How different would your life be if God was on your side in everything you did? Would you be permanently happy? Would you ever be sick? Would you be susceptible to dark thoughts? Would you be loved by all? What would a life with God on their side look like? We need not ponder this too long before we look at two clear examples in the Scriptures. Firstly, the young Jeremiah was called by God at one of the darkest times in his nation’s history and was given a dangerous and potentially deadly task. God revealed to him that he would be rejected and hated by his countrymen. But, despite this, and Jeremiah’s traumatic reaction to this divine mandate, God gave him a priceless promise of assurance:
Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 1:8
God’s charge and promise to Jeremiah would later help the young prophet to deal the enormous adversities he would later face (realistic expectations about life’s adversities is one of the best ways to maintain good mental health).
If you had to go through what Jeremiah went through, would you want God’s presence with you or not?
As we read through the Book of Jeremiah, we see that he experienced everything God said he would. But we also see that God sustained him and vindicated him. And as we read through the rest of Scripture we also realise that not everybody was called to do what Jeremiah was called to do, or to endure what Jeremiah had to endure. Perhaps at the end of Jeremiah’s long life he could say what F.W. Boreham would later say as he reflected back on his long life, “Often the things that we fear the most are the things that never happen!”
LIFE IS BETTER WITH GOD ON OUR SIDE EVEN WHEN LIFE IS DIFFICULT
Sometimes when life gets tough, we blame God. Many people who go through adversity have a misplaced expectation that if God was with them then life would go smoothly. But how many of us look to God in dependent trust when everything in our lives is going well? When would you actually most appreciate hearing God promise you, “I will be with you!” — in good times or bad? Our first example of a life lived with God-on-our-side, Jeremiah, didn’t have this choice. God promised him that He would be with him. We might forgive Jeremiah if he thought that had meant that he would successful in everything he undertook for the Lord. After all, this is what David experienced when God promised to be with him –
And David had success in all his undertakings, for the LORD was with him. First Samuel 18:14
But God’s presence doesn’t always mean our success (whatever ‘success’ means). In Jeremiah’s case, God’s presence was going to sustain him not just in the midst of his own personal trials (rejection, slander, and mistreatment), but also during a national series of crises including famine, pestilence, and military invasion! Despite his personal and national trials, God sustained Jeremiah with His presence. In fact, it appears that the Creator is so aware of how difficult it is for people to live in this fallen world that He offers His sustaining strength to those who would accept His offer of adoption. He does this, not because any of us deserve it, but because of His great and unconditional love for each one of us.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”…For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope Romans 8:15, 20
HIS NAME SHALL BE IMMANUEL – ‘GOD WITH US’
Our second example of a God-on-our-side-life is Jesus Christ. When Jesus walked the shores of Galilee, it was the time of the Roman occupation of Israel. This meant it was a time of oppression and fear — and therefore, great anxiety. This puts most of what Christ taught in a completely different light because He was teaching that all people could draw near to God and experience His presence in the midst of tremendous adversity. It was Christ’s assurance of God’s presence that grounded His announcements of His Father’s watchful care for each person. Christ reinforced that His Father created each person to be a child of God, and that their life was His sacred gift to them and came with the promise that He would care for, and be with, them –
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Matthew 6:31-32
No matter what challenges you are facing, your heavenly Father knows what you need. No matter how dark life seems now, your heavenly Father can get you through it. No matter how lonely you are now, your heavenly Father knows what you’re feeling and loves you unconditionally. In fact, He longs for you. In His eyes, you are not an accident. You are an integral part of His plan and you need to know that He is on your side!
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16
In times of community tragedy even the most religiously indifferent political leader has expressed “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” This expression universally conveys sympathy, compassion, and heartfelt concern. But there has been times when a nation or state has faced a looming threat largely out of their control where its leaders have actually called its citizens to pray for this threat to be averted. One of the more famous examples of this was when the newly appointed Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill, announced a national day of prayer for the fate of the three hundred and thirty-eight thousand British and French troops on the beaches of Dunkirk who were facing certain annihilation from their approaching enemy. What immediately resulted was either a remarkable coincidence or an answer to the prayers of a nation!
