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May 20 devotional

Read Haggai 1:12-15

“TIdak apalah.” “Biasalah.” These are phrases we sometimes hear, and which sometimes even pop up in our minds. Whenever a task or a project looks difficult, especially if the circumstances or environment is not conducive to it, we tend to put it off. We might feel it is not worth the effort. “Why bother?” It won’t make much difference, we think. Aiyah, tidak apalah.

Of course, these could have adverse effects. A consumer association in Malaysia once pointed out how this lackadaisical attitude could lead to professional negligence, citing some examples from different industries. These included unnecessary surgery and delayed treatment in the healthcare sector, and misplaced advice being given to clients in the legal sector. As the victims often also took the same attitude and did not seek redress, the cycle continued on.

The people in Haggai’s day have a tidak apa attitude. They had returned to their homeland, but for many decades, having been discouraged by an unfriendly environment, they had left the temple in ruins. Worship of God and seeking his pleasure were not prioritized. Accordingly, they unsurprisingly enjoyed little of the Lord’s blessings. In some ways, the solution was obvious, yet the people didn’t feel bothered, so the cycle of discouragement continued.

It’s quite possible to have a similar issue in our spiritual lives. Our job descriptions as Christians are easy to understand. But building up the church and looking out for our brothers and sisters in Christ is no easy task. Seeking to glorify God in all that we do, so that our whole lives are lived in worship to him, takes intentionality, and in our opinion, sometimes there seems to be little tangible reward. Why bother? Tidak apalah.

Our little paragraph from Haggai today helps us in this regard. In verse 12, we now listen in to the response of the community. Last week, we remembered that Haggai was bringing the word of the Lord (v.1). Now, in verse 12, they obey “the voice of the LORD their God.” Why? Because they “feared the LORD.” This does not mean they were terrified into submission, but that they gave due reverence and honour by acknowledging who God is. They had opened their hearts to his Word, and as a result, they were changed.

The leaders, in particular, are instrumental in leading this response. The “whole remnant of the people” are led by Zerubbabel and Joshua, the Davidic governor and high priest, to respond wholeheartedly. As their hearts are softened and they turn back to the LORD, he immediately comes alongside them with these encouraging words “I am with you.” He wants them to know, even before the work of restarting the building project is done, that they can count on him. God loves to see genuine repentance, however feeble it is, and is ready to take that to begin awakening us to keep living for him.

That’s what happens in verses 14-15. As the hearts of the people are stirred to repentance, and a word of encouragement and hope given, the Lord now stirs them to action. They began to make God’s priorities their priorities. Indeed, God was no longer just some random God, or just a God out there somewhere, but “their God”. By the end of the chapter, there is a reversal.  The hearts of the people were hardened, now they have been turned. The temple laid in ruins, now it is being rebuilt.

This can encourage us as Christians today. As Christians, we are led not just by any descendant of David or priest, but we are led by the greatest Son of David, Jesus, who is also our high priest. We are led by the One who models for us a heart given wholly to his heavenly Father. His blood shed for us and his Spirit given to us means we now can have soft hearts, not hardened hearts.

And in an environment that is not always friendly to the priorities and purposes of God, he assures us that if we walk with him, He is walking with us too. What he wants is a willingness to stay poor in spirit, to bring to him our sin, and a heartfelt desire to turn to him regularly in repentance and faith. He has spoken his Word to us to make building for his Kingdom the priority. The question for us, then, is how will we respond. Will we say: Now is not the time? Tidak apalah? Or will we say: “Today is the day!” Open our hearts, and God might just begin a great work of reversal in your life. After all, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Is there a greater reversal than that?

Pray:

  • Pray that God would soften our hearts today, and stir us on to living for him and seeking to build for his kingdom. If our hearts are feeling hardened today, pray especially that his Spirit would soften your heart to his Word. If we are unsure what it means to build for his Kingdom in our lives, pray that God will show you clearly how you can do that specifically in your own situation.
  • Pray on for healthcare workers, to be able to find some time to rest and refresh themselves, especially if they have to face a second wave. Pray for all of us as we have to adjust to new norms in how we interact in public places.

