Never Alone

When I was young a missionary friend liked to sing EC Heidelberg’s gospel song about us never being alone. 

“Never alone, because I know My Lord is with me, he’s always by my side.”

While religious sentiments can often become mere sentimental thoughts, let’s take a moment to dig into the truth of Heidelberg’s song.

God repeatedly promised He would never leave or abandon His people.

“Let your life be without covetousness, being satisfied with what you have; for God Himself has said: “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

“The Lord Himself goes before you; He will be with you. He will never leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid or discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8 

“The Lord your God is a merciful God; He will not abandon you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers, which He swore to them by oath.” Deuteronomy 4:31

“Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid or terrified of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

So the nice religious sentiment that God is always with us is a truth we can rely on firmly.

Jesus promised His disciples that He would make his abode with them.

“Jesus answered and said to him, If a man loves me he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our abode with him.” John 14:23

God’s presence with us is an abiding presence, in that it continues uninterrupted, but also because he abides or resides with us. This is why the Bible talks about Christ being in us.

“God chose to make known to them how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27

“But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet the Spirit gives you life because of righteousness.” Romans 8:10

As a believer in Christ you have Christ in you and you have God’s personal promise to never leave you or forsake you. However you may find that you are not always conscious of God’s presence or Christ within.

Your feelings do not control reality. Your feelings will go this way and that, often without regard for truth. You may at times feel ‘alone’, abandoned and unsupported. But that is just an emotional state.

Your feelings are your servants, in the same way your muscles are. Your body might complain about a physical challenge you want it to endure, but your will has power over what you do, even if your muscles and limbs complain about what you ask of them.

Similarly your emotions are just one of the faculties of your human existence. They don’t have the right to control your will or to determine what is true.

You have every right to refuse to listen to your emotions and to direct them to line up with what you know to be true.

You can say to your feelings, “I know you are feeling down and isolated, but the truth is that Christ lives within me and He is present in this situation and pouring His love and comfort on me. I choose to tune in to God’s presence and Christ’s ministry within, and I choose to reject the negative feelings.”

The Lord, Who is your shepherd, is with you when you are beside the still waters and when you are in the valley of the shadow of death. The presence of the Lord does not change as your situation changes. If you are ruled by your feelings and rely on what you sense to determine what is true, then you are like a child who will be fickle and unstable.

As a mature son of God you will let the Holy Spirit and God’s truth guide you, putting down your feelings, in the same way you can refuse to obey the complaints of sore muscles.

And because God is with you and Christ is in you, you have the presence of God in every situation through the day. 

Some Christians form the habit of feeling spiritual on Sundays at church, but feeling secular and apart from God the rest of the time. That’s why some Christians can’t wait to get back to a church meeting to recharge their batteries and feel secure. They can only practice the presence of Jesus when surrounded by stained glass windows, or listening to Christian music, or surrounded by fellow believers.

All of those supports can be valuable, but the depth of our walk with God is more measured by how we hold up when we are unsupported externally. Drawing on the internal reality of an abiding God and indwelling Christ will make us much stronger than those who need a regular Christian ‘fix’ to keep them going.

Now, I am not saying you should be independent of Christian fellowship since we are told not to abandon regular fellowship with fellow Christians.

“Let us not neglect meeting together with believers, as some do, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25
What I am saying is that there is a maturity and depth in our spiritual walk as we come to know with assurance that God will never leave us or forsake us, and that in every situation, good and horrible, the Lord is with us and we can find comfort and security in Him.

That’s probably what the missionary had in mind when he sang that song ‘Never Alone’. He was going into places filled with darkness and evil, to face deprivations and dangers most of us would shun. He kept reminding himself that in every situation he would never be alone for Christ is with him.

The same is true for you: at work, study, shopping, family gatherings, in court, in heavy business negotiations, in buying a car or selling products, in sickness and in health, at home or in unfamiliar territory, among friends or facing enemies, on your best day and in your most traumatic situations.

You have a privilege many others never experience. You never have to go it alone, but you can step out on your own, knowing you are not really alone, and take on challenges others would shun, because they would be truly alone.

May the Lord encourage your heart with the heart-felt realisation of the permanent presence of the Lord in your life, in every moment and situation. May you know in the depth of your being that you are and always will be ‘Never Alone’.

In God’s Presence Intentionally

The Psalms talk about coming into God’s presence. I note that they talk of us ‘entering’ God’s presence, as if it is a conscious and deliberate act.

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and bless His name.” Psalm 100:4

“Let us enter His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him in song.” Psalm 95:2

Many spiritual activities are intentional, requiring us to take time and effort to practice them. In modern western culture we are not so good at disciplined activities, but like to have things served up to us easily. That’s how we get our entertainment and so we might easily want God to do all the work of connecting us with Him.

