19th April

Week Commencing Sunday 19th April 2020

Dear Friends,

I hope you are keeping well. As our country, like others around the world, continues to grapple with the coronavirus we are being made aware of rising levels of anxiety and stress within households forced to self- isolate and some fearing financial disaster. This is in addition to the fear of contracting the virus.

So this week’s devotional materials encourage us to focus on God’s attributes, including His sovereignty, greatness and love; that He can replace our anxiety with His peace and give us confidence in His provision today and for the future. It also highlights the importance of prayer; in forsaking proud self-reliance, and to instead come humbly before Him, depending on Him as the One who can deliver us:

In May 1940 when France had fallen and the British army were trapped at Dunkirk, King George VIth  called for a National Day of Prayer to plead for Divine Intervention. So widespread and so deep was faith in God that literally millions of people flocked into churches to pray. The special service held in Westminster Abbey was so inundated that there is a famous photograph showing a queue a quarter of a mile long. The facts show that at numerous crisis points when all seemed lost, the people of this nation witnessed God’s Hand at work, changing what should have been the natural outcome of an event into a deliverance (see ‘We have a Guardian’ by W.B. Grant). We can pray in our homes, join with services streamed by many churches online, and use the prayer guide (p7, 8) in this update.

Call to worship

Psalm 121:1, 2 “I lift up my eyes to the hills- where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth”

These verses speak of God’s great power; He is our Creator- “the Maker of heaven and earth” -but also His love and care for the individual. “Where does my help come from? The Lord…”  This hymn speaks of God’s power and love:

Hymn

 

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord! Unnumbered blessings, give my spirit voice; tender to me the promise of his word; in God my Saviour shall my heart rejoice.

 

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his Name! Make known his might, the deeds his arm has done; his mercy sure, from age to age the same; his holy Name, the Lord, the Mighty One.

 

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his might! Powers and dominions lay their glory by. Proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight, the hungry fed, the humble lifted high.

 

Tell out, my soul, the glories of his word!

Firm is his promise, and his mercy sure.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord to children's children and for evermore!

 

 

William Temple wrote “To worship is…to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God” When we come together to worship God we focus on Him and His wonderful attributes and we surrender ourselves to Him.

Prayer.

We praise You for Your greatness and love. Father, we see your love in the mercy you have shown to us in the Gospel. We were burdened by sin, but you bore our burdens and brought us forgiveness. You call us sons and daughters, such undeserved grace, all because of Your Son’s sacrifice for us. At the Cross we also see your power in apparent weakness- despite the ridicule and rejection, betrayal and abandonment faced by the Lord Jesus, by your power you raised Him from the dead and seated Him above every power and authority. His is the name above every name. And so too by your power you have delivered us from our sins and raised us to new life, by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us.

We see your power and love at work in our salvation, and we can continue to know You yourself present with us. We can rely on your power and love every day of our lives. Father please lead us this morning into a greater appreciation of you and so have faith to trust and rely on you in all we face in our lives at this time. Amen

Reading. Philippians 4:1-7

Sermon ‘Do not be anxious about anything. Pray and find peace’

As we look at our passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians we have this interesting instruction ‘Let your gentleness be evident to all.’ The word here in the original has no real equivalent in English. We have gentleness, but the meaning is richer. It means let everybody see your kind, sweet, gentle, considerate, gracious attitude. These are fruit of the Holy Spirit. These qualities do not come naturally. Our natural reactions tend to be marked by anxiety. Anxiety is an unease and up tightness in oneself that shows itself in self- defence, in condemning others and in demanding our rights. In the following few verses Paul sketches how we can move from anxiety and these natural reactions by trusting in God, experiencing the peace of Christ, and so cultivating a life marked by this gracious forbearing attitude described by Paul.

It’s this transition from anxiety to peace in verses 6 and 7 that I want us to look at more closely and benefit from.

So, Paul says ‘Do not be anxious about anything’

It should be understood that Paul is not advocating a careless and flippant attitude towards life. Paul himself was concerned about the welfare of the churches (‘I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the Christians’ (2 Cor.11:28).

When Paul says ‘do not be anxious about anything’, he is not saying that we should be unconcerned. What he does seem to be describing is the anxiety that comes when we put material values before spiritual ones.

We need to put spiritual values first not material ones in our lives. In this way we get a right perspective. ‘Make a living’, yes, but do not become so obsessed that you lose out on making a life. Jesus told us that life is more important than food and the body more important than clothes.” (Matthew 5:25)

If we don’t have this priority then we will be anxious. Those thorns of worry will choke the seed of the kingdom planted in our lives. We will find ourselves becoming preoccupied with materialism, ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’. We will soak up the lies of advertising- you are not living unless you have this, that or the other product. Your relationships with God and others will suffer if you make material things, whether career, leisure/hobbies or anything else more important than spiritual growth. Your anxiety will increase.