May 13 devotional

During the period of this CMCO, we will be publishing just one devotional a week. For the next 4 weeks, starting today, we will work through the short book of Haggai in the Old Testament.

Read Haggai 1:1-11

In 538BC, the Israelites returned from exile. They had been conquered and carted off to Babylon, but the Persian king Cyrus decreed that God’s people could return to their homeland and rebuild the temple. Ezra 1:1-5 tells us God moved their hearts to return to rebuild a ruined city. However, as a result of local opposition, they stopped building (Ezra 4:1-5, 24). Almost two decades later, the temple still lies in ruins. This is the situation that God sends his prophet Haggai into, to speak words of challenge and comfort. He speaks 4 messages, each focusing on slightly different concerns. It is a book for discouraged people, who find it hard to order their priorities.

As such, Haggai, like all Scripture, is a book for us. As we begin to emerge from our abrupt descent into a coronavirus-ravaged world, we now begin to see more clearly how the landscape has changed. This is our “new normal”, and it certainly isn’t a more glorious one. It’s very likely we’re in for a more difficult time, and so discouragement easily sets in. Very quickly, our desire to live for the Lord begins to wilt and wane.

And so, 1:1, the “word of the LORD” comes. Again and again, in this short book, Haggai stresses no less than 27 times that his message comes from God. Over the coming month, you will read thousands of words on blogs, books, news-articles and WhatsApp messages. But the word we most need to hear in these discouraging times are those from God. Notice how Haggai dates his message, with reference to a pagan king. To an Israelite, that only serves as a painful reminder as to what is missing – namely, there is no son of David on the throne in Jerusalem. Didn’t God promise that a Davidic king will rule forever? It is as if God has turned his back on them. We can feel the same way, which is precisely why we need to hear the word of the Lord.

But perhaps all is not lost. Haggai addresses his first message to two individuals (although obviously the whole community is meant to listen – see 1:12). One is Zerubabbel, governor of Judah, son of Shealtiel, and therefore grandson of Jehoiachin, the Davidic king at the time of exile (1 Chron. 3:17). Here is someone with Davidic lineage! The second is Joshua, a priest from the line of Levi, and responsible for the temple and sacrificial system. There is no king, no temple – but here are two leaders who are symbols of hope things might be different.

The people, however, can’t see this yet. 1:2 reveals to us the people’s attitude. They said – it’s not yet time to rebuild the temple, but at this stage, they had been without the temple for 66 years! Why didn’t they think so? We’re not told exactly, but verse 6 suggest a clue. The people were not blessed with abundant resources, and so they probably prioritized their own material needs above everything else. However, given that in verse 4 they were living in paneled houses, that meant that while they might not have reached the golden years when the economy was booming, they weren’t exactly starving in the streets. They were simply putting their self-interests above God’s purposes. And now the word of the Lord has exposed their self-centred attitudes.

The beginning of Haggai, therefore, challenges us to examine our own priorities. Christians no longer need a physical building in Jerusalem. But the temple God is building today is the people of God. We build this temple as we bring people into faith, and as we help each other grow in faith. The question, however, is which house we care about more – our own house or the house of God (remember, that’s the people not the actual building!). Are we eager to keep building our retirement funds, our career prospects, our family name, at the expense of neglecting our brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we put off thinking about how we care for others because we say: “I’ve got to look after me first?” That’s the attitude God is questioning. “Give careful thought to your ways” he says in verse 5, something he repeats again in verse 7. Clearly, we should!

Why? Because ironically, prioritizing themselves led not to prosperity but poverty. Verse 6 needs to be read against the backdrop of the covenant curses of Deuteronomy 28. To eat and be full is a sign of covenant blessing (eg. Deut. 6:11, 11:15), but the hand of the Lord was withdrawn from them because God was not first in their lives (v.9-11). This was what had gotten them into trouble and into exile in the first place!

