Monthly Archives: February 2012

PRACTISING THE PRESENCE OF GOD

PRACTISING THE PRESENCE OF GOD
“The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.”– Phi_4:5-6.

THE WORD anxiety comes from the same root as anger, and suggests the idea of choking. Worry chokes the life of faith. It does not help us to overcome our difficulties, but unfits us for dealing with them. No weapon that is formed against us shall prosper; every tongue that shall rise against us shall be condemned; our bread shall be given, and our water sure. God will perfect that which concerneth us, and His goodness and mercy shall never cease. Roll thyself and thy burden on the Lord, and leave them there. Too many take them back again!
In the darkening autumn evenings, we light our lamps earlier, or turn on the switch, and lo! there is a burst of light which had been waiting to be called upon. So let us keep a smile upon our faces. As we put off our heavy and rain-soaked clothes in the vestibule, so let us leave our anxieties with God, until we have to resume our destined path.
The Lord is at hand! Let us often repeat these words, amid the commonplaces of life, as well as when anticipating His near Advent! Say it when Euodia and Syntyche are giving you trouble! Say it when you are irritated and think that there is no reason why you should accept rebuffs and slights so meekly! Say it when you are worried and anxious! Say it, till you come again into that Presence, which is as the light of the morning when the sun riseth. Practise the Presence of God! Hold fellowship with Him! Even in business, or in the midst of daily toil, often lift your heart for a moment into the atmosphere of His presence! There is a great difference between faith and its intellectual expression. We must rise above the intellectual into spiritual fellowship with God. It is not for us to excite a transient feeling of love towards God. This will soon evanesce. Our business is the absolute surrender of the heart to Him. Not the rapture of the mystic, but the consciousness of the spirit, which is aware of an unimpeded union with the life of the Infinite. To be ever, tranquilly, joyously, and strenuously, at one with the blessed Will of God–that is the Heavenly Paradise, and each of us, by His grace, may walk with Him in happy fellowship, as Enoch did of old, and then we can make known our requests!

PRAYER
We ask not, O Father, for health or life. We make an offering to Thee of all our days. Thou hast counted them. We would know nothing more. All we ask is to die rather than live unfaithful to Thee. Living or dying we would be Thine. AMEN.

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SONGS FROM A DUST-HEAP!

SONGS FROM A DUST-HEAP!
“Thy dead shall live!” “Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs.”– Isa_26:19.

THIS CHEERY summons to awake and sing is addressed to those who dwell in the dust! The world is filled with them–those who dwell in the dark cells of disappointed love and faith, or who have failed in their life’s purpose, or who, like Bartimaeus, are blind and reduced to beggary. Hope has been painted as blind-folded, her head downcast, her lyre broken in her hand. Sitting on the axis of the earth, which is making its difficult way through the storm and cloud, she presses to her ear the one unbroken string, as though catching at the music of a better time. It is thus that in many lives string after string has become broken and failed, and they have come down to sit in the dust of death and despair.
It may be that you have lost all sense of God’s nearness and love–not because of any known sin, but through physical weakness, mental exhaustion, or the loneliness of sorrow and suffering. It may be that you have been seeking an experience of God, instead of God Himself. You have been seeking Him without, whilst He is within.
It may be that you are perplexed by the mystery of unanswered prayer. “O my God, I cry in the day-time, and Thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.” Yet no answer comes back from the Infinite, and your prayers seem like vessels lost at sea.
It may be that your life has not realised its early ideals. As the years go forward they carry us into disillusionment and heart-break. Life has its prizes and rewards, but they are not for us!
To all such we pass on Isaiah’s words: “Awake and sing, for thy dew is as the dew of light.” The dew is used here of the grace and love of God. Instead of dust there will be dew, which steals so gently and silently over the earth. The more dry and sapless a patch is, the more tenderly does the dew caress it! Even to graveyards it extends its gracious operations, bidding them awake and sing with the certainty of Resurrection.
Sing! because your moods, which the Psalmist called “down-sittings,” do not affect your standing in Christ. We are all subject to fits of despondency. “The Lord hath chastened me sore, but He has not given me over unto death. Open to me the gates of joy, that I may enter into them, and praise the Lord!”

