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When things seem to go wrong

Three short prayers

  • “Change my shyness into boldness for you. Let my voice be loud and clear with the words you want me to speak.”
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  • “May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in your sight O Lord, our Rock and and our Redeemer”
    Psalm 19 verse 14
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  • My third prayer is only eight words long, but for me it stands alongside the creed and the Lord’s Prayer as the clearest statement to the enemy as to what we believe, where we stand, and to whom we turn. This prayer is an invitation. When I say these words out loud I often invite people, if they wish, to hold out their hands as a symbol of their willingness to receive God’s gift.
    “Come Holy Spirit, in the Name of Jesus.”

Why the Holy Spirit?

He is the Power of God at work in the world. His many recorded activities include “hovering over the waters” at the time of the creation (recorded right at the beginning of the first book of the Bible) Genesis chapter 1 verse 1, His visit to the Virgin Mary that resulted in the conception of Our Lord (recorded in the second biography of Jesus within the Bible, the book of Luke) Luke chapter 1 verse 35, His coming down in power at Pentecost that gave the apostles such an anointing that their preaching could trigger a rapid growth in the Church (in the second chapter of the book recording the Acts of the Apostles) Acts 2.

Why in Jesus’ Name?

Jesus is our representative and mediator in ‘the heavenlies’. It was He who promised and sent His Holy Spirit.

Three statements
  1. We always love the Lord our God with everything we have.
  2. Bearing in mind the wide definition of ‘neighbour’ quoted by Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we always love our neighbours, and likewise ourselves.
  3. Nothing ever goes wrong.
The first and second statement, expressed in my words bring out the content of the two great commandments Jesus gave us (recorded in the first biography of Jesus in the Bible, the book of Matthew, chapter 22 verses 37-40) on which he said, “hang all the law and the prophets” (in other words the distillation of everything that the Law, recorded in the Bible and the teachings of the Prophets, recorded in the Bible tell us about how we should live our lives).

They set a standard of perfection, and clearly we are far from perfect, however they are commandments that we should try to keep. They are about relationship; if we can get our relationship on good terms with God it is easier to maintain a good relationship with each other. This is fundamental to society at all levels. Satan seeks to destroy our relationships wherever we interact with other people, especially within Christian marriages families and churches. We’ll look a bit later at some of the ways he does this.

The third statement is clearly not true. Things often do go wrong, or at least ‘seem’ to go wrong; reinforcing the thought that God does have His hand on everything. Indeed James, in chapter 1 of his letter (the book of James in the Bible)says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance”. I would recommend you to read that whole passage if you are not familiar with it.

Sometimes things do go wrong, sometimes they just seem to go wrong.

When this happens it may be worth considering “What is God’s purpose in this?” and “Can God bring good out of this situation?”

Philippians (the letter to the church in Phillipi) chapter 4 tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (verse 4), and talks about “the secret of being content in every situation” (verse 12) - another section of the Bible well worth reading. Our readings this evening focus on two situations where things seemed to go wrong.

On the Road to Emmaus
 
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.
 
He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
 
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
 
“What things?” he asked.
 
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
 
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
 
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
 
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
 
Luke 24:13-32 New International Version (NIV)

To Cleopas and his friend things had not just ‘gone wrong’, it was a total disaster. This Jesus, who had shown such power an His teaching and in healing the sick, was the one that they believed would ‘redeem’ Israel, but now He had been slain on a cross. They thought that this was the end of their hopes! But no, Jesus Himself came along and explained the situation. They had not been hearing what the scriptures say. He had to suffer these things and then enter His glory.

Do we know our Bibles?
Jesus quoted the ‘scriptures’ three times to withstand the three recorded temptations by satan (Matthew chapter 4 verses 1 - 11). Also (the letter to the church in Ephesus) Ephesians chapter 6 verse 12 says “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God”. Reading, hearing and discussing the Word is so important in our lives.