Instead, God says, consider your ways, and give priority to my priorities (v.8). Seek my honour and glory. The temple, after all, was a symbol of God’s dwelling place. It showcased his desire for relationship with them. However, by neglecting the temple for almost two decades, the people showed they were indifferent to having a relationship with God. Perhaps they thought: “I can sort out my relationship with God later, let me put my own house in order first!”

This is the prime temptation we will face during this period. As times are hard, many of us will be tempted to think that there is no time for God. There is no time to seek first his kingdom and righteousness (Matt 6:33). Let me concentrate on myself first, we think. Yet Haggai says it is precisely because we do not seek first his kingdom, that times may continue to be difficult. While it is not always the case, God sometimes does permit frustrations to pile up in our lives to help us understand the futility of life without him.

So a good question to ask is: are we putting off investing in our relationship with God, as well as his people? Are we too “busy with [our] own house” (v9)? The Lord Jesus gives us better investment advice. Store up treasures in heaven, he says, where moths and vermin and thieves can never ever break in (Matt 6:20). Then you will eat and be full.

PRAY

  • Pray that we will consider our ways, and ask God for forgiveness where we have selfishly put our own interests above his. Pray that he will show us how we can concretely participate in seeking his kingdom first and building his church in our own particular situations.
  • Pray for workplaces and churches everywhere, and for bosses and Christian leaders, as they work out the best S.O.Ps and guidelines to put in place to minimize risk and ensure a safe working environment for their employees and congregations. Pray that even in times of “social distancing”, people will still find ways to connect with each other.

May 8 devotional

Read Ephesians 4:1-16
In the Bible, there is no such thing as a churchless Christian. Although we are not saved by going to church, the Bible does presuppose we are saved into a church! That is, we are not lone rangers. We are incorporated into Christ’s body. We become part of a new family. We are the living stones of a new temple. 

And even in these strange times, where we cannot gather physically as a church, nonetheless that doesn’t mean the body of Christ has ceased to exist, and we have become individual limbs, severed from one another! God’s intention has always been that through the church, collectively, his manifold wisdom will be displayed (Eph 3:10).

So even though we are currently scattered, what can we do to ensure the church can continue to put on display God’s glory? Ephesians 4:1-16 suggests 3 actions we can take.

Firstly, seek to maintain our Spirit-won unity. Ephesians 4:3 reminds us that our unity is important to God, and that he wants us to put in the effort to ensure we do not break into little, self-centred factions! Why is that? Because the unity Paul is referring to here is no mere, superficial, man-made unity, that is tolerant of a wide range of contradictory and even sub-biblical beliefs. Rather, it is an authentic unity built around a common faith and the one hope of the gospel (v4-6). It is nothing less than a spiritual unity.

How then, should we seek to maintain this unity? Verse 2 shows us the way. We need to be humble, patient and gentle with one another. This will be especially important in the coming days as the MCO is gradually modified and eased. Many of us will have a variety of opinions about how we should navigate the transformed landscape of our lives. Some will feel that some Christians are too reckless, while others will feel other Christians are being too cautious. Some will feel some Christians are being too fearful, while others will feel that another group of Christians are being presumptuous and even selfish.

It is vital, then, that we do not automatically impute bad motives to one another and accuse each other too quickly of dishonouring Christ. Rather, we need to practise verse 2, being quick to listen, giving counsel where it is prudent to do so, and in turn being open and teachable. When we are quick to show grace, we maintain unity and become distinctive in an often graceless society.

Secondly, seek to utilise the gifts Christ has given sovereignly. In verses 7-10, Paul tells us that the ascended Christ, like a triumphant general, has distributed gifts to his people. In verse 11, he particularly gifts some people in the ministry of the Word (all the people mentioned here exercise such a ministry) to equip the church as a whole.

That means we all can still contribute. God has given each Christian particular abilities, talents or skills as a gift! It doesn’t have to be gifts of a dramatic sort. Perhaps you have a natural gift for encouraging conversation! It comes easily to you. So perhaps you could give that elderly person from church who doesn’t really have anyone in her household a telephone call (yes, that’s what phones were originally invented for). Perhaps you can handle and communicate the Scriptures faithfully and with clarity. If so, use it to strengthen the confidence of other Christians to walk with Christ. Whatever the case may be, as Romans 12:7 puts it, just use it! – “if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach.”

