November 2008

respond-icon1 Earlier in the book of Isaiah we read these words from God recorded by the prophet, ‘… my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed …’ (Isaiah Ch.56 vs.1). How aware are we of God’s closeness ?

read-icon Reading for today – Isaiah Ch.66 vs.1-13 :

crossprepare-icon1 As we reach the end of the book we are given a glimpse of how God’s closeness is revealed for us. What is close is salvation, an act of rescue and deliverance. Biblically, however, salvation is not just from something (sin, death and separation) but also it’s to something (forgiveness, life and a restored relationship with God). Worshipping in the temple had given the Jewish people a good understanding of God, but God is greater than their conceptions of Him (vs.1-2) and it’s when He comforts us with  His intimate presence that we really begin to get to know Him (vs.12-13). For Isaiah there was a time close at hand when the LORD God would be close to him. For us that’s already a reality if we know and trust Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.

If you sit down and think about the complexities of the problems besetting the societies in which we live you’ll probably come to the swift conclusion that the notion of solving even some of them appears unlikely. But the central verses in our passage remind us that nothing is too complex for God. Nations aren’t changed overnight – unless the LORD does it (vs.7-8) and we are required to shown an active faith in God that really believes He is capable of anything and everything. A faith that relies on God’s promises (vs.9).

Eugene Petersen in his paraphrase of the Bible, The Message writes John Ch.1 vs.14 like this, ‘… the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood …’. In what ways are we planning to help reveal God’s closeness to those amongst whom we live and work this Christmas ?

respond-icon1 When Jesus taught, ‘… the kingdom of God is near …’ (Mark Ch.1 vs.15), at least in part what He was saying is that God is closer than you may think. In another sense however He’s only as near as you want Him to be. Which aspects of our daily lives invoke God’s nearness and which, because of our choice, see God’s influence remote ?

read-icon Reading for today – Isaiah Ch.65 vs.17-25 :

prepare-icon1 Political parties and social movements imagine that we can, through our own efforts, build a utopia, an ideal world. The Christian knows that, however many high points there may be on the way, the ultimate end to which all history is moving is a new creation. One danger of praying for the revival of the church is forgetting that God doesn’t plan to turn the clock back to way things used to be. We’re should be insulated from nostalgia through our understanding that God is working not towards revival but towards renewing and replacing (vs.17). To drive home the point, the word create appears three times in vs.17 and 18, but the new creation is something that people have to positively choose to enter. Steadfast, determined rejection of God the Father’s mercy and Jesus’ sacrifice is the ultimate tragedy for humankind (see vs.13-15). What’s on offer in the new order is a new name (vs.15); an end to life’s sorrows (vs.19-20); and lives of fulfilment and blessing (vs.21-23). The LORD will be close (vs.24) and Satan will be defeated (vs.25). As one 19th century preacher once put it, ‘… Father, revive the church for the sake of the lost but don’t delay Your coming …’.

Read the passage again carefully noting all of the positive words that serve to re-inforce the reality that God will fulfil all His promises and complete His plan.

How ought a fresh realisation of that influence our daily lives ?

respond-icon1 In Isaiah Ch.63 vs.15 the cry was for the LORD to look down, and yet in so many situations our hearts cry is that we need the LORD to come down. We require constantly to learn that only His presence and intimate involvement will bring about change in our lives. Ask yourself, if God was to withdraw His Spirit from your life how much of what you do and say would be unaffected ? (Note : whilst that can’t happen if you’re a Christian, that fact isn’t a reason for complacency !)

mountainread-icon Reading for today – Isaiah Ch.64 vs.1-9 :

prepare-icon1 In many ways, this is the model prayer for revival. It’s good to be specific in our requests when we pray, but the danger is that we focus too much in our prayer time upon trying to give God hints and suggestions ! This reading reminds us that there is the vital need to simply pare right down to the essentials when we pray. These verses are a passionate cry for God to renew His presence amongst His people, to shake the earth again, as He did at Mt Sinai (vs.3, compare with Exodus Ch.19 vs.16-19). God is always present yet is seems clear that God can withdraw His powerfully felt presence, for example when we have sinned (vs.7), in order that we might seek Him again. The things that mark out this prayer are; a passionate desire for God Himself (vs.1-2); a remembrance of His mighty acts in the past (vs.3-4); honest appraisal of ourselves (vs.5-7); and an appeal to the Father, on the basis of His revealed character, not to abandon His children (vs.8-12).

Passionate prayer often comes from people who know themselves well. David wrote, ‘… all my longings lie open before you, O Lord …’ (Psalm 38 vs.9).