PRAYER
We thank Thee that many evils that we dreaded have not come to us. Storms have expended themselves outside the circle of our lives. Thy mercy has been greater than our sin, Thy supplies larger than our need, Thy grace more abundant than the pressure of temptation. AMEN.

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THE LESSON OF THE THORN-BUSH

THE LESSON OF THE THORN-BUSH
“The angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire, out of the midst of a bush …. And God called unto him, and said, Moses, Moses, and he said, Here am I.”– Exo_3:2-4.

MOSES was an old man of eighty years! For forty years–the spring-tide of his life–he had basked in Court favour. The son of the palace, though born in a slave-hut. According to Stephen, renowned in deed and word, eloquent in speech, learned in the highest culture of his age, accustomed to lead victorious armies in the field, or to assist in raising pyramids or treasure-cities in peace–all that the ancient world could offer was at his feet (Act_7:22; Heb_11:24-27). But this had been followed by forty other years—of exile, poverty, and heart-break. Instead of the riches of Egypt, he was engaged in tending the sheep of another and the years slowly passed away in obscurity. He was a disappointed and perplexed man. His own record was that when a man’s life reaches four-score years, it is labour and sorrow, and he welcomes the cutting off of the web (Psa_90:10).
One afternoon suddenly a common thorn-bush seemed wrapt in flame. The blaze was pure and clear, and as he watched, “Behold! the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.” Small wonder that he arose from the shelter which screened him from the sun, and drew near to “see this great sight.” Then was heard that inner Voice, familiar to all pure and humble hearts, which bade him realise that the fire was no ordinary flame, but the pledge and sign of God’s Presence.
We must not suppose that there was more of God in that common bush than in the surrounding landscape. It was simply the focusing of His Presence which had always been there, as it is always everywhere. God is as near to each reader of these pages as He was to Moses at that moment! Take this to heart, you most forlorn, most down-hearted, most helpless soul! Be of good cheer! God comes to you, though humbled and scorched, and at the end of yourself! He wraps you around, interpenetrates you, and concentrates Himself on your need, saying: “I AM”–leaving you to fill in His blank cheque, and to claim what you most need. “For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but His kindness shall not depart from you.”

PRAYER
Some of us sorely need Thee, O God; we have been disappointed many times in the things we thought would yield us profit and satisfaction. When we are most absorbed in our necessary business, may Thy Presence be manifested to us. May we realise that we are not wandering aimlessly upon the trackless desert, because Thou art leading us. May every common bush be aflame with God. AMEN.

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THE LADDER TO HEAVEN

THE LADDER TO HEAVEN
“Behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to Heaven; and, behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it.”– Gen_28:12.
“Hereafter ye shall see Heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.– Joh_1:51.

BETHEL WAS a bleak moorland in the heart of Canaan. The hill-sides and level downs were strewn with huge boulders. As he fled north wards, Jacob suddenly found himself overtaken by the swift eastern night while he was traversing this desolate moor. There was nothing for it but to lie down on the hard ground, taking one of the big stones as a pillow for his head. As he slept, he dreamed; and in his dream his mind wove together his last waking thoughts in fantastic medley. It seemed as if the big slabs of limestone came together, and built themselves into a gigantic staircase, reaching from where he lay to the starry heights above him; and on that staircase angels came and went, peopling by their multitudes that most desolate region, and evidently interested in the sleeper who lay beneath.
Let us think of that mystic ladder which is Jesus Christ our Lord, by which He descended to our humanity and ascended to the Throne of God. He is “the Way” by which “the sons of ignorance and night” can pass upward to the eternal Light and Love. Where are you? It may be on a moorland waste, in a ship’s cabin, a settler’s hut, in a humble cottage, in the crowded city, lying on a bed of pain in the hospital ward! Wherever you are, Jesus finds you out and comes just where you are. The one pole of the ladder is the gold of His Deity, the other the silver of His Manhood, which is placed against your life. Transmit to Him your burdens of sin and care and fear. “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.” “We have a Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus.” None of us is outside God’s loving thought and care. There is always a linking ladder between ourselves and Heaven, and God’s angels still pass to and fro, sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation. Let us see to it that we wait at the foot of the ladder to claim our share in the blessings which they bring to earth.

PRAYER
We thank Thee, O Father, that from whatever place Thy children seek Thee, there is a ladder reaching up beyond the stars to Heaven; that Jesus is the Way to Thyself, and we may come to Thee in Him; nay, Thou dost come to us, and dost send Thine angels to minister to our need, that Heaven is near to earth, with sympathy, help, and succour. AMEN.