God has done amazing things for us. However, our response to Him is vitally important. While Christ died for the sins of all the world, only those who put their faith in Christ will receive benefit from His sacrifice. We must respond in faith and receive Christ into our life. See the dual acts of believing and receiving in what the Apostle John recorded.

“As many as received him (Christ), to them he gave power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” John 1:12

Similarly there are many aspects of our spiritual life that will be on hold until and unless we intentionally activate our participation.

You can’t be “led by the Spirit” if you refuse to be led at all. You can’t hear God’s voice if you won’t listen. You can’t enjoy God’s peace if you continue to be anxious. And you can’t enter into God’s presence if you continue to run away from Him, or stay too busy to give God any of your time or thought.

The Bible talks of ‘waiting on God’, once again as a deliberate act.

“Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he will strengthen your heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” Psalm 27:14

“Wait on the Lord and keep His way, and He will raise you up to inherit the land. When the wicked are cut off, you will see it.” Psalm 37:34

The Bible tells us to ‘be still’ as we encounter God.

“Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

“Be silent before the Lord, all people, for He has roused Himself from His holy dwelling.” Zechariah 2:13

We are able to hear God, pray and find God’s help in the most tumultuous of times. God is not saying that if you are in a frantic situation there is no hope. What is being asked of us is to be intentional and worshipful in our approach to God.

We are to choose to enter into God’s presence. We need to be intentional, instead of distracted.

My wife tells of a time when she had to drive for an hour or so on a road she did not enjoy travelling. She decided early in the trip to begin praising God as she drove. After a few minutes of thanking and praising God she began to feel joy. Initially it was a deliberate act of worship, but soon it became a delight. In what seemed little time she arrived at her destination, having enjoyed the trip that she was dreading.

Many of us have had occasions when we were prompted to pray didn’t feel ‘in the mood’. However once we began to approach God we found we were blessed by the encounter.

Maybe a good modern metaphor is that of opening a program on your computer or an app on your phone. or even changing channel on a television or radio. The capacity to use that program or app is always with you but it takes intentional effort to decide to switch attention from whatever else you were focused on.

You have a loving Heavenly Father Who wishes to bless you and meet with you. All the things He promised you are yours for the asking and the taking, but if you are off doing something else you will miss what is yours.

Take time right now, and make a set time each day and enter into God’s presence. Like the psalmist you can do that with ‘thanksgiving’ and ‘praise’. Begin to talk with Your Heavenly Father and give Him your attention and the glory He is due.

As you do you will find that God is keen to meet with you and to speak with you, challenge you, encourage you and pour more of His grace onto you.

May you happily develop the habit of entering God’s Presence Intentionally.

Restored Soul

The most famous psalm speaks of the restoring of our soul.

“The LORD is my shepherd; I will not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for the sake of His name.” Psalm 23:1-3

The original word translated ‘soul’ speaks of our whole life, as in us being a living soul. Yet it also carries the idea of our inner self, what the New Testament writers would have meant by ‘soul’ (psyche).

What would it mean to have our ‘soul’ restored?

Well, let’s first consider what it means to have our whole life restored. Restoration is the process of bringing something back to original condition, or to the manufacturer’s settings. It could be seen as a ‘reset’ button to clear away accumulated junk and malfunctions.

Our lives often become complicated by our unwise choices or reactions, or by being put in difficult situations where there is some loss no matter what we do. Our perception of our self can be damaged, along with our relationships with others. We can be dogged by guilt and shame, misgivings and frustration. We can be depressed, defeated, disillusioned and despairing.

Along with that we can have our capacities and social standing damaged or pigeonholed. Our career and income potential can be reduced. We can lose confidence and the respect of others. We can be sidelined, misunderstood and falsely accused.

Once in any such negative situation, being ‘restored’ is a wonderful promise. Imagine having all those things reversed in your life. Imagine moving from being disregarded to being respected and sought after. Imagine having things given back to you, like opportunities or reputation and strong positive relationships. Imagine feeling free and positive, confident of being loved.

All of that is embodied in the blessing of having Christ as our shepherd.

“The Lord, Jesus Christ, is my Shepherd and He gives me back my life!”

At the deeper personal level the restored soul focusses on our inner thoughts and feelings. For most of us our greatest enemy is in our head and heart. When we feel defeated, rejected, worthless, hopeless, discouraged, ashamed, insecure, afraid of failure, afraid of rejection, and the like, we lock ourselves away from the wider options life and God have for us.

Our ‘soul’, as in our inner self, can be trampled on, defeated, twisted and distorted, enslaved, fearful, tormented, ashamed, insecure and the like. Once we are in such a condition there is little we can do for ourselves.