For even in the Covid-19 age, the aim of every Christian remains the same, which brings us to our final action. Thirdly, seek to build the body to maturity. Notice in verses 13 and 15 that is the goal. That’s why the church has to be equipped, and why members should not stop speaking the truth in love to one another. And it happens when everybody joins in, moving in the same direction (v16). There is no room for “spectator” Christians.

What does that mean for today? It means though we are physically apart, we should all still be thinking: how can I help my brother or sister in Christ grow spiritually? Perhaps I could arrange to study the Bible together with that person once a week for 45 minutes over Skype. Perhaps I could arrange to be accountable to a prayer triplet. Conversely, it means that we shouldn’t fall prey to the temptation to act like a spiritual consumer during this time, hopping from one livestream to another to see what that church can offer me. That would be directly in contrast to the picture of church Paul has in mind here. Indeed, there is the danger we could remain like the infants of verse 14 when we do so, and worse still, encourage others to also remain as infants.

So regardless of whether Covid-19 exists or not, the aspiration of the church remain the same. We want to put on display God’s glory. Let’s do that in the way Ephesians 4:1-16 prescribes.
Pray

  • Pray that God will help us not become spiritual consumers or spectator Christians, but to seek to keep building the church towards maturity in Christ by utilising our gifts and remaining godly in our relationships.
  • Pray for journalists everywhere to continue to be responsible purveyors of news, for social media not to be a place where fake and even dangerous information could spread, and for people to be discerning in their consumption of news sources.

May 6 devotional

Read Revelation 4

Today, as you open your newspaper, turn on the television, or click on your news app, what do you see? Coronavirus, coronavirus, coronavirus! Either that, or the images and symbols that have become associated with this pandemic. Hazmat suits worn by doctors. Face-masks worn by the general public. Endless graphs produced by epidemiologists. The Zoom grid-view on screens, now familiar to office workers everywhere.

When the first readers of the book of Revelation looked around, what did they see? Rome, Rome, Rome! Everywhere they look, the images and symbols of Rome’s power were there. The eagle, the symbol of Rome’s strength, was everywhere in public. Look at a lamppost and you could even find an eagle affixed there. Or look at their coins – with the images of Caesar embedded onto it. They were constantly reminded who appeared to be in charge.

In Revelation 4:1, John invites us now to look with him. “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven.” A voice has invited him, which from 1:10 we know is the voice of Christ. Vern Poythress, the New Testament scholar, describes this invitation as a little like a visit to an airport control tower. At a busy airport, everything looks like a blur of messy activity, with planes coming and going, luggage loaded and unloaded, a whole range of airport vehicles rushing about in different directions. But come to the control tower, and suddenly the goings-on down below make more sense. And as we follow John, we are now entering the control tower of the universe. In doing so, we see the airport of the world in a new light.

What do we see? There are many details which we could concentrate on, but central to this vision of John is the throne of God. In eleven verses, it is mentioned 11 times. It’s as if we’re given a panoramic view, with verse 4 bringing us to encircle the throne, verse 5 showing us what comes “from” or “before the throne”, and verse 6 taking us to the front and around the throne. And the one who sits on the throne has precious stones and flashes of lightning associated with him (4:2-3, 5). In Ezekiel 1:26-28 and Exodus 19:16, Moses and the prophet Ezekiel witnessed these very things as they encountered God. It is the LORD God, the Creator of the Universe, who is seated there.

So what is being communicated is clear: God alone is at the centre of the universe. He sits in the command chair of the control tower. There are 24 elders right there with him with their thrones (4:4), representing either the universal church or the order of angels, but whoever they represent, they give glory and worship to the Enthroned One (v. 10). John is proclaiming to us: see what stands at the centre of the universe! The glory of God. The majesty of God. The universal kingship of God.