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JOY IN THE HOUR OF TRIAL

JOY IN THE HOUR OF TRIAL
“Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations. Knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”– Jam_1:2-3.

WE ARE bidden to count our trials as pure Joy, since our patient endurance leads ultimately to the finished product of a holy character. All the trials and afflictions that beset us are seen and shared by our Heavenly Father. God did not save Israel from the ordeal of affliction, but passed through it with them (Exo_3:7-9; Isa_63:9). Evidently there was a wise purpose to be served by those bitter Egyptian experiences. So with ourselves. There is a reason for our trials which we do not understand now, but we shall do some day, when we stand in the light with God. Afflictions are not always chastisement, though in some cases that may be so; but more often we are in grief through manifold trials, that the proof of our faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, may be found unto praise and honour and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Let us therefore rejoice, and magnify His lovingkindness. What a theme is here for praise! Sweet psalms and hymns have floated down the ages, bearing comfort for myriads, because those who wrote them passed through searching discipline. And it may be that we who have passed through great tribulation will be able to contribute notes in the Heavenly music that the unfallen sons of light could never sing. The Psalter of Eternity could not be complete without the reminiscences, set to music, of the grace that ministered to us in our earthly trials, and brought us up out of the furnace of pain.
Then we shall tell how God’s glorious arm went also at our right hand, as at the right hand of Moses; of how the stony paths became soft as mossy grass; of how He led us out of the scorching heat into green pastures and waters of rest; and how He provided for us to make for Himself a glorious Name. Yes, we will make mention of the Lord, according to all that He shall have bestowed upon us, according to His mercies, and according to the multitude of His lovingkindness. We will tell the story of how the Angel of His Presence saved us; how, in His love and pity, He redeemed us; and how He bare and carried us all the days of old. We shall have a great story to tell! “My heart and my flesh fail, but Thou art the strength of my heart and my portion for ever! None of them that trust in Him shall be desolate.’”

PRAYER
Give me, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no unworthy affection may drag downwards; give me an unconquered heart, which no tribulation can wear out; give me an upright heart, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside. AMEN.

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THE CRY OF THE OPPRESSED

THE CRY OF THE OPPRESSED
“O Lord, I am oppressed, undertake for me.”– Isa_38:14.

THIS PRAYER is so indefinite that it will suit any emergency, and yet brimful of faith that God will undertake all responsibility. Are you oppressed with the sense of failure, with temptation, with the consciousness of sin? Or oppressed with poverty, or debt, or the fear of unemployment, or with inability to find work? Or cast down with bitter persecution within or without your home? Or sorely beset and hindered by ill-health, the hopelessness of recovery? All these eases of oppression are included in this petition, and may be handed over to your faithful Creator, with the certainty that He is as willing as He is able to undertake for you. He is never weary of hearing your cry; the Everlasting Arms are never tired; and our God neither slumbers nor sleeps.
What may we expect from a prayer so simple, yet so comprehensive? We shall know God. “What shall I say, He hath both spoken unto me, and Himself hath done it” (Isa_38:15). Hezekiah had been a religious man, had maintained the Temple Services, had enjoyed the close friendship of Isaiah, yet it was in none of these things that he had met God face to face. But when he turned his face to the wall, and poured out his soul-anguish, He touched God, knew Him after a fresh fashion, heard Him speak, saw Him work. Only through sickness, loneliness, and the pressure of overwhelming sorrow, do some men rightly learn to live, and discover that unseen and most real world, where the life of the spirit unfolds to God as a flower in spring.
At the pit we learn God’s Love (Isa_38:17). How can we measure God’s love? They say that a man’s fist is the measure of his heart. Come and stand beneath the stars! There is God’s hand! Now judge His heart! It is illimitable! By that love He has put our sins behind His back into the ocean depths! With that love He has drawn us out of the pit of our sins! By that love He bears with our cold response and languid petitions! Through that love He will bring us to glory! His is a love that will never let us go!
Take the hand of Jesus to steady you; look down into the hole of the pit from which you have been redeemed, and then look up to the Throne of God to which He passed at His Ascension, and recall His own words: “where I am, there shall ye be also.” Trust Him to undertake for your little life!