The West’s increasing reliance on psychologists indicates the enormous scope of this inner personal wrangling. A very high percentage of people feel the need to get help for the internal ‘soul’ issues of their life. Most psychologists don’t offer a quick fix, one-visit solution. Instead people adopt long-term counsellors and psychologists.

Yet your wonderful Shepherd, Jesus, will ‘restore’ your soul.

Imagine what that might mean. Imagine finding confidence where you were once insecure. Imagine enjoying being the person God made you to be. Imagine being unashamed of your mistakes and limitations, as you submit them to God. Imagine feeling completely secure on the inside, ready to take on any challenge at any time. Imagine feeling free to celebrate the successes of others, knowing that you too are successful in what you do. Imagine being completely free from fears of failure or fears of rejection, not worrying about people’s opinions, since you have God’s approval.

How would such changes change you? How would it change the way you relate to your family and loved ones, and those around you? How would it change your potential for the future?

Those changes and many others like them are what come from having Jesus Christ as your Good Shepherd.

“The Lord, Jesus Christ, is my Shepherd and He gives me complete freedom within.”

God wants you to be restored in your broader life circumstances and in your inner thought life. God wants to ‘restore your soul’.

Having a shepherd’s business card in your files or tucked under you pillow does not make that shepherd your shepherd. So knowing about Jesus and even being a Christian does not make Jesus your Shepherd. A shepherd is one the sheep follow, not just look at from a distance.

In the same way you need to allow the Lord to lead you, following His instructions and receiving His grace. The restoration Christ promises us as our Good Shepherd comes when we functionally let Him be our Shepherd.

Most western Christians probably fall into the idea that by giving mental assent to Christian truth they are practicing that truth. You have probably reflected on Christ as your Shepherd. What is needed is to yield to Him as your Shepherd.

A Christian child who knows they need to submit to their parents still has to rein in their selfish impulses and practically submit. A Christian wife who knows she is to submit to her husband still has to rein in her selfish impulses and practically submit.

A Christian who knows the Lord is their Shepherd still has to practically rein in their selfish impulses and practically submit to the Lord.

I encourage you to address that in your life, since the blessings are so wonderful.

The Lord is your shepherd, and he restores your soul. Let Him do that for you today.

Apprehended

Apostle Paul is an example of someone whose life was suddenly disrupted and his whole direction turned around when God grabbed him.

A decade or so after Jesus was crucified Paul, known then as Saul of Tarsus, was a Jewish pharisee who dedicated himself to eradicating Christianity. While on his way to arrest Christians in Damascus Saul and those travelling with him were stopped by a brilliant light from heaven and a voice that spoke directly to Saul. Saul was blinded by the incident and had to be led by hand into Damascus. There a Christian was sent by God to pray for Saul, who received his sight and was filled with the Holy Spirit.

So there is no quibble about Paul saying he was apprehended, ‘grabbed by God’.

“I press on, in order to apprehend that for which also Christ Jesus apprehended me.” Philippians 3:12

While few others might have as dramatic an experience as Paul, we are all, in fact, grabbed by God. The ‘grabbing’ or ‘apprehending’ might come in much more gentle manner, such as when Jesus invited Matthew the Tax Collector to follow Him. Or it might be as seemingly insignificant as Jesus choosing people from among His followers, as was the case with several of the Disciples.

Nonetheless God is apprehending us, or ‘grabbing us’ for His purposes.

If we were interrupted and called by God dramatically, as Paul was, we would accept that we were apprehended, or grabbed by God and expect it to be significant. When God’s call on our lives seems low-key we can think God doesn’t have the depth of call for us that was seen in others.

What challenges our low-key perception is that God is no respecter of persons.

“Peter spoke up and said, Certainly I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” Acts 10:34

God’s invitation to ‘whosoever will’ is charged with all the power and grace of any other calling.

“The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him who hears say, Come. And let he that is thirsty come. And whosoever  will, let him take the water of life freely.” Revelation 22:17

Note that Paul, for all the amazing wonder of how God interrupted him, had to choose to take hold, or apprehend, what God had for him.

Many years ago I had an experience that might help you think about your response to God and to being apprehended.

When my wife, Susan, was expecting our second child, we attended a Christian camp featuring overseas speakers. The program ended on the last night with a prayer session where the visiting speakers prayed for each person individually and shared what they sensed was a word about God’s direction for their life. We all looked forward to it.

In the hours before that session, Susan alerted me she was having contractions and might need to go to hospital. I was very keen to get to the session and tried to dissuade Susan from needing a hospital trip. Shortly before the session Susan confirmed she really did need to go to hospital.

As we drove away the other campers were walking to the meeting hall, waving us goodbye, with happy smiles of anticipation on their faces. I felt quite annoyed and that I was likely to miss something really special by not being there.