This attitude can find its way into church policy. Material values before spiritual ones. Of course churches should be responsible about the finance the Lord gives them. Often they are conscientious in these matters and free of debt. And that is a legitimate strand of teaching about money from the Bible. However this needs to be balanced with that strand that values an attitude of faith towards finances- that all we have belongs to the Lord so we should not hold tightly to it. Instead we should use it liberally for His purposes- the building of the kingdom and compassionate acts, and trust Him for outcomes. Again, not putting material values before spiritual ones.

An American couple I knew- both church members- were high achievers and had doctorates. The husband however lost his job and was without one for 2 years. He spoke to me about it and said it seemed to him his whole world fell apart at the beginning. He was right to be concerned, but then came the battle to be free of the fear that would come to him every day. And this he found, over time, could only be averted through holding on to a spiritual perspective. He told me the whole career progression idea had been all important and this experience was teaching him to have a keener reliance on God and so discover a better perspective.

The danger is to home in on the material need and think this is the only reality. Then anxiety increases. Jesus teaches us from Matthew 5 that life is bigger/richer than just the physical material necessities of life.

You know what we are really doing when we make material things more important than spiritual? In effect we turn from God and shift the burdens of life on to ourselves. We assume, at least by our attitudes and actions that we alone are responsible for handling problems. Instead of acknowledging God’s sovereignty and power or seeking His kingdom first, we slip into self -reliance and pre occupation with life’s pressures, the root of anxiety.

Jesus went on to say “Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. He went on to assure His listeners that their Heavenly Father was aware of their needs. If they sought His kingdom and His righteousness first, the basic material things would fall into place ‘given to you as well’. So in the end, anxiety about these things betrays a lack of faith in God’s provision and care. 

This attitude is well put in ‘Conversation overheard in an orchard’:

 

Said the robin to the sparrow

‘One thing I would like to know

Why these anxious human beings

Rush about and worry so’

 

Said the sparrow to the robin,

“Do you think it can be

That they have no Heavenly Father

Such as cares for you and me’

 

We do have a Heavenly Father who cares.

Paul’s next set of instructions also gets us to focus on God:

“But in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

We are to substitute anxiety with focusing on God instead. Paul doesn’t specifically state that God is our Father here, but these invitations to pray in all things, to petition and give thanks remind us that we can come to God as our Father.

Notice we can talk to Him about everything, including the slightest details. Just as we who are parents long for our children to share with us anything, especially their concerns. So our Heavenly Father wants us to tell Him about everything facing us.

We are in a relationship with our Heavenly Father. To talk to Him about all things marks an intimacy that should be ours as God’s children. We have free and ready access into our Heavenly Father’s presence, knowing He is concerned about us, loves us and takes seriously those things that concern us. We can pray to God about all things.

The following prayer by Kenneth Bailey, a missionary, shows we can talk to Him about everything:

We would pray this morning, our Father, about our fears:

Fear of unpleasant confrontations in the market places

Fear of traffic accidents where we will be judged guilty irrespective of our innocence;

Fear of not finding a job back in our homeland when our term here is finished

Fear of what may happen to members of our families absent from us

Fear that our presence here is, in the long run, meaningless;

Fear that we made a mistake when we came here;

Or fear that we came here for the wrong reason;

Fear that we will not get our exit visas on time.

 

We also make our requests: We should not feel that petitionary prayer is immature, as though adoration and contemplation were more noble forms of prayer. The Hebrew and Greek words that are generally used for prayer mean ‘to request’ or ‘to make a petition’ The Bible sees petitionary prayer as an expression of what should be our child- like faith in our Heavenly Father. We come as children knowing our Father is concerned and generous.

He is ready for example to give us good gifts. None of us would give our children a stone if they asked for bread, says Jesus. None of us would give them a snake if they asked for a fish. ‘How much more will your Heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him’

We start the Lord’s Prayer “Our Father” and apart from the beginning and end which is adoration; the body of the Prayer is petitionary. ‘Give us this day our daily bread’, ‘forgive us our debts’, ‘deliver us from evil’

As we come to our Father with our requests, we come as children accepted by a Father who is ready to give. God is not a stereotyped ‘Victorian father’ removed, distant, who makes decrees regardless. He has chosen a more intimate relationship with us where we can freely enter His presence, make requests, knowing they will be listened to and granted if they are for our genuine good.