PRAYER
I pray Thee, O my Father, to shut me up to a simpler and more confiding faith. May I trust more than I know, and believe more than I see; and when my heart is overwhelmed within me, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I. AMEN.

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GOD’S PARTNERSHIP WITH MAN

GOD’S PARTNERSHIP WITH MAN
“Come now, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh And God said, I AM THAT I AM: Thus shall thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.”– Exo_3:10-14.

NOTHING IS more needed to-day than God’s Partnership as a realised fact in Christian experience. Many of us may assent to what is written in these lines, and then put it aside, as a dream which is too ethereal to be of practical service. But when the Apostle said that “our fellowship, i.e. our partnership, is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” it is surely meant that we should enter upon our inheritance. “I AM… ” says our great Partner; “fill in your need, and I will meet your demand, according to the riches of My glory in Christ Jesus.” Let us tear out the order-forms from God’s service-register, fill them up, and present them for delivery. Not one of them would be dishonoured. And if it happened that we had wrongly diagnosed our need, He would erase the demand based on our imperfect knowledge, and substitute what we would ask if we knew. There is nothing more certain than that the more we ask of God, the more pleased He is to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.
Our Lord made use of this incident when He was challenged by the Sadducees to adduce proof of the future life from the Books of Moses. He answered by quoting this paragraph of the burning bush, calling special attention to the fact that Moses referred to God as the “God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.” He said that the use of the present tense—I AM–proved that God is not the God of the dead but of the living, and that all live unto Him.
What a comfort there is in this thought, that our beloved who have passed from us are in-breathing the same atmosphere as we are. We all eat the same spiritual meat and all drink the same spiritual drink. We see in a mirror darkly, but they face to face; but this identity of fellowship, of partnership with the “I AM,” the ever-present God who fills heaven and earth, is a proof and a pledge that they have not altered essentially. They are drinking of the same stream higher up and nearer its source: “One family we dwell in him.”

PRAYER
Accomplish thy perfect work in our souls, O Father. As yet we are bound with many chains; we tarry among things seen and temporal, we are exposed to the storms of the outer world, and are wrestling with its ills. But we are not dismayed, for we are more than earth and dust, we are akin to Thee, O Spirit of the Lord, and can experience Thy heavenly influence. Fill us with faith and love and hope. AMEN.

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EVERY-DAY RELIGION

EVERY-DAY RELIGION
“Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. Having a good conscience.”– 1Pe_3:15-16.

THERE IS no doubt that if every Christian person were to begin to live up to the New Testament ideal, avoiding always what Christ would not be, and seeking to be always what He would be, there would be .little need for preaching, for the beauty of the Christian character would in itself be sufficiently attractive to win men for Jesus Christ.
Let us examine ourselves by the suggestions in this chapter, from which we have selected our text (1Pe_3:8-18). Have we the mind of Christ, which makes us willing to be of no reputation, and to stoop even to the death of the cross, for others? Are we compassionate, sympathising in the joys and sorrows of others? Do we love the brethren, not always liking them perhaps, but treating them kindly, and making their interests more important than our own? Are we tender-hearted and pitiful towards the afflicted and distressed? Are we courteous, with true Christian politeness which differs from the world’s code of manners? How do we reply to injury? Do we bless when we are cursed, or do we retaliate with hot and indignant words? Are we willing to leave our vindication with God?
Do you want a happy life and good days? Then leave God to vindicate and deliver you. Set yourself against evil, and live at peace with all, as much as in you lies. The one thing for all of us to be really anxious about is to enshrine Jesus Christ in our hearts as Lord (R.V.). Is there a door in your heart opening on a throne room which is reserved for Jesus only? Have you written on that door such words as these: “Other lords have had dominion over me, but henceforth He only is my King.”? Be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you. This is what Peter, on one memorable occasion, failed to do; and we shall fail also but for the help of the Holy Spirit, who will teach us what we ought to say (Joh_14:26). Have a good conscience–one that can look God and man in the face, and is not conscious of willful violation of what is right and good. Follow the gleam; obey the inner light; listen to the still small voice, which is ever saying: “This is the way, walk ye in it.”

PRAYER
Help me, O God, so to live that those who are associated with me, directing or serving me day by day, may long to have the love and joy which they see in me. Show me how to apply to the common things of daily life the heavenly principles of the risen life. AMEN.