For the past few months Tasmania has faced a threat from a ruthless flagless enemy—Covid19. The forecast of its potential looming havoc was frightening. Medical experts were forecasting the death of hundreds upon hundreds of Tasmanians. The AMA warned of plummeting mental health outcomes and the skyrocketing of Tasmania’s already too high suicide-rate. Fearing the worst, Tasmanian Aged Care providers braced themselves for what was already beginning to breakout in other states among society’s most vulnerable. But before any of these scenarios played out, Premier Peter Gutwein sent a special video message to the churches of Tasmania in which he said, “I’m not a church-goer but I believe in prayer and I am asking the Christian community of Tasmania to pray — pray for me, my government, our frontline health care workers, businesses and our economy.” As far as we know, no other Australian Premier made the same request.
Churches across Tasmania responded immediately to the Premier’s appeal. Again, coincidentally, or perhaps in answer to these prayers,Tasmania (at this stage) has largely averted each of these forecasted worst-case scenarios. While tragically thirteen Tasmanians have died from covid-19, the forecasted hundreds of Tasmanian deaths has not eventuated. Nursing homes have not been decimated. And according to the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, who announced on May 15th that there has been “no known increase in the suicide-rate in Tasmania throughout the first four month of the pandemic.”
While people often cite that there should be a separation of Church and State in Australia, these recent events highlight the reality of what has been a very longstanding cooperation between Church and State. The churches of Tasmania have played, and continue to play, an important role in developing community capital, health care, aged care, pastoral support, social work, suicide-prevention, youth services, and mental health support. Because of this interest in the broad welfare of Tasmanians, we have a lot to be thankful for at this stage in Tasmania’s handling of the covid pandemic. This is why, on Sunday August 2nd, churches across our State will set some time aside to thank God for how our Premier, the State government, the Director of Public Health, the Tasmanian Chief Medical Officer, the Health Minister, and our frontline health care workers have managed this crisis. Prayers will also be offered in these church services for those other parts of Australia where the pandemic is still wreaking havoc. Who knows? Maybe these prayers might be means of yet another coincidence for these interstate outbreaks?
The world empire of Assyria had recently conquered Israel to the north of Judah. Many Israelites had been slaughtered and many more had been deported into exile to Assyria. Now the Assyrians were making the intentions known to the Kingdom of Judah, where Hezekiah, the descendent of King David now reigned. The mighty Assyrian Emperor sent his emissary to Jerusalem to invite them to surrender too before being slaughtered if they refused—they even put it in writing!
The LORD heard King Hezekiah’s prayer and sent the Prophet Isaiah to him.
ISAIAH’S PROPHETIC WORD DRAMATICALLY FULFILLED!
King Hezekiah’s had just experienced one of the most miraculous acts of deliverance in Israel’s history! To top it off, when Emperor Sennacherib returned he suffered a humiliating death.
Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place. Second Kings 19:36-37
How did King Hezekiah respond after experiencing such a dramatic answer to his prayers and witnessing an extraordinary act of miraculous deliverance? We can only surmise. But if history is anything to go by, then Hezekiah may have responded over time in the way that most such recipients have responded. History almost universally reveals that a person’s spiritual state is inversely proportional to their level of material success and popular acclaim. I cite two examples who immediately support my point: King Solomon, and, Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps it was God’s grace then that Lord announced to Hezekiah that he was about to die soon.
What happened next is one of the most powerful examples of what worship truly is. We see positive examples of a worshipful response to God’s voice in such godly people as Mary, the mother of Jesus.
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:38
But Hezekiah’s response stands as a biblical warning to all those who seek to be true worshipers of God. His response indicates that there was a growing amount of undetected arrogance in his heart. We some of this same kind of arrogance in Samson who had also become used to experiencing God’s deliverance of him. In his arrogance he ignored God’s Law and pursued the satisfaction of his sensual desires. When he had all but abandoned God and his pledge of obedience to Him, he arrogantly continued to assume that God would continue to deliver him from his enemies.
And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him. Judges 16:20
The Lord heard King Hezekiah’s prayer and once again sent the beloved prophet Isaiah to him.“Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD” (2Kings 20:5).
After the Lord answered King Hezekiah’s prayer, Hezekiah and Judah entered into a time of blessing and peace. But, Ezra tells us in the parallel account in Second Chronicles, that the previously undetected pride in Hezekiah’s heart went unchecked after the Lord answered his prayer to be healed and have his life extended.