This is brought out further by the description of the throne’s guardians in verses 6b-8. Once again, these are pictures drawn from the Old Testament, especially Ezekiel 1 and 10 and Isaiah 6. They reflect something of his attributes – for instance, the many eyes of these strange creatures point to God’s all-seeing eyes. We’re not meant to worry so much about what these creatures actually are, but to appreciate them as signs that point away from themselves. They all point one way – in the direction of the one true, living, sovereign God. “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come”: they cry (v.8). That is what even the eagle-like creature of verse 7 does. The very image of Rome’s power also has to bow before the throne.

Just imagine what kind of impact that had on the first Christian readers of Revelation, living under the oppressive rule of Rome. God is saying – he still reigns, even when all appearances point otherwise. He has his plans, he has his agenda. His power is infinite, his wisdom is unfathomable. And this is still true today. God is still on the throne. That truth alone should give us great comfort and humility. We are comforted, knowing that though it is difficult to make sense of the statistics of the day, with its mounting number of actives cases and death tolls, God knows what it all means. But it humbles us as well, because it reminds us we don’t direct the flow of history. We’re not even in control of our own destiny. God isn’t here to serve us. We’re here to serve him. So it is his agenda we follow.

But there is great freedom in that, for as the subsequent chapter, Revelation 5, reminds us, the One who actually sits on the Throne is none other than the slain Lamb and the Lion of Judah, Jesus Christ. The King on the Throne is the King who left his home in heaven to do his priestly work of atonement for you. As a result, the One who died for You is now enthroned. And all who are presently distressed or discouraged, can seek sanctuary by putting their faith in him and casting their cares upon him.

So read the newspaper. Be confronted by the images. But after that, lift up your eyes, and ask God to help you see with his eyes, the throne-room of God, the control tower of the universe. Then give him all the praise and honour and glory.

PRAY:

  • Pray that God will help us see the world through his eyes. Pray that even in the midst of all the uncertainty, we will know in our very being that God remains on the throne, and that we can trust him in all things.
  • Pray for the Rohingya refugees. Pray that all their basic needs will be met, for them not to be exploited, and that a viable solution which will protect their human dignity and help their community in the longer term would be found. Pray that the Christian community will not participate in any xenophobic attitudes towards them, but desire for these refugees to discover the mercy of God.

May 1 devotional

Read Colossians 3:15-17

We are relational beings. That’s how God has made us to be – to be people who connect with one another. Even those of us who are introverts still enjoy deep, meaningful one-to-one conversations. That’s what makes these times of physical separation difficult, as they make connecting with one another trickier.

Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It just means we have to get more creative. Even in times of physical separation, we know God continues to call us to engage with one another. In today’s passage, right in the middle of verse 15, God describes us as “members of one body”, intending this identity marker to be the basis of his counsel to us. Although the Christian faith is personal – each of us have to individually choose to put our faith in God – nevertheless it is also inescapably communal. The New Testament regularly reminds us that we have been saved not merely into a “personal relationship”, but into a family, a household, a body. And as members of one body, we therefore belong to one another, and look after each other.

So what can we do, even in these days of spatial distancing, to look out for each other? Here are 3 suggestions from Colossians 3:15-17:

1. Teach one another. In verse 16, we are urged to let God’s Word dwell richly in our lives. Perhaps that’s why you’re reading this devotional right now, because you wish to let the Scriptures continue to mould your heart and your mind so that it will settle on Christ himself, and saturate our souls with knowledge of his love, grace, kindness and wisdom. That’s fantastic. But notice where the emphasis of verse 16 lies. The word of Christ is not simply to dwell in us as individuals, but amongst us as a community, as we seek to teach and admonish one another. In other words, share the treasure!

So how can you intentionally do that in these times? There are many ways. In verse 16, it comes as we sing together. That’s not quite possible at the moment, but one possibility is simply for us to look at the songs of Scripture together, the psalms, and intentionally discuss them with others in your family, or on your small group WhatsApp.

