Prayer that is learned

To Follow Jesus

My notes on Every Day with Jesus, written by Selwyn Hughes; revised and updated by Mick Brooks, published by CWR.

July/August 2015 Issue – Pursued by Grace,  ‘I know that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love’  (Jonah 4:2)

The text set for today’s reading and meditation:

Jonah 2:2 (NIVUK):“He (Jonah) said: ‘In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.'”

Selwyn has this to say: “Now we come to the words of the prayer Jonah spoke … the surprising thing about this prayer is that it is a prayer of thanksgiving and not a prayer of repentance.

Commentators agree that though there is no mention of repentance in this prayer, Jonah had actually come to the point where he had turned back to God. … Clearly something significant had happened in his soul, though we have no record of it.

What we shall find now as we go through Jonah’s prayer verse by verse is that it is closely aligned to the prayers of the psalmists. … Jonah it seems, had been nourished by the book of the Psalms, and in the midst of a crises he prayed in the way that others before him had prayed.”

Now, I think it’s good to study the psalms and to be familiar with the language of the psalmists. But to copy them parrot fashion, I think is of no use at all. It’s the same with many of the prayers said in church services, such as the Lord’s Prayer, if they are said with feeling, love and understanding then they can be a real blessing, however, if they are repeated in a way that the words don’t even register with one’s heart – then, they are of little use.

The important thing to remember is that if we can’t think of the words to offer God in prayer, then the Holy Spirit will help us find the right ones to say – words, which will have meaning and will be pleasing to our Lord. They may also be found in the psalms but many times they will be your own unique words.

In Romans 8:26-27, we read: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

What is your view on this issue?

Confined by God

To Follow Jesus

My notes on Every Day with Jesus, written by Selwyn Hughes; revised and updated by Mick Brooks, published by CWR.

July/August 2015 Issue – Pursued by Grace,  ‘I know that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love’  (Jonah 4:2)

The text set for today’s reading and meditation:

Psalm 88:1-18 (NIVUK):Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you.

May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength.

I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care. You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.

Your wrath lies heavily on me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you. Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up and praise you? Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction? Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death; I have borne your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me.

All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. You have taken from me friend and neighbour – darkness is my closest friend.”

You can feel the despair and suffering felt by the writer of this Psalm, I was particularly taken with the last verse, especially the phrase, ‘darkness is my closest friend’. It says a lot in just a few words.

Selwyn starts today’s study as follows: “Confined in the large fish’s stomach, Jonah became a different man. In confinement, I believe, God does some of His greatest work. Have you ever found yourself in a situation that you can’t move one way or the other and you give yourself to God?

Why does God put us in such a situation? This is sometimes the only way that He can get our attention: it is because only then will we stop trying to work things out for ourselves and begin to listen to Him. All of us are tainted with the terrible tendency to insist on getting our own way. We prefer to act as a god rather than worship the true God.”

God loves us and He will never leave us in a place where we are being damaged by our own self-interests. He will do, whatever it takes, to lead us away from our path of self-destruction back to the path of totally trusting in our Lord’s leadership.

Any comments?

On talking terms again

To Follow Jesus

My notes on Every Day with Jesus, written by Selwyn Hughes; revised and updated by Mick Brooks, published by CWR.

July/August 2015 Issue – Pursued by Grace,  ‘I know that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love’  (Jonah 4:2)

The text set for today’s reading and meditation:

Jonah 2:1 (NIVUK):From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.”

Today’s study is about prayer, and Selwyn makes this important observation: “The main purpose of prayer is not petition (asking for help, in one form or another) but communion – just talking to God and deepening our relationship with Him.”

As you go about your day, just take a note of the number of times you pray to God for help, the number of times you pray in thanksgiving and the number of times you pray as a form of simple conversation with your Father. The results, I think, may surprise many – because often, in our busy lives, we only stop to talk to Jesus when we want some help.

Selwyn has this to say about Jonah: “Interesting as we consider Jonah’s prayer we see that his prayer is not a prayer of deliverance, but one of thanksgiving. The prophet’s heart overflows with gratitude for the spectacular way in which he has been saved from certain drowning. …

Jonah communes with God from inside the fish and is once again on talking terms with the Almighty. He doesn’t have much earthly comfort but there is no comfort like the comfort of a restored relationship with God.”

In Luke17:11-19, we read: ‘Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”’

Sadly, I feel that there are many who call themselves Christians, who are like the nine lepers (Israelites), those people who do not give-up any of their time to praise God for answered prayer. Here in the above verses, it is a Samaritan who demonstrates great faith by giving praise to God for his cleansing; it’s a sign of our spiritual maturity when we spend more time in praising God than seeking help. It’s an area where we all can improve – I know I could do better – how about you?

Your view?

The ‘three days’ difficulty

To Follow Jesus

My notes on Every Day with Jesus, written by Selwyn Hughes; revised and updated by Mick Brooks, published by CWR.

July/August 2015 Issue – Pursued by Grace,  ‘I know that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love’  (Jonah 4:2)

The text set for today’s reading and meditation:

Jonah 1:17 (NIVUK):“Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

In today’s study, Selwyn talks about the three days and three nights Jonah found himself inside a great fish; the main reason was to ‘save’ Jonah from himself – from his stubborn refusal to obey the word of God – a second, perhaps an even more important reason, was to prefigure the death and resurrection of our Lord.