When one of our daughters, Laura was very young she was afraid at night time. Even at a young age she had made a decision to follow Jesus. On her own she requested that God help her with her fear. That He help her not to worry and instead think on good things. As she was recounting this to Liz and me, I remember she didn’t want to say the next thing to us. So we pressed her on it, and she said she told God ‘I love you lots from your daughter Laura.’ She said she felt much better! Captures that sense of child- like trust and an openness about God as Father.

Pray in everything, with requests and ‘thanksgiving’:

Thanking God reminds us that our Father is in control of what we face. Even in our most difficult circumstances, He has already given us many other benefits in life and even many helps with our particular problem. Thanksgiving opens our eyes to these and helps us regain perspective. Ingratitude concentrates only on ‘my problem’

This sense of thanksgiving is well captured by the Christian writer Daniel Defoe in his novel ‘Robinson Crusoe.’ Granted this is fiction, but if you want an example of someone who found themselves in self isolation- this is it!  When Crusoe is shipwrecked he writes down setting the evil things that have happened to him against the good, and is able to give thanks:

Evil: I am cast upon a horrible desolate island, void of all hope of recovery.

Good. But I am alive, and not drowned as all my ship’s company was

 

Evil: I am singled out and separated, as it were, from all the world to be miserable

Good: But I am singled out too from all the ship’s crew to be spared from death; and He that miraculously saved me from death, can deliver me from this condition

 

Evil: I am divided from mankind, a solitaire, one banished from humane society

Good: But I am not starved and perishing on a barren place, affording no sustenance

 

Evil: I have not clothes to cover me.

Good: But I am in a hot climate where if I had clothes I could hardly wear them.

 

Evil. I am without defence or means to resist any violence of man or beast

Good But I am cast on an island, where I see no wild beasts to hurt me, as I saw on the coast of Africa, and what if I had been shipwrecked there?

 

Evil: I have no soul to speak to, or relieve me

Good: But God wonderfully sent the ship in near enough to the shore, that I have gotten out so many necessary things as will either supply my wants, or enable me to supply myself even as long as I live

 

He writes “Upon the whole, here was undoubted testimony, that there was scarce any condition so miserable that there was something to be thankful for in it”

 

So, thanksgiving is tied in with the knowledge that Our Father is in control. Christians are not immune from trouble but we know our Father works all things together for good for those that love Him and are called according to His Purpose:

 

When I was Assistant Minister at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Swansea, there was a missionary couple based there by the name of Mike and Judy Smith. They ran an orphanage in Albania called “The Home of Hope” An atheistic state. They faced suspicion out there. The local police harassed them and made false accusations about them selling children. Then war broke out in Albania. But Mike and Judy decided to stay. Their faith in God to keep them. It made the national news at the time. After the fighting was over Mike and Judy examined the walls of the orphanage. They found 23 bullets lodged in the walls. Well, their orphanage was home to 23 children. Mike and Judy saw that as a sign of God’s protection. As a result they gained great respect in Albania and were able to carry on the work more easily. So they were able to give thanks to God throughout their ordeal.

Don’t give in to anxiety. Give thanks for the good God has already done for you and give thanks because He has the best end in view.

Alexander Carson wrote “Nothing can be more consoling for the Christian, than the conviction that the Lord who made the world governs the world; and that every event, great and small, prosperous and adverse, is under the absolute disposal of Him who does all things well, and who regulates all things for the good of His people” (‘Trusting God’ Bridges)

Are you an anxious and impatient person? Are you putting material values before spiritual ones? Anxiety will increase if you have inordinate desires for anything above the things of God. Are you assuming that you alone are responsible for handling your life? Are you self- reliant? Then you will be plagued by anxiety.

Why be anxious when you can come to a Heavenly Father who is aware of your needs, who cares for you, who is generous and powerful. As His children we can freely come to Him about anything and everything, knowing He hears and is willing to act on our requests. Knowing He is in control of what faces us now and what we will yet face. How precious is our relationship with our Heavenly Father. How thankful we should be for who He is and all He does in our lives:

Too good to be true? Don’t believe me? Let me remind you why we can freely come into the Father’s presence:

Scripture says we can cast all our anxieties on to the Lord because He cares for us. God is a burden bearing God. God’s love for us is always shown in this way:

The Son bore our burdens on the cross and gave us peace with God freely. Indeed, He is our peace. In Jesus we come to know forgiveness and right relationship with God as Father.

