I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me:
let us exalt his name together. (Psalm 34:1-3)
The psalmist calls us to join him in praising the Lord, and so often we can respond with a cynical laugh or a world-weary sigh. “Really? After the week I’ve just had?” Yet he calls us to praise him nevertheless, saying that even the afflicted have reasons to rejoice. Why?
I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame. (v4-5)
Shame makes us hide away, afraid of being seen for what we are. Our sins are a dark stain we can’t remove. But those who look to him, by contrast, are radiant and shining.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them. (v6-7)
This is how the afflicted, the sinful, the weighed down can rejoice: the Lord hears them and saves them. The Sent One of the Lord delivers his people, saying to those that would condemn them, “No more! No further! My people are safe in my embrace.”
Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.(v8-10)
You frail and weary people, taste and see! Knowing the Lord brings hope to the darkest times. Christ the Rock is your refuge, even from the righteous wrath of God. Ultimately, he gives you himself. And so those who seek the Lord lack no good thing—because they have him.
Following on from yesterday, I was reminded earlier of this excellent article by Paul Blackham on the resurrection hope of Christians:
What kind of future are we hoping for? What kind of everlasting future does the Bible offer to us? What was Jesus Himself looking ahead to? The physical character of the Christian hope is totally different from all the human religions of the world.
Well worth a read.
The desert and parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. (Isaiah 35:1-2)
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21)
Then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory”. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-58)
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2)
Spring speaks of resurrection. (Inspired by Glen Scrivener, Sim Jemmett and Martin Luther.)
Everything in our natural experience works against resurrection hope. Our ordinary lives teach us to believe Monty Python’s line: “Life is quite absurd and death’s the final word.” Life leads to death. That’s the trajectory of this world and of Adam its original head. Life and then death.
But Jesus came to reverse the way of Adam. He came to turn the world right-side-up. And therefore it strikes the children of Adam as utterly new and strange. On that first Easter Sunday, the women came to the tomb expecting to pay their last respects to a departed friend. They came to mark an ending. Instead they were witnesses to the one great beginning.
He is risen – and one day, we too will be raised. What grace.
Britain is sometimes referred to as a nation of grumblers. Complaining about things is somewhat of a national sport. It’s raining? We wish it were sunny. It’s sunny? We complain about the heat. If I’m driving you somewhere you’ll hear exasperated comments like “indicate, why don’t you?” or “do you want to cause an accident?”. I’m not yet thirty and already I’m complaining about “kids these days”.
The British pale into insignificance, however, when compared with the people of Israel on their way to the promised land. In Numbers we hear:
The Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4b-6)
The Lord has rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and is taking them to a land full of blessing. Each day he gives them all the nourishment they need by providing manna – bread from heaven. Yet the people long for the days of slavery in Egypt. “We were better off there”, they say. “In Egypt we had cucumbers!”
It’s not just a few grumbles about physical comforts. The Lord tells us the spiritual reality behind what they’re doing:
“You have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”” (Numbers 11:20)
The Israelites are still in the wilderness. They’ve not yet made it to the promised land. But in the wilderness the Lord is with them. 1 Corinthians 10:4 tells us that they “drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ”. By saying they’d rather be back in Egypt, they are “rejecting the Lord, who is among [them]”. They’d rather have cucumbers in chains, than know freedom with Christ.
As we travel through the wilderness of this world, we too are prone to grumble. The Christian life is hard; we face trials and temptations; we can very easily take our eyes off the Lord. Rather than turn to him in our anguish, we turn away from him and grumble.
What is it that you grumble about? I complain about my job, ill health, wet weather and missed buses. I grumble about how much better other people’s lives seem than mine. In doing so, I forget all the ways the Lord has blessed me and continues to bless me.
How do we address grumbling? Not by excusing it (“everyone does it”), nor by blithely ignoring it (“cheer up, it’s not that bad!”). No – we take our grumbles to our loving Father, who never ceases to do good to his children. He knows that we live in the wilderness, but gives us the true Bread of Heaven to eat (John 6:26-35). We look to Jesus – and as we see him, we find that his goodness outshines all the darkness around us. Who needs cucumbers when you can have Christ?
(Reflections on “Cucumbers rather than Christ”, the talk given at Emmanuel Bristol yesterday. Further reading: Glen Scrivener on the Bread of Heaven and Dan Hames on what the wilderness years point to.)
God never ceases to do good to his children.
We had a weekend away as a church recently, and spent some time looking at the first chapter of the letter of James. We are to “consider it pure joy” whenever we face trials, because through perseverance we become “mature and complete” (James 1:2-4).
Christians will face trials. James says “whenever” you face trials. Trials will come.
When they do, we can view them in different ways. One is to see them as irredeemable difficulties, out of God’s control. Another is to believe that God is at work in and through them to make us more like Jesus.
James calls us to the latter, reassuring us that God has purposes in our trials. We can consider them pure joy because we know they serve to grow us into spiritual maturity, even if we cannot see how.
And so James can write in verse 17:
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
It’s not a sudden change of topic, as if he got fed up of talking about trials and suffering and wants to turn to the good things God gives us. No, even the trials themselves can be seen as good gifts from God. God doesn’t change – one moment feeling benevolence and sending blessings, the next feeling vindictive and sending suffering. Rather, God is continually doing good to his children through the trials.
Paul writes in Romans 8:28:
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.
All things. Not just the easy and comfortable things, but the hard and painful things. Not just times of plenty, but times of famine. Not just times of joy, but times of sorrow.
The hymn-writers of old knew it. William Cowper wrote:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
An unknown hymn writer wrote:
When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply;
The flame shall not harm you; I only design
Your dross to consume and your gold to refine.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Cowper was depressed. Matheson was blind. Spafford lost four of his daughters at sea. Yet each knew the “streams of mercy, never ceasing” that flowed from the fount of every blessing. God was at work through their trials, and was with them in their trials. The same is true for us.
God never ceases to do good to his children.
Now Lord, I would be yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow your commands
Could never come from me.
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ.
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life.
Brokenness is not the end of the story. Our pain is deep, but it is not all-encompassing; our loss is enormous, but it is not eternal; death is our enemy, but it does not have the final word. The wounded Lamb is also the Lion of Judah and one day he will reign in his perfect rule of love, peace and justice. Such is the hope of the gospel.