex and family in your thoughts and prayers.
I’ve come across a lovely verse in Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a priest – a man who descended from Abraham’s great grandson, Levi. Ezekiel started hearing from God when His people had been exiled from their land because of their disobedience. A few of the poorest people remained in Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:14).
The people left in Jerusalem make an assumption. They claim the exiles are far away from God; therefore God has given the land to them, but they’ve misread the situation, and God wants to reassure the exiles.
Read the rest at Worship Unlimited Ministries.
Reading 2 Samuel 5, I’m impressed by how humble David is as opposed to his enemies. He becomes king over Israel. Samuel said he would be years before, pouring oil on his head to prepare him, but while Saul was alive, David couldn’t succeed him. Finally, the moment comes.
Read the rest over at Worship Unlimited Ministries. Alex does a great job of maintaining the website. She puts a devotional, book-review and recipe up there every week, so it’s well worth a look.
Reading the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians today, I noticed this verse: “You suffered much, but still you accepted the teaching with the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). I suppose it jumped out at me because for a while lately, I’ve realised I haven’t felt as close to God. It’s not that I’ve stopped believing in Him or been particularly venomously angry with Him. It’s been more a sadness really. When you see friends or family going through trials, sometimes you feel disillusioned and you can think so much about the problems, but not enough about the difference God makes.
This post I wrote for Alex is one example of the difference God’s made in my life, just this year. When I went up Table Mountain in Cape Town, I prayed the night before about which guide I’d have on the day. It’s really important to pray in faith about the little things, as well as the big things. I really believe God will help you if you involve Him in your life and your plans, but conversely, if you don’t involve Him so much, it can have a negative effect. When I’m not as zealous in my heart about the difference God can make, I don’t cope as well with situations. Like Jesus said, “Without Me you can do nothing”.
I went out last night to hear some Christian songwriters share their stories and perform some of their music. One thing somebody said was: “We can change, but God never changes” – so true. We might feel great; and six months later we might not feel so good, but God stays the same. We were encouraged to remember what we’d already come through, and that’s what I want to do.
I want to be like those Thessalonians. When suffering comes my way, or my friends’ or family’s way, I still want the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit. I want to remember the difference God’s made to me and keep close to Him. That’s my prayer. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).