The second passage of the Bible we’re looking at is about Joseph (of ‘amazing technicolour dreamcoat’ fame). By way of background, Joseph was the favourite of 12 sons of his father Jacob (also known as ‘Israel’) and Jacob made him a richly ornamented robe (described elsewhere as a coat of many colours).

Do we know why he was favourite? . . . ?
We are told in the book of Genesis chapter 37 that Joseph was the favourite “because he had been born to him in his old age”.
I suspect that it was also because he was the first son born to Rachel, the wife Jacob loved.

Jacob had agreed to serve Rachel’s father Laban for seven years in return for her hand in marriage. Because he loved her so much the seven years seemed like a few days. The wedding day came; perhaps it was quite dark, and perhaps they plied Jacob with a lot of wine, but Laban pulled a fast one, and Jacob woke the next morning with Rachel’s older sister Leah beside him. He did not love her, she was not as beautiful as her sister, and had weak eyes. The excuse was that it was their family tradition for the older sister to marry first, Jacob could marry Rachel as well and then serve a further seven years in return. He also married the two sisters’ maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah, and, between them, the four of them produced twelve sons, two of them, Joseph and Benjamin to Rachel.

It seems that Jacob would have spent most of his nights with Rachel; it is recorded in Genesis 30 verse 15 that Leah said that Rachel had “taken away her husband”; she ‘hired’ him back for a night in exchange for some mandrakes. I believe that his special relationship with Rachel extended to a special relationship with her son Joseph, and that he would have taught Joseph about his spiritual experiences, including his dream about a staircase from earth to heaven, with angels coming and going, and the occasion when he wrestled with God all night and prevailed. Certainly Joseph grew with spiritual insight evidenced in prophetic dreams (that turned his jealous brothers against him even more) and the gift of interpreting the dreams of others. There is so much good stuff in the book of Genesis, much better than Coronation Street and Eastenders, not least because it is true.

To bring us up to the next reading, Jacob sent Joseph out to check on his brothers who were away tending the sheep, they plotted to kill him but one of them, Reuben, persuaded them to sell him as a slave, he was taken to Egypt and went to work for Potipher, the captain of Pharaoh’s Guard, because he refused to sleep with Potipher’s wife she falsely accused him and had him thrown into prison, there he interpreted dreams for Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer, and the cupbearer reported this to Pharaoh when Pharaoh had two dreams and Joseph was called to interpret them. Joseph was called before Pharaoh and explained to him that there were to be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, and Joseph was given a high position in Egypt with the job of storing up grain during the years of plenty to be distributed in the years of famine. When the famine struck Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph recognised them but they did not recognise him.

Joseph makes himself known
 
Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.
 
Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
 
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
 
“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt”.
 
Genesis 45:1-8 New International Version (NIV)

What would you have said to your brothers in Joseph’s position?

He had the power to have them killed, thrown into prison, tortured, or sold as slaves. He did not judge them, condemn them or reject them.

These are all tools Satan can use in our lives if we allow him to. We found out when fostering that children who had been rejected by their parents often found it difficult to accept others. This can sometimes pass down the generations. Condemning ourselves or others can be such a negative force. (the letter to the church on Rome) Romans chapter 8 verse 1 says “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Why do we so often overlook that?

Judgement can be a more difficult thing. We have to make judgements, whether buying a new, or more so a second hand car, or when taking on someone to work for us, or whatever else. Many of us made a judgment as to how to vote in the EU referendum last June. Differences of opinion were and still are very strong, even among those who claim political expertise. Some voted for personal reasons, offshore fishermen struggling with quotas, farmers who want an assurance of getting overseas labour for fruit picking, and so on.

Then we do need to make judgments I suggest that we need to consider our motives carefully and honestly, respect the right of others to their opinions, pray, and above all walk in love. Remember that it is sometimes destructive to criticise others. We can never really have an assurance of what is best because we cannot be ‘in’ and ‘out’ at the same time, and there is still a lot of debate about the extent of being ‘out’. One thing that troubles me is that there have been broken friendships over this difference of opinion, with I am told, highly condemning criticism on social media.

 

N.B. Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.