We had a great time at the Family Fun Day yesterday, hosting the Message Bus at three locations. We looked at temptation and making wise choices as our theme and our craft activities were based around being a wise owl and guarding good things in our hearts.
As always, we were blessed to have volunteers from the Salvation Army who cooked food for people at all venues:
I believe many Christians are not satisfied people. They have not reached that place where they understand that spiritual satisfaction can only be found in God. They are still seeking satisfaction from good jobs, relationships, holidays, houses and other material things. None of these things are wrong in themselves, but they will never be able to satisfy the longings of our hearts, because these are spiritual longings placed within us by God Himself, longings He alone can satisfy. God promises us satisfaction: ‘You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.’ (Ps 145:16) If we are to grow up and become mature, then we have to learn that satisfaction is God’s plan for our lives…but this is a satisfaction which looks radically different to the world’s always-wanting-more idea of satisfaction. God’s satisfaction brings us to a place of contentment, where we learn that godliness with contentment is great gain. (1 Tim 6:6) In these verses from Isaiah 58:9-12 and Jeremiah 31:11-14, we read of God satisfying us, which is exactly what Jesus meant when He spoke to the woman at the well and said, ‘whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.’ (John 4:14) Jesus satisfies us. He does this by giving us living water: ‘rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ (John 7:38) The language is one of abundance, just as Jeremiah talks of abundance and bounty. In God, there’s not just enough; there’s more than enough.
I can remember the day when God showed this to me for the first time. It’s etched in my mind: 4th September 2006, one of those ‘pivotal point incidents’ where things can never be the same again afterwards. It was the first day back at work for me after the summer holidays, an INSET day. I was fortunate to work in a Christian school and the very first thing we did every September was start with a time of praise and prayer. It was just an ordinary day. During that time of worship, I was introduced to the song ‘Enough’:
‘All of You is more than enough for
All of me, for every thirst and every need.
You satisfy me with Your love and
All I have in You is more than enough.’ (‘Enough’, Chris Tomlin & Louie Giglio)
That song captured my attention, my thoughts, my emotions. I’d never heard it before. I came home still singing it and Googled it. I bought the CD. I bought Chris Tomlin’s other CDs, based on that one song. It was a tumultuous term, filled with challenges, not least my own diagnosis of diabetes. But inwardly, something revolutionary was happening: satisfaction, refreshment, an inner conviction that nothing I faced was more than God could handle. God says in 1 Cor 10:13, ‘God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.’ In those days, I learnt for the first time what it means to be wholly satisfied with God.
God’s desire is to sustain His chosen people, both physically and spiritually, as a testimony of hope to the world: a testimony that points people to our loving, faithful and sustaining heavenly Father. The same is promised to each one of His children. He is our guide; He will satisfy our needs and strengthen us as we trust in Him.
The image of a well-watered garden to describe the satisfaction of the Christian’s life in God is not an end in itself. God’s plan is for us to grow and become mature; Paul tells us, ‘So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.’ (Eph 4:11-13) There is a grace and elegance to unity and maturity which reflects God’s nature. When a group of people from different backgrounds, different nationalities, different temperaments and different jobs all join together in worship and love, we see that there is a unifying force greater than ourselves. God joins us together; God knits us together. That’s what it means to be part of a local church and God wants the local church to be the place to which sinners are brought to see what being part of God’s family looks like, here on earth.
God is the one who waters our souls and makes us fruitful, but the prophets remind us of the part we have to play. Isaiah 58 reminds us that there has to be repentance on our part. The people of God have always been good at acting the part, but God looks beyond our actions to our hearts. He talks about needing more than outward fasting to please Him, about loosing the chains of injustice and sharing our food with the hungry and our clothes with the naked (Is 58:6-7). Jesus talked about this in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, when the King says, ‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matt 25:35-36) Whenever we serve others in this way, we serve God. Whenever we do the things God commands, we please Him and open the door for Him to come into our lives in new ways. Isaiah is blunt and eminently practical. He tells God’s people what to do: ‘do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk… spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed’ (Is 58:9-10). John is equally blunt in his letters: ‘we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.’ (1 John 3:16-18) It’s not rocket science which is required; it’s simple, faithful, ongoing obedience.
If we are to be that well-watered garden, like a tree planted by streams of water (see Ps 1:1-3), yielding fruit in season and not withering at any