He continues to address the issue of three days, which in Hebrew culture at that time, did not necessarily mean three full days. As he states: “on occasion it was used to denote one full day and part of two others“.

He goes on to say: “Jesus was put to death on a Friday afternoon, was in the tomb all day Saturday, and was resurrected on the Sunday morning.” This time span meets the requirements of three days (one full day and two part days) and three nights, and therefore ‘matches’ the three days and three nights that Jonah spent inside a great fish.

I never worry about these sort of details; the main point is that Jonah was cut off from the living for a short period of time (exactly how long is not important) and was restored to life (and this included a restore relationship with God).  Likewise, Jesus was cut off from the living, for a short time, and then entered into His glorious resurrection, with all of creation restored into a right relationship with God. How great is that!

In the Old Testament, we read Isaiah 53:7-9, 11a, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. … After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; … “

These verse again give us the general information that Jesus was to be cut off from the land of the living and then see the light of life – resurrection. Just as Jonah saw the light and was then ‘expelled’ by the great fish onto dry land – the exact length of time, is of no real consequence. Do you agree?

Nothing is impossible

To Follow Jesus

My notes on Every Day with Jesus, written by Selwyn Hughes; revised and updated by Mick Brooks, published by CWR.

July/August 2015 Issue – Pursued by Grace,  ‘I know that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love’  (Jonah 4:2)

The text set for today’s reading and meditation:

Psalm 95:1-11 (NIVUK):“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.

For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.

In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.

Today, if only you would hear his voice, ‘Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.

So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.”’

I like the above Psalm, especially these verses (6-7): “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” The imagery of us being under the care of our amazing, creator God is something very special; especially when we consider that those who don’t belong to His flock will never enter His rest.

Selwyn continues to look at the issue of miracles, he writes: “Yesterday we said that the matter of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish was a miracle of timing and sustenance. I confess that I fail to understand why people who accept the Old Testament miracles such as the crossing of the Red Sea and the provision of manna in the wilderness … then struggle at the story of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish. …

One writer says that if you believe in a personal God then you have to believe that He can act upon His creation in a way that changes things. He can suspend the laws of nature or speed them up at will.”

You either believe that God created all things and can still influence His creation or you don’t. It does not matter if you take a literal view of Genesis or see it as symbolic of God’s creative power; either way God created everything according to His plan.

Let’s remind ourselves of Genesis 1:1-5:In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day’, and the darkness he called ‘night’. And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day. … “

If we understand that all of creation serves God according to His purposes, then the simple act of having a great fish swallow Jonah such that he is ‘cut off from the living’ for three days (as Jesus was), is a natural thing to accept.

If you don’t believe the story of Jonah, or you see it as a purely symbolic type of parable, then I would like to hear from you – as to your reasoning.

Any comments?

A whale of a tale

To Follow Jesus

My notes on Every Day with Jesus, written by Selwyn Hughes; revised and updated by Mick Brooks, published by CWR.

July/August 2015 Issue – Pursued by Grace,  ‘I know that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love’  (Jonah 4:2)

The text set for today’s reading and meditation:

Jonah1:17 (NIVUK):“Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

There are some areas of Scripture, which are clearly symbolic and there are other areas that we can accept as literally true. In between these two, clear cases there are some grey areas, yet by the power of God’s Spirit we will be able to discern how to treat these areas. A good starting point is to always consider these verses in the light of what is said by the whole of Scripture – context is always important.

Now, in regard to Scripture, you also need to consider if Jesus or the disciples (after Pentecost) referred to these verses (of the subject of the verses), and again to be aware of the context of their use.

The key question in today’s study is: Is it possible for God to direct  a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and is it possible for God to sustain his life for three days? The answer for me is ‘Yes’, without any qualifications. The next question is: Did it really happen even though it was possible for God to do it? Again, my answer is ‘Yes’, based mainly on Matthew 12:40 (see below), where Jesus refers to this story.

This is what Selwyn says about this: “Now, we come to the issue that poses doubts and problems for many Christians. I refer to the matter of Jonah being swallowed by a huge fish.

Whether you believe it to be fact or fiction it’s interesting that Jesus referred to the story of Jonah and regarded it as being true. He said: ‘For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40).’  [As an aside, we can discern that the last part of this verse ‘in the heart of the earth’, is symbolic.]

When we read the Jonah account we must remember that God works miracles. First, we see a miracle of timing – God arranging the great fish to be at the right place at the right time. Second, a miracle of sustenance – Jonah being kept alive for three days.”

You have a clear choice in this sort of issue, either you believe that God performs miracles or you don’t believe that He does! Where do you stand?

God – a Promise Keeper

To Follow Jesus

My notes on Every Day with Jesus, written by Selwyn Hughes; revised and updated by Mick Brooks, published by CWR.

July/August 2015 Issue – Pursued by Grace,  ‘I know that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love’  (Jonah 4:2)

The text set for today’s reading and meditation:

Jonah1:15-16 (NIVUK):Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.”

Another good study written by Selwyn.

His conclusion is excellent: “In addition to the sacrifice, the sailors made a vow to serve the Lord. … It is one thing to promise to serve the Lord ‘in a moment’; it’s another to keep that promise. How reassuring it is to know that though sometimes we find it hard to keep our promises to God. He never fails to keep His promises to us.”

Perhaps, during our time of meditation on the reading for today, we can review all our promises made to our Lord and examine our heart, to discern if we have fully kept them.

Any questions?