In concluding our studies on the psalms of thanksgiving, tonight we looked at the importance of story-telling our own lives and in witness. Psalm 107:2 says ‘Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story’, and it’s vital that we all understand the importance of testimony in reminding us of all God has done (redeemed us from the hand of the foe and gathered us from different lands, Ps 107:2-3). Our stories of all God has done for us can be powerful tools in keeping a right perspective and in evangelism.
Jesus told stories (parables) all the time, engaging his audience with stories that intrigued and drew them in to the larger story of God’s works. Stories are non-threatening and subversive, working their way into our imaginations and hearts, often changing us by allowing us to observe and then participate (think of Nathan’s story of the rich man and the lamb which penetrated David’s defences and brought him to repentance after committing murder and adultery.)
Psalm 107 lists four different scenarios which could be said to represent different situations and difficulties faced in life; all bear the common theme of God’s intervention and deliverance. The recurring refrain ‘then they cried out to the Lord in their troubles, and He delivered them from their distress’ (Ps 107:6, 13, 19, 28) shows us that whilst circumstances may differ, God does not! His deliverance may come in different ways, but His desire and ability to rescue never change.
Our response is to ‘give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for all mankind.’ (Ps 107:8, 15, 21, 31). Thanksgiving helps us to remember what God has done and to keep a right perspective in all situations; Paul reminds us to give thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thess 5:18)
Ps 107 concludes that the one who is wise needs to ‘heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.’ (Ps 107:43) Psalms of thanksgiving arise from the hearts of people who ponder what the Almighty can do and has already done. What has God done for you? What is your story? How can you best tell it?
There is a proverb that says ‘good things come in little packages’, which has often encouraged me since I’m not very tall! As a child, we tend to like the ‘big’ presents at Christmas; as adults, our presents tend to get smaller but cost even more! (Think of jewellery or computer equipment, for example…)
At the end of 1 Thessalonians, Paul gives us several commandments: sentences that are direct and to the point, but which contain a host of vital information. These ‘final instructions’ contain a wealth of guidance and direction, each wrapped in little packages:
- Acknowledge those who work hard among you
- Hold them in the highest regard in love
- Warn those who are idle and disruptive
- Encourage the disheartened
- Help the weak
- Be patient with everyone
- Don’t pay back wrong for wrong
- Strive to do what is good for others
- Rejoice always
- Pray continually
- Give thanks in all circumstances
- Don’t quench the Spirit
- Don’t treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all
- Hold on to what is good
- Reject every kind of evil
Phew! That’s a lot of little packages to unpack and ponder!
Living ‘worry-free’ seems a pipe-dream to most of us (a pipe dream is an unrealistic hope or fantasy, a phrase alluding to the strange dreams experienced by smokers of opium pipes in the 18th and 19th centuries.) We spend our lives steeped in worry, to the extent that even a lack of worry can induce anxiety in us!
Yet worrying betrays a lack of trust in a benevolent God whose care for the lilies and sparrows should remind us that nothing is too small to escape His loving attention. (Matt 6:25-34) When we worry, we effectively say we don’t believe God cares enough to help us or is not powerful enough to help us… and so we take on to our shoulders responsibilities and burdens we were never designed to bear.
One way of overcoming worry is taking time out at regular intervals throughout the day to stop and consciously focus our attention on God. This helps us to allow God into our lives and gives us the opportunity to hand our worries over to Him. I frequently write down the worries, put them in an envelope and post them to God (via the dustbin.) They are then His problem, not mine!
Another antidote to worry is praise. It’s hard to remain anxious when we sing out the truth of God’s Word (‘over fear, over lies, we’re singing the truth/That nothing is impossible with You,’ as Rend Collective sing.) Singing is one of the best ways I know to dispel worry.
Ultimately, it’s a question of where we put our trust. We either trust God to take care of us (living ‘care-less’ because ‘He cares for us’ (1 Pet 5:7)), or we believe it’s all down to us (living like Atlas, with the world on our shoulders). As Matt Redman reminds us, God wants to ‘take the world off my shoulders , the weight of it all off my shoulders’ (‘Hope Is Marching On‘).
Living worry-free isn’t easy, but it is possible if we put our trust in a God who cares for us more than we can ever imagine.
‘Stop mithering!‘ was a phrase I heard frequently in my childhood. For those of you not brought up in the Barnsley area of South Yorkshire, ‘mither’ (with a long ‘i’, as in ‘might’) may not be a familiar word. It means to fuss over something, usually with a negative connotation such as moaning or grumbling. It was a phrase I heard a lot because, sad to say, I’m an expert at mithering.