So now, as God’s children we still come to our Heavenly Father. As we pray, the Son carries the burden of our present anxiety, so that even this morning the Father can freely and graciously pour out His own peace on us for our present troubles. As verse 7 of our passage describes it- ‘the peace of God’ which transcends all understanding guarding your heart and mind in Christ Jesus” The meaning here about peace is not merely negative- being at peace because we are free of a burden. Rather, this is God’s own peace; a supernatural peace that replaces our anxiety. We can share in the peace that characterises God Himself. Such a peace is far better than any security of our own. This is God’s peace to us ‘guarding our hearts and minds’ The picture here is of a garrison shooting down troubled thoughts and emotions.

Your Heavenly Father is ready to grant you this peace graciously and freely through His Son, even this morning. So then:

‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’

 

Prayers about Coronavirus. (From C.A.R.E. ‘Christian Action Research & Education’)

A Prayer giving thanks for the new NHS Nightingale Hospitals. Heavenly Father, thank You for the incredible effort and expertise of those involved in creating new Nightingale hospitals in the fight against Covid-19. Please help everyone working on these in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff and Glasgow very soon to reach the point where patients can be admitted.  Amen.

A Prayer for vital supplies for the NHS. Lord, we ask that Personal Protective Equipment and other vital equipment and supplies will arrive to where they are needed efficiently and speedily. We also pray for everyone who is working to produce, distribute and administer effective tests to achieve this as quickly as possible. Amen.

A General Prayer about the coronavirus situation. Sovereign God we would pray for your deliverance, for a swift end to this outbreak. At the same time we pray You would use these extraordinary times for Your glory. We pray many would reflect on the transience of life, be humbled and turn from sin and rebellion toward You, and instead turn to Christ for their salvation.

A Prayer especially for the most vulnerable. Compassionate God, we pray for vulnerable people to be reassured, and supported safely and effectively to protect them from coronavirus. Please strengthen anyone who is seriously ill with it because of underlying conditions. Bring healing and comfort to them and their families. Amen.

A Prayer for peace in uncertain times. Lord, You are the Prince of Peace and the King of Love who casts out fear. Please help us not to be anxious about Covid-19 but to seek Your wisdom and stay vigilant about taking precautions, planning ahead and showing compassion to those who may be vulnerable. Amen.

A Prayer for Church Leaders. Heavenly Father, please grant Your faith, hope and love to church leaders as they consider the best ways to protect people from being exposed to Coronavirus. Show them any practical measures needed and inspire them by Your Spirit as they minister to their congregations. Amen.

A Prayer for those in authority. Gracious God, please grant strategic wisdom and insight to those in government, local health authorities, and providers across the NHS as they decide how to use the funding that is available and distribute staff and other resources to meet the needs brought about by Coronavirus. Amen.

A Prayer for Italy. Lord, we intercede for Italy - so badly hit by the virus. Please comfort and strengthen those affected, medical and nursing staff, and agencies taking decisions to protect and to provide for everyone’s needs. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

A Prayer for those facing economic pressures and job losses. Merciful Lord, in this time of economic instability, please send your great comfort to those who are worried about their finances and carry many burdens and responsibilities. Come alongside them, and grant them provisionAmen.

A Prayer for NHS and health care workers. All mighty God, at this time we lift to you those who are working on the front line in our medical services. Our wonderful NHS staff, who are working so hard to ensure people who are unwell are well looked after. We ask that you would give them your peace and wisdom at this challenging time. May they know your presence and have a new zeal for caring well for their patients. We also ask that you would help the government whilst they are thinking of new ways to support our NHS workers. Amen.

A Prayer for parents and pupils dealing with school closures. Father God, as schools close across the country today, we pray for mums and dads and their children. We pray your peace would reign in homes, particularly where families are self-isolating. Please give parents great patience, and help them find creative ways of keeping everyone occupied. We pray, in your merciful and mighty name, that You would strengthen families and see them through this difficult time. Amen.

A Prayer for those self-isolating. Sovereign Lord, we pray for those who are self-isolating because they are more at risk. Please give them comfort and hope. May they use their time creatively and productively and grant them good rest and patience. Please may neighbours and families step up to help support them and provide for their every need. In Jesus name. Amen.

A Prayer for prisons under pressure. Lord, please grant wisdom to those responsible for our already overcrowded prisons, where a tenth of staff are currently off work. Pray that prisoners on remand and others are released early will be helped to find somewhere safe to stay and not be tempted to reoffend. Amen.

A Prayer for self-employed people. Lord our Provider, please give wisdom to Chancellor Rishi Sunak as he considers how best to support self-employed people who are unable to work. We pray for sufficient, fair and timely provision to be delivered to help meet urgent everyday expenses and longer-term costs. Amen.