Do the desires of vs.1-2 find an echo within all of our lives, and if so, how do they shape our prayer life ?

respond-icon1 This reading follows a passage describing God as a warrior. It’s a recurrent theme in Scripture – that our God persistently fights against evil and for the good of His people. Think of instances where such imagery would prove to be helpful.

read-icon Reading for today – Isaiah Ch.63 vs.7-19 :

prepare-icon1 God always acts in our best interests, but we are only occasionally aware of His actions. That’s why the Jewish people attached such importance to remembering what God had done for them. As they retold their history, God’s essential character became clear to them once again: His compassion and His kindness (vs.7); His identification with His people (vs.9a); His love and mercy (vs.9b); His power and guidance (vs.11-14).

People seeking spiritual direction are often encouraged to draw a timeline, marking all the spiritually significant moments of their life. Like the nation of Israel we too learn more of God’s character when we focus on what He has revealed to us through our history. It’s the revelation of His character that forms the impetus for our intercession (vs.15-19).

The people of Israel forgot God when times were easy. Compare vs.10 of this chapter with the words in James Ch.4 vs.4-6.

What are the lessons we need to learn today ?

respond-icon1 Have you ever found you just had to say something, and couldn’t stop it pouring out ? Can you remember what it was you were speaking about ? What was it that moved you so powerfully ?

read-icon Reading for today :

sunrise-thumbnail2prepare-icon1 When we have seen what God wants to do, it changes us. In many ways, faith deprives us of a false peace, in that it’s impossible to settle for what is when you’ve seen what will be. The nature of faith is to look forward in hope (Hebrews Ch.11 vs.13-16). What the prophet has seen is God’s restoration of His people (vs.1-3), through the restoration of their relationship with Him (vs.4-5). The response of faith is to cry continually out to the LORD for the arrival of that day (vs.6-7). It’s easy to settle for what we have, or for a little more, but God is looking for people who won’t rest until the fullness of His purpose is acheived. Is that the kind of people we are ?

The advent season calls us to ‘… prepare a way for the LORD …’ (Isaiah Ch.40 vs.3-5), a work of intercession that demands perseverance of service that can only be achieved through reliance on God’s refreshing love. God wants to delight and rejoice over us … do we allow Him to do that ?

respond-icon1 We’re so used to hearing the word gospel that sometimes we forget that it simply means good news. How has knowing Jesus Christ been good news to you ?

read-icon Reading for today :

prepare-icon1 Although these verses ultimately and definitively apply to Jesus Christ, they express a deep truth about the Spirit’s anointing. Being empowered by God means being commissioned by God, and that commissioning is a call to be involved in what He is doing. The Hebrew word translated as ‘… preach good news …’ (vs.1) is used in Jeremiah Ch.20 vs.15 to describe the joy that a father feels when he is told about the birth of his son. For all those who will accept it, here is good news. Jesus took up this passage as a description of His own ministry (Luke Ch.4 vs.16-21), but He sent His disciples to continue the work in His name and power (Matthew Ch.10-6-8) and He gives us the same Spirit. Paul in writing to his friends in Corinth said that the problem facing unbelievers is that they cannot see the good news (2 Corinthians Ch.4 vs.4), so they don’t come to Christ. To give hope to the world we not only need to see the good news for ourselves but we also need to live out our lives in ways that help others to see too.

May God help us to be good news …!

cathedral-window1Centuries ago, a man came upon three stonemasons working on giant blocks of stone and he asked them what they were doing. The first man said, ‘… I’m smoothing the face of this stone …’. The second man said, ‘… I’m shaping this block to be part of an arch …’. However, when he asked the third stonemason the same question, the man answered, ‘… I am building a cathedral …’. All three were contributing to the same project, but only one was able to share the architect’s vision and saw the significance of what he was doing, and in by doing I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he wasn’t also the most fulfilled in his work.

Some commentators refer to the book of Isaiah as the Bible in miniature because just like the Bible it begins with heaven and earth being called to hear the word of the LORD (Isaiah Ch.1 vs.2) and it ends, as we shall see, with a vision of the coming King and a snapshot of the new heaven and new earth. The passages from Ch.61 through to Ch.66 are those that inspire us to lift our eyes up from the concerns of everyday living and direct us towards the bigger picture.

In many ways these last few chapters of Isaiah constitute guidelines for intercession since they help us to have a renewed vision of God and His Kingdom. And whilst, of course, we have to play our part wherever God places us and be involved in His work, we also have to remember that God’s plan is so much more than that.

As you approach Christmas why not, with me, read through these chapters and allow God to expand your vision of Him and His work.

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