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CHANGING OUR STRENGTH

CHANGING OUR STRENGTH
“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”– Isa_40:31.

IT IS more than probable that these lines will be read by some who have lost heart. They are fainting beneath the long and arduous strain of life, and ready to give up in despair. It seems as though God had forgotten to be gracious, and in anger had shut up His tender mercies. To all such, Isaiah says: God is not tired: you think He is because you are. Wait upon the Lord, and change your strength (see margin).
The question is not as to altering your environment, but altering your courage, your power of endurance, your assurance of victory; then, notwithstanding every hindrance and difficulty, you will mount up on wings like eagles, you will run without being weary, you will walk without being faint.
The inevitable order. Mounting up–running–walking! We should have supposed that it should have been walking in the beginnings of religious experience; then the walk breaking into the run; and finally the runner leaping on wings into the azure, like the eagle a black speck against the blue! But experience confirms the prophetic order. Isaiah is right! We mount, we run, we walk!
Let us claim the promise–”They that wait on the Lord shall change their strength.” Too often in the past we have depended on the stimulus of services, sermons, conventions which have made the embers glow again on the heart’s altar. We have gone back to our homes, to our daily calling, with a new zeal and impulse that has lasted for weeks or months. Then we have found ourselves flagging again; we have run and got weary; we have walked and become faint.
To all such comes the word; if you would once more mount up and run and walk, you must change your strength. Time tells on us! Moods influence us! Circumstances impede us! Satan blows cold blasts on our heart-fires and cools them! Sins pile up their debris between us and God! From all these let us turn once more to Jesus and wait on Him. “My soul, wait thou only upon the Lord, for my expectation is from Him.” Look not back, but forward! Not down, but up! Not in, but out! Never to your own heart, but keep looking to Jesus, made near and living by the grace of the Holy Spirit. So shall you change your strength, as you wait upon the Lord.

PRAYER
Thou knowest, Lord, how often I am sorely let and hindered in running the race which is set before me. May Thy bountiful grace and mercy come to my help, that I may finish my course with joy, and receive the crown of life. AMEN.

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VISION AND PURPOSE

VISION AND PURPOSE
“I said, What shall I do, Lord?”– Act_22:10.
“Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on toward the goal.”– Phi_3:12-14.

WHEN THE Apostle Paul was suddenly brought into the presence of the Eternal, the whole course of his life was changed. In that flash of Light he saw the exalted Saviour, and learnt that he was antagonising the purposes of redeeming grace, and that vision altered the whole of his purposes and actions. From that great hour he forgot the things that were behind, and endeavoured to apprehend that for which he had been apprehended by Christ Jesus. It was his ambition to build his life on the pattern shown him on the mount.
Years after, as he reviewed his life-work, the churches he had founded, the cities he had evangelised, the epistles he had written, surely he might have reckoned that he had apprehended; but ever as he climbed, he envisaged heights beckoning beyond his attainments. Is not that the case with us, as we compare the vision of God’s purpose with what we have realised? Oh, give us back the years that have gone, that we may do better, be more accurate and successful in the transmission to living fact of those fair ideals, which called to us years ago! The vision in the sanctuary may never be perfectly realised by these bungling apprentice-hands. Yet God accepts and forgives the mistakes, as the mother accepts the cobbled stitches of her little girl who tries to help her with her sewing. “Not that we have already attained, or are already perfect, but we follow on,” and God forgives and accepts our poor patchwork!
What must we do to achieve our ideals? We must be more often in the sanctuary, in fellowship with Christ, to whose image we are to be conformed. With the Psalmist we must say: “Whom have I in heaven but Thee, and there is none on the earth that I desire beside Thee.” As we look on Him, we shall be changed into His likeness. As He is, so shall we become. Martyrs on the night before their agony; reformers hesitating at their tasks; scholars wondering whether their long self-denial was worth while; fathers and mothers; teachers and workers; preachers and missionaries, all these have stood in the sanctuary of God, until they have seen the vision and ideal. Then they have reckoned that what God had taught them to long for, He was prepared to enable them to effect. “All things are possible to him that believeth.”

PRAYER
Grant unto me grace, O Lord, that I may both perceive and know what things I ought to do, and may also have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same. AMEN.

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