But Hezekiah did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud. Therefore wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem. Second Chronicles 32:25
¶ And Hezekiah had very great riches and honor, and he made for himself treasuries for silver, for gold, for precious stones, for spices, for shields, and for all kinds of costly vessels; storehouses also for the yield of grain, wine, and oil; and stalls for all kinds of cattle, and sheepfolds. He likewise provided cities for himself, and flocks and herds in abundance, for God had given him very great possessions. And so in the matter of the envoys of the princes of Babylon, who had been sent to him to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land, God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart. Second Chronicles 32:27-31
NOT EVEN REPENTANCE UNDOES CONSEQUENCES
Repentance leads to forgiveness but it rarely undoes the resultant consequences of a person’s sin. The sins of Hezekiah’s last fifteen years had a disastrous impact on Judah. The tragic depths of his spiritual decline are seen in his boastful hospitality toward the Babylonian emissaries who visited him on behalf of their king to supposedly wish him a speedy recovery. Rather than see the obvious threat this made to national security, King Hezekiah—in almost ‘Samsonesque’ arrogance—actually showed them the national and royal treasures, and where they could be found!
The damage that the final 15 years of King Hezekiah’s life and reign did to the destiny of Judah was staggering!
Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” And Hezekiah said, “They have come from a far country, from Babylon.” He said, “What have they seen in your house?” And Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.” ¶ Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” Second Kings 20:14-18
Bizarrely, when the prophet Isaiah revealed to King Hezekiah the damage that would unfold because of the King’s foolishness, Hezekiah responded, ““The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?”” His complete lack of concern for his unholy legacy and the destiny of his descendants is bewildering. When a child of God is indifferent to the consequences of their choices on successive generations, or when their lack of action in taking steps to prevent evil in society, it is a pathetic sight. (This is why we in Tasmania need every believer to care about the future of our State and why we need to take the necessary steps to withstand evil in our society —especially when it is smuggled into culture through the halls of Parliament!)
THE DAMAGE FROM KING HEZEKIAH’S LAST 15 YEARS
But they did not listen, and Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the LORD destroyed before the people of Israel. “Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols … ¶ Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides the sin that he made Judah to sin so that they did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. Second Kings 21:9, 11, 16
“Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols … He walked in all the way in which his father walked and served the idols that his father served and worshiped them. Second Kings 21:11, 21
And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon. The king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the chief men of the land he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. And the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, 7,000, and the craftsmen and the metal workers, 1,000, all of them strong and fit for war. And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah. For because of the anger of the LORD it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence. ¶ And Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. Second Kings 24:15-17, 20
WHAT TASMANIAN CHRISTIANS SHOULD LEARN FROM THE LAST 15 YEARS OF HEZEKIAH
How much do know about nothing? Usually not much is said about nothing, but today I am going to say a lot about nothing. After all, we are all acquainted with nothing. In fact, nothing is largely responsible for most of the good in this world.
‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is You who have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for You.’ Jeremiah 32:17
NOTHING LIKE WINTER GARDENING
As Autumn fast draws to a close, Kim and I are considering what winter vegetables we should plant. Winter is a strange time for gardening. In winter, most flowering plants are flowerless; all deciduous trees are leafless; and pruned roses look like thorny sticks. In winter, what looks for months like nothing — just bare soil or even, simply, grass — may actually be a hive of daffodil activity. Spring reminds me that what often what appears to be “nothing happening” in winter was not the case at all. In fact, this is one of the most valuable lessons we can learn from nothing: what we can see (nothing happening) is not always the true picture.
NOTHING LIKE RECUPERATING
My son recently had surgery. Kim went down to Hobart to collect him so that he could recuperate with us in Legana. He was in a lot of pain after his operation and was unusually tired. He spent a lot time resting which he found frustrating. For five of the seven days that he was with us, he did nothing. But if we asked his surgeon if Tyrone was doing nothing while he recuperated, the surgeon might respond with a medical lecture about how, after surgery, the human body is very busy rebuilding muscle tissue, reestablishing blood flow, repairing skin cells, and producing sufficient T-cells as part of it auto-immune system to prepare for any resulting early-stage infection. “Nothing?!” he might retort, “A person recuperating from surgery is hardly doing nothing!” This then, is our second lesson about nothing: inactivity is not the same as doing nothing.
