I love the way that John starts his account of the Gospel with the same words which launch the Bible in the book of Genesis … “In the beginning”: Indeed the apostle sees in the coming of Jesus that not only is this a “new beginning” for creation but that the incarnation of Jesus was intended from the very beginning.
God, who knows all things, created us in His image and gave us the freedom to love Him, or not. He knew that this freedom would create a challenge and that we would fail to really embrace the fullness of His intentions for us – We would want to make other choices which seemed preferable to us, as in Adam and Eve’s choice to eat the forbidden fruit.
God knew that this would create a strain in our relationship with Him; just as a disobedient child or a wayward spouse creates strains in a relationship. But God was not satisfied with an extended separation, so He, who is beyond time itself, entered into His creation to resolve the differences. He “bent over backwards” so to speak, in order to restore our relationship with Him – He allowed us to kill Him, and still He loved us. In the resurrection appearances, Jesus showed again and again, that His desire is nothing less than that we should be “saved into eternity”. What does that mean? Simply put, it means that when we accept this “new beginning” which Jesus heralds and creates, then we enter into a restored relationship with God.
This restored relationship has implications for our life now – we can literally “walk with God” now as did Adam in the Garden of Eden. It also has implications for our life beyond which continues when our mortal bodies fail.
When we admit to our own failures in the broken relationship between God and ourselves, and accept that Jesus’ reconciling work on the Cross has shown God’s continued love for us and His forgiveness of our failures, we enter into a new and eternal relationship with God. He is with us always – “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”
That God became flesh (appeared as a human being, was incarnated) is the most profound mystery of all time. It is beyond our understanding and yet it is the claim of Jesus, and of the Bible. It propels us into the realm of the unbelievable, and yet … look around you, the evidence of the impact of Christ is everywhere: in our symbols, in our morals, in our living and in our aspirations. In a history which has been marked by several civilisations, wars, peace and giant strides in technology and human understanding, this humble Nazarene (or rather, incredible loving God) has stood out as offering the only real meaning and purpose to life itself. He offers us resurrection, new life, a new beginning – grasp it with everything you have got, there is nothing sweeter or more precious.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … in Him was Life, and that Life was the Life of all people … and the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us … we have seen His glory, the glory of the One and only Son. Hallelujah!
Last Sunday evening, as part of our Living Life Dangerously focus (living in the fullness of trust in God) we looked at Suffering. I defined suffering as living in a condition where it seems that God is absent. It might be pain, illness, grief or any other unhappy life circumstance; and in that situation we find ourselves without comfort.
Of course God is right there with us, but we don’t seem to be receiving any help or comfort from Him. So we suffer. This is not an uncommon experience in the world today and the Bible has many stories of such situations. So how do we understand it? Why does God seem to leave us in this uncomfortable situation? Why does He not seem to answer our prayers?
We must, of course, immediately turn to the situation of Job. Job lost his wife, children, possessions and even his health; there seemed no reason for it and his cry for help went apparently unheard. His friends blame sin, disobedience, lack of faith etc but Job denies all that, and he is right! However when we read Job’s story, we know something that Job and his friends do not know. God has a high regard and deep love for Job. Satan says that Job’s reciprocating love is only because God has supplied the man with many blessings. So God allows Satan to take away the blessings to prove to the evil one that Job’s faith is indeed genuine. In our consumer society, it is also easy to claim our blessedness by measuring the extent and wealth of our possessions – but the truth is that our blessedness come from God’s love for us. Job’s story is not about punishment, or even about testing faith; no, it is about proving faith. Job’s faith was genuine; his suffering was because it seemed that the God in whom he had put his trust was ignoring him. But God was not doing that at all, indeed, God’s heart must have ached with Job’s suffering but He could not intervene. Job’s faith had to be proved genuine to the evil one without any assistance from God. And it was!
Similarly, when Jesus was on the Cross, He cried out to the Father, “Why have You forsaken me?” The Father could not intervene, or it would have lessened our salvation – His love for us is great, and our redemption had to be paid in full through the death of Christ.
Sometimes our cry also is “God, why have You forsaken me?” but God has not forsaken us, and He never will. We don’t always have the whole picture though. Job suffered because of Satan’s accusation against God, Jesus suffered because God loves us so much. Our own suffering (the apparent absence of God) might have very wide implications – we don’t know. But we do know that God always works for the good of those who love Him. We do know that it is not God’s desire that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. We do know that God is love and that He loves us. Our response must be to continue in our faith, to trust and love God despite our circumstances and to always hope in Him. We need a childlike faith where we know the Father’s love and are sure always that His intentions are for the good.
Afterwards I offered to pray confidentially with anyone who felt themselves in a “suffering” situation. A few people came forward, and in one case, I felt convicted to tell the person that God would intervene before the week was over. I never do that; I trust God with all my heart but am quite often uncertain about my thoughts and feelings. But I had said that we must pray with childlike faith, and I did, and I had this thought prompt – so I said it.
Praise God that I received a call on Thursday that the prayer had been answered! God is good; all the time! He is worthy of praise and you can trust Him fully, without a doubt.
Why do we pray?
Mostly, it seems, because we need some help from God for something which
we can’t do ourselves. But this is only a part of praying. Prayer is really
about a relationship with God.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them about prayer, He started with
the words, “Our Father …” There is a relationship in those words, that
between a child and father. In the early part of our lives we are dependent on
our fathers for provision. As we get older, so we seek the guidance of our
fathers. We respect our fathers and we tend to build a unique kind of
relationship with them. I found in my life that as I got older and my dad got
much older, he became more than both of those relationships … he became
my friend and we developed a very special sense of love between us. In a
way, it was because he began to respect what I was doing with my life and
because he was proud of the part he had played in making me what I was
becoming. And I became newly appreciative of the role he had played in my
This, in a sense, also exemplifies the development of our own prayer life and
relationship with God. We start off dependent, then we seek guidance and
finally we have this relationship where we are so appreciative of each other
that we like nothing more than simply being in each others presence. Words
are no longer necessary.
This has also been my experience in the 24-7 Prayer Room. Even though I
had been devoted to prayer before my times in the Prayer Room, I found
that I experienced an exponential development of my relationship with God
in the hours I spent alone with Him. For 25 years I had been dependent on
God and was slowly drifting into that part of dependency where I sought not
things from Him, but His guidance as well. Then bang! It was on the 3rd night
of the first Prayer Room – I had done all my asking, sought all His guidance
and I had nothing more to say. It was 2am, I was alone at the church … then
I realised that I was not alone. I sat there with my Father for another two
hours, and we didn’t say a word to each other. It was a turning point in my