To extend the application, perhaps you could share these or other helpful devotionals with others. Perhaps you could send a little message to another Christian friend, reflecting and summarising what God has been teaching you today (but don’t be long-winded about it! 😊)  Perhaps take advantage of video conferencing tools to make sure you’re still meeting as a small group to study the Scriptures today even as you continue to share both your light-hearted moments and your burdens with one another. And don’t forget, Paul mentions that we should “admonish” one another as well. That doesn’t mean we deliberately seek out the faults of others, but it does mean we should continue to hold each other accountable.

2. Be at peace with one another. In verse 15, we’re to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts”. This could so easily be misunderstood as simply a call to seek inner peace. However, that is not the sense Paul is intending here. The word translated “rule” in this verse is literally a Greek word that means something like “umpiring”. Peace is like the official in a sports game who decides on matters of dispute. That makes sense in context, where Paul has been focusing on how God’s people should interact with one another. So basically, Paul is saying – let the peace of Christ be the referee in your relationships! It’s not that you can’t have convictions, but you shouldn’t be intentionally quarrelsome.

What does that look like? It means in your household, we need to continue clothing ourselves with compassion, bearing with and forgiving one another (see v.12). As we stay cooped up together, it’s harder work as our flaws become more apparent! In online conversation, misunderstandings are easier without the benefit of verbal cues and body language. As we remain isolated, negative thoughts and grudges fester more easily.

So we need to constantly guard against that. That’s where verse 16 comes in again, for it is the message of Christ that frees us from bitterness and allows us to pursue truth and reconciliation.

3. Be thankful for one another. Did you notice gratitude is something that comes up in each of these verses, right at the end? In verses 16 and 17, it is thankfulness to God. In verse 15, it is more general, but given what he’s just said, surely it must include gratitude for one another as well. Perhaps take the time today to think of those in your current household, and what you could be thankful for. Think of other Christians, and take a minute or two to consider what you appreciate about them. Think about your small group leader, and perhaps don’t just think, but even take the time to drop a note of encouragement to him. That makes a world of difference, and will motivate him to care for you even more!

So let’s make sure during this time, we don’t stop looking out for one another. Rather, see it as an opportunity for growth, not just in yourselves, but an opportunity to encourage growth in others as well, whether in word or deed. All this for His glory. Amen.

PRAY:

  • Pray that we would not easily retreat into ourselves, but continue to seek opportunities to teach one another, remain at peace with one another, and be thankful for one another. Pray especially for your small group or other Christians, that they might be places or relationships of love, support, kindness and patience.
  • Pray for the church to remain united as one body even in these times when they can’t physically gather. Pray that they will continue to be one in purpose, mindset and mission, to be a people purified for Jesus and eager to do what is good (Titus 2:14).

April 29 devotional

Read Matthew 11:25-30

The streets are quiet. The city centres are empty. But the chaos of the world has not subsided. Think of the frontliners, dealing with the stress of coming into contact with potentially infected people everyday. Think of the parents, trying to juggle work alongside taking care of young children. Think of the students, trying to work out if they have the bandwidth and navigate remote learning. Think of the self-employed, who have turned into insomniacs overnight as they look at the bills. And of course, think of the sick themselves. Say no more.

And then Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” We have no words left to say. But he does.

In this little portion of Scripture today, I want us to notice three little things. The first two are to do with the who, and the third has to do with the what. In verse 28, Jesus is not issuing a command. Neither is he issuing a warning. Rather, he is issuing an invitation. And notice, first of all, to whom the invitation is given. He’s not inviting those who have it all together, breezing through life’s challenges. He’s not inviting those who are well-adjusted, with little anxiety and worry. Rather, Jesus extends his invitation to those on the brink of burnout, with spiking stress levels and yes, who therefore find themselves often angry, sometimes doubtful, sporadically unkind, and irrepressibly self-focused. As J.C Ryle, in his classic devotional on Matthew, puts it: “He imposes no hard conditions; he does not say anything about work to be done first, or establish[es] whether we deserve his gifts”.