As it turned out, to make things worse, the baby didn’t come and the trip to hospital was a false alarm.

Those who attended the session had glowing reports on the wonderful night they all enjoyed and that didn’t help me at all.

However, a thought came to mind as I processed that unhappy experience. It struck me that God’s Word is true, whether I read it in some quiet place on my own or whether it is shared to me with great excitement from someone confident it was God’s powerful personal word to me.

I also realised words to us from God are to be confirmed by the mouth of two or three witnesses. And acting on that word would need faith. So, as I figured it, I could have all that God had for me by simply receiving what God’s Word said and stepping out on that word, in faith.

That removed all of my angst about missing out on a special ‘word from God’ at the camp. I realised I could go through life never having anyone speak a word from God for me, and yet fulfil all God had for me. I could live a thoroughly thrilling life in God’s purposes by receiving God’s word and stepping out on it, as an act of my will and faith.

Now, let’s take that approach to the idea of being ‘apprehended’ by God.

If you have been grabbed in some exciting way, or if you have come to God in what seems a low-key fashion, it makes no difference to the fact that God has called you and grabbed you for His salvation and His purposes.

If you were grabbed by God in some miraculous way you could feel excited about all God has for you, and you could step out boldly to continue apprehending all God yet has for you.

If you have not experienced a miracle process in being grabbed by God you can still feel excited about all God has for you, and you can step out boldly to continue apprehending all God yet has for you.

It is our mind that stops us perceiving how amazing and special it is to be called into God’s family and into God’s Kingdom purposes. We have each been apprehended by God. And, like Paul, that means amazing things can and will happen as we step out and serve God boldly, in faith.

Your life is not ordinary, or low-key, or meant to be on the sidelines while others do exciting things. The key to your amazing future right now is to stop and realise that “You have been Apprehended”!!!

Eye Has Not Seen

Here is a verse that has been significant to me for many years.

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love him.” 1Corinthians 2:9

Consider these other verses that support the idea of God having more for us than we expect, and that things can change radically when God moves.

“Sing, O barren, who never gave birth; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you that never travailed with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, says the Lord.” Isaiah 54:1

“The desert will rejoice and blossom like the rose.” Isaiah 35:1

The very wonderful things God has for me and you are already prepared, waiting for us.

“the things which God has (already) prepared for those who love him.” 1Corinthians 2:9

Amazing things beyond your imagination are not things God has to create. They already exist, prepared for you. God simply has to pull them out of His storehouse of grace.

I recently met a man who shared testimonies of wonderful things God did for him. Each time he testified of some new thing God did, some unexpected turn of events, or amazing way God confirmed things, the man quickly added, “Eye Has Not Seen!”.

Each time new things opened to him he praised God that 1Corinthians 2:9 was confirmed in his life.

His eye had not seen what was coming, nor had he imagined it, so when it happened he delighted at what God did.

So let’s have a closer look at this wonderful promise. The Apostle Paul quoted this truth from a verse given by Isaiah over half a millennia earlier.

“Since the earliest times no one has heard, no ear perceived, no eye seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” Isaiah 64:4

God’s Holy Spirit reveals to us the depth of the riches of God made available to us through Christ’s death and resurrection.

“But God has revealed them to us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, truly, the deep things of God.” 1Corinthians 9:10

“In him (Christ) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Ephesians 1:7

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” Romans 11:33

What God has for us through Christ is very impressive. It will take God eternity to reveal it all to us.

Everything you need from this moment to the end of eternity has already been achieved for you through Christ’s sacrifice. Everything related to your spiritual salvation, forgiveness, defeat of sin and the devil, overcoming past fallenness, etc, is covered by Christ’s sacrifice. But so too is everything you need in this mortal life, from health to provision, wisdom, guidance, protection, fruitfulness, and so on. Christ’s finished work covers all things that relate to life and godliness.

“His divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that called us to glory and virtue” 2Peter 1:3

Christ has already prepared the provision, healing and breakthrough you need over the next ten years, and for the rest of your life. They are in God’s ‘storehouse of Grace’.

You haven’t seen it before, and you may not have even heard about such things, and it may never enter your imagination, but God has already prepared those things for you.

“But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love him.” 1Corinthians 2:9

So, if those things already exist, and are already paid for, and God wants to give them to you, wouldn’t it make sense that you press in to receive what God has waiting for you?

That’s how the Apostle Paul behaved.

“I press on, in order to apprehend that for which also Christ Jesus apprehended me.  …Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press forward toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should embrace this point of view.” Philippians 3:12-15

I encourage you that God has prepared wonderful things for you through Christ and God is pleased when you step out in faith to take hold of things your Eye Has Not Seen, for His glory.