When I mither, I ‘sweat the details.’ As a pedantic control freak, I tend to see sweating the details as quite a virtue, a unique selling point, almost! I like to be organised and to work out the little details. For years I organised speaking tests at school which involved military precision timing and movement as one pupil had to be moved, under supervision, from a preparation room to the exam room without any chance of meeting another pupil en route. (Not as easy as it might sound in the building I worked in!) There is, however, a fine line between organisation and mithering. My organisation frequently falls into the fussing category, and before I am even vaguely aware of the fact, tips into downright worry.
Jesus was unequivocal about the pointlessness of worry: ‘Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?’ He asked (Matt 6:27) Worry saps our energy and achieves nothing except our own loss of peace. Yet so often we fuss, worry, moan and complain as an alternative to trust.
Jesus told us not to worry, and for those of us whose initial reaction to that commandment is ‘easier said than done!’ offered us a practical alternative to worrying: ‘Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.’ (Matt 6:33) There truly is no need to mither, because God know our needs (Matt 6:32) and has promised to supply them (Phil 4:19). As Stephen reminded us last night, the antidote to living life in a worried lather (‘a mucksweat’, to keep to Yorkshire idioms!) is to trust the God who is able to do ‘immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.’ (Eph 3:20)
We celebrated two birthdays tonight from the same family.
Thanks were given tonight to Gillian, who has served faithfully for many years in the music team, playing the piano on Sunday evenings. Now she feels it’s time to step down from this role, and we wanted to thank her for her faithfulness and worshipping heart. Thank you very much!
Life can so often seem full of limits: speed limits, limits to how many items can be bought on the special offers in supermarkets, limits to how many calories you’re supposed to consume in a day, download limits, height limits and so on. Many of these limits are for our protection and safety and we easily become used to these and view them rather like a box where we have to keep the lid on for our own good…
The problem comes when we apply these limitations to God. Ps 78:41 talks of how the Israelites repeatedly put God to the test, limiting (or vexing) Him. God has promised limitless supply and help (see Phil 4:19), but so often we prefer the safety of our life-limiting box to the abundant life God has promised us.
This can be seen in several different areas:
- Trust (it’s easy to think we are trusting God when all is going according to our plans, but much harder when we don’t know what the outcome of a particular situation will be. Matt 17:20 tells us that with faith as small as a mustard seed mountains can be moved: ‘nothing will be impossible for you.’ Trust leads us to a place where the impossible becomes possible!)
- Fear (so often, fear can be a stumbling-block to us. We prefer the safety of our box, even with all its limits, to the vastness of God’s wide unknown.)
- Leaning (so often, we lean on our understanding and ingenuity, but Prov 3:5-6 reminds us that we need to trust God with all our hearts and refuse to lean on our own understanding.)
- Lack of expectation (seen so often in our lack of expectation that God will heal us (‘this is a trial I have to bear’) and our lack of expectation that God will do miracles in our day)
Job 11:17 reminds us of the awesome power of God; His understanding has no limits (Ps 147:5) and Jesus has promised to give the Spirit without limit (Jn 3:34). We can open the lid on the box of our lives and inhabit the vast country called salvation where God can do more than we ask or imagine. (Eph 3:20) It may seem daunting and even scary, but this way of living in God’s limitless supply has the power to transform our lives.
This morning at Cherry Tree Court, Pat reminded us of the Jewish heritage from which Christianity is derived. The New Testament cannot be fully understood without reference to the Old Testament, and this morning, in looking at Matthew 9:18-25, she referred back to Numbers 15:37-41 where God gave Moses instructions about the Jewish tassels that were attached to their garments, which the bleeding woman probably took hold of. These tassels were reminders of the commandments of God (the blue thread reminded the people of these whilst the white threads reminded them of the holiness of God.)
A tallit (Jewish prayer shawl) is a large rectangular shawl made of wool, cotton or synthetic fibres. In each of the four corners of the shawl are strings tied in a particular pattern, called tzitzit. The shawl contains written blessings which Jews use as prayers. Pat’s tallit contained Scriptures from 2 Cor 5, Matthew 14, Mal 4:2, Is 53:5 and would be used by Jews who have come to faith in Jesus as Messiah to aid them in prayer. The number of tzitzit is often symbolic and meant to remind Jews of specific aspects of faith.
Prayer involves drawing close to God and dwelling under the shadow of His wing (see Ps 91:1). The Jews often were given symbolic means to do this and it can be helpful for us also at times to use similar symbolic means when we draw near to God to act as reminders and to focus our attention on Him.
Fredrick sent us photographs today of Amshika, whom he and Reeba visit regularly. We are very pleased to be able to support this little girl who is severely disabled and are grateful for your generosity in making this possible.