So today, are you feeling frazzled and fatigued? Are you dejected that once again, you know you’ve not been a “good” Christian and lived up to God’s standards? Do you feel unworthy, especially since you know the image you have of yourself as someone who is capable and adept is being shattered, piece by piece? Jesus says: this invitation is for you. In this time, don’t run away from me. Come to me.

And that brings us to our second who. Second of all, notice who Jesus is inviting them to meet. Himself. In verse 28, he says: “Come to me.” In verses 29-30, his statements are full of references to himself. “Take my yoke.” “Learn from me”. “For my yoke…and my burden…” This invitation is all about him. Now Matthew 11:28 is a verse many Christians have some familiarity with. But fewer Christians have familiarity with its immediate context. This section begins with a description of God himself. If verses 28-30 are full of references to Jesus, then verses 25-27 are full of references to God the Father. And Jesus reminds us of God’s majesty and sovereignty. He is the Lord of heaven and earth. He knows more than even the wise and learned of this earth.

But to know this God, verse 27, there is only one path. Jesus makes that clear. It is only through knowing Jesus. For Jesus alone can reveal the Father – no one else. And that is why Jesus is inviting us to come to him. Do you want to know God, the Lord of heaven and earth, as your heavenly Father?  Then come to Jesus. For when Jesus invites the weary and heavy-burdened, he is inviting us to come like little children. And that is exactly the kind of people whom God also wishes to invite into relationship with him (v.25-26): those like children, not those who know it all. He wants to care for us as a good Father.

And that brings us to the what. Third of all, notice what Jesus is inviting us into. Rest. Now that usually conjures up for us images of comfortable couches, sandy beaches, and long lunches. But Jesus turns our expectations upside down in verse 29. Take my yoke, he says. What?!? A yoke is a wooden beam normally used between a pair of oxen to enable them to pull together on a load when working in pairs, as oxen usually do, although they can be fitted to individual animals as well. That sure doesn’t sound relaxing or restful!

But that’s what Jesus promises his rest would be like. A yoke. But here’s the difference – verse 30 – his yoke is easy and his burden is light. So what is Jesus actually promising? Notice in verse 29 he talks about learning from him. And so his yoke is related to his teaching. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is often found teaching. In Matthew 5-7 he gives his famous Sermon on the Mount, and in Matthew 13, he will teach parable after parable about the kingdom. And Jesus is saying: when we receive the yoke of his kingdom teaching, we find rest.

So his promise is not that life would necessarily get easier. His promise is not that the chaos will disappear immediately. Rather, his promise is this: ‘Come to me, and receive my yoke. And I know it sounds paradoxical, but as you walk my way – you will find rest. You will find rest from knowing you are doing my will. You will find rest from knowing you are living for what’s meaningful. You will find rest from knowing I deal with you gently, as I did when on the cross, I cried to my Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’

For we were always designed to know him. So why not take Jesus up on his offer today? Perhaps you’ve been seeking rest in other things. The buzz of constantly working. The status conferred by doing something noble. The good name that comes from looking good to others. But Jesus alone offers true rest for our souls. As Ryle once again puts it: “he only asks us to come to him just as we are, with all our sins, and to submit ourselves like little children to his teaching.” Shall we seek rest in him today?

PRAY

  • Run to Jesus today, tell him about your tiredness, your problems and your sin, and then ask him to help you be humble, and to give it all to him. Thank him for his love demonstrated on the cross, and then ask him to help you submit to him and to seek his kingdom first, even in this stressful time.
  • Pray for those especially who are in nursing homes, rehabilitation centres, prisons, and in other places where mobility is especially limited. Pray for God’s presence to be with the lonely, and to bring understanding to those who do not know why their family members are not visiting them. Pray for the staff members to not grow weary but to do their best to provide care.

April 24 devotional

Read Isaiah 43:1-5

Extension, again?!? On one level, we know why it’s necessary. We know why it’s vital. But we’re beginning to feel exhausted.