NOTHING LIKE A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP
A couple of years ago I was referred to a specialist pain clinic. The pain specialist examined me and gave me some not-so-good-news. But, he said, one of the best ways to reduce your pain levels is to get more sleep. Obviously he didn’t know how busy I was and just how impractical it would be for me to waste what little time I had in my day by napping and sleeping. Perhaps perceiving my unspoken reply to his suggestion, he went on to explain how therapeutic sleep was. While we are asleep, our body’s get to work repairing what it can, sometimes even rebuilding what it can, and helping stressed muscles trying to do what the spine is no longer able to do, he said. When you are always tired, he informed me, your body is having to divert its maintenance systems into sustaining you. This then results in further injury and pain. Despite my unwillingness to comply with this specialist’s directives, I soon found that my body was involuntarily complying (which is why my weekly Pastor’s Desk is now much later than it used to be). Since then, I have learned that despite sleep appearing like I was doing nothing it was actually an important part in my body’s recovery — not to mention that it was an invaluable occasional spiritual encounter (have you ever noticed how often God came to people in their dreams?). Thus, the third lesson we can learn about nothing is: sleep might appear as if we are doing nothing and that nothing is being achieved, when in fact, it is while we are asleep that we can sometimes see things more clearly and that some of our bio-systems are at their busiest.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to His beloved sleep.Psalm 127:2
NOTHING LIKE WAITING
I have mixed feelings about waiting. There are times when I don’t mind waiting. I especially feel this way at the moment about supermarkets. With the current social-distancing restrictions in place, waiting in the checkout queue is now even longer. But I’m OK with this as I consider that there are parts of the world where they either don’t have supermarkets, or their supermarkets are nearly bare. (But there are times when nothing bugs me more than waiting on hold to business or government agency. A week ago I think I was on hold for two hours before I eventually hung up.) It might surprise many though, who get to know me, to discover that I generally don’t mind waiting. This is especially the case when what I am waiting for has great value. I waited to get married. I waited for us to be able to have children. I waited seven years to complete my doctoral studies. Today I went into Koorong to find a book I need for some research I am doing. Laura told me that her store didn’t have it, but she could it from another Koorong store and sent directly to me. “How long would that take?” I asked. “About two weeks” she replied as her face resigned to the fact that I would baulk at such a wait. “Fine” I replied, “I’d like to order it then.”
I’m trying to teach Ruby how to wait. We bought her something for her birthday (at her request) which arrived a few weeks ago. When it was delivered she excited unwrapped the package and was interrupted by Kim who told her, “You’d better ring Dad first.” When she rang me she asked if she could start using it now as an “early birthday present” (her birthday was not for another two and half months). As any dad would who wants his children to develop sound character traits, I said, “No, you can’t have it until your birthday.” To which she replied, “But Dad!…” (you don’t need to know the … was). Because waiting for something is a measure of its true value, I know that when her birthday arrives she will appreciate it even more. This is the fourth lesson that we can learn from nothing is: it may appear that waiting is achieving nothing, but waiting fosters the virtue of patience and magnifies something’svalue.
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31
NOTHING LIKE GOD’S PLAN
There are times when it seems like God is doing nothing. The Psalmist expressed this frustration in Psalm 10 –
¶ Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? Psalm 10:1
Even in the Law, it seemed like God was commanding His people to have sacred moments of nothingness –
Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Exodus 31:15
But the sabbath was never about doing nothing. The sabbath was about recuperating, resting, waiting, and worship. It is in the times when it seems that we can do nothing that the God who never sleeps or slumbers (Psalm 121:4) is often at work on our behalf even though we cannot immediately detect His activity –
The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Exodus 14:14
And perhaps when we tie all of these lessons about nothing together, we begin to realise that our very salvation is based on nothing –
Nothing but the work and sacrifice of Jesus can save us (Hebrews 9:26)
Nothing can we add, contribute to, or bring to, the salvation that Christ offers us (2Tim 1:9)
Nothing did we do to merit, earn, or achieve this salvation that God offers us through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8)
Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39)
Nothing can be achieved unless the believer remains connected to Christ (John 15:5)
Nothing more needs to be said except to make a correction to the title of this post. Rather than Nothing Is Powerful, I should correct it to read, Nothing Is As Powerful As God, but now I think about it, both titles are equally apt for these few thoughts about nothing.