That comes as no surprise, because some of the most basic elements of our lives are now being tested. According to some psychologists, there are three elements that contribute to our sense of well-being and meaning. Firstly, we have a stable and positive view of ourselves – we have inherent worth, and we are competent. We can generally handle life and take care of ourselves. Secondly, we see the world as generally benevolent. In other words, it is mainly populated by people we can count on. When I go to the supermarket, for instance, unless given clear evidence to the contrary, I do not normally think the cashier is plotting to cheat me of my money. Thirdly, we believe the world to be mostly predictable. We like a sense of order in our lives – knowing that the sun will rise and set every day, that Sunday morning means going to church, and so on. When these are upset, we feel especially vulnerable, as they make life difficult to comprehend.

That’s what Covid-19 does. When the virus picks off people seemingly at random, and when brilliant scientists still struggle to know how the virus works exactly – it upsets our view of ourselves as worthy and competent. Furthermore, the virus causes us to be suspicious of each other, especially when we see someone leaving their homes – “does he have a valid reason for going out?” We immediately think. We are less likely to see our neighbours through benevolent eyes. And the virus has overturned our lives – our futures are no longer predictable, and even on the level of geo-politics, the old order of things seems to be gone. It is no wonder our sense of well-being is at risk.

Israel’s sense of well-being is at risk. These words are heard in the midst of their exile, and it is in exile where Israel’s identity feels as if it’s being dissolved. I thought we were God’s treasured possession? I thought we were called to be blessed and be a blessing? But now their future prospects look dim. The most basic elements of their identity are being stripped. Their very existence is at stake. And so they feel vulnerable. Life is difficult to comprehend, and perhaps hardly even worth living for.

And it is to this deep sense of vulnerability that God speaks. He says twice: “Do not fear” (v.1, 5). Why? In verse 1, the LORD tells us. He holds us in his hands. Just as the LORD shaped the physical universe, so he has reshaped these group of ragtag people into his holy nation. And what he did with Israel, he does with the church. Just as a potter carefully shapes everything in his hands, so the Lord carefully ensures he is making something that matches his specifications. And God doesn’t just form and shape us, he’s called us by name. He has summoned us and reminded us: we belong to him.

Furthermore, in verse 2, God assures us he will cover us. Back in verse 1, the Hebrew word translated “redeemed” here is slightly different from the word normally translated as such. Here it indicates the kinsman-redeemer, one who ensures that a helpless relative is cared and provided for. That’s what God does. The fire and water denote the threats and tribulations God’s people are facing. Yet God declares he will walk with us through the waters and the fire. The waters will soak us, but it will not drown us. The fire will cause us to sweat, and there are times it will cause us to stagger, but it will not consume us.

And notice why he does this. In verse 4, he says it simply. “I love you!” That’s it! For “you are precious and honoured in my sight”. And he does this also because, verse 3, that’s the kind of God he is! He’s always been Holy. He’s always been the Saviour. He delivered them out of Egypt, and he made an exchange by sending a Substitute. Wasn’t there deliverance and substitution with Abraham and Isaac? Wasn’t there deliverance and substitution in the Exodus with the Passover? What God is saying is that in one sense, he is utterly predictable. He always acts like a Holy, Saving God. For where else do we see deliverance and substitution? In Jesus Christ himself, our very Ransom.

And so this is what Isaiah 43:1-5 tells us. We don’t have to create our own self-worth. God has given us our self-worth. And we can see him not just as generally benevolent, but always so. He is someone we can always trust. And he is predictable. There can be a sense of order to our world, because of the reality of who God is. His character never, ever changes. It is utterly predictable.

Make no mistake, Covid-19 has laid a heavy burden on our mental health, and indeed our very souls. We’ve been left vulnerable as our very sense of well-being is being stretched like never before. But praise God, in Christ, there is redemption. There is an anchor for our souls. There is a place where our very being can be restored to wholeness. There is a future to look forward to. Praise Him, and do not be afraid.

PRAY:

  • As we begin to feel exhausted and hopeless, that we would lean on the God who formed us, loves us, and will walk with us through fire and water.
  • For all those who are facing mental health issues, that they would be adequately cared for, and during this time, the Lord will protect them and give them what they need.

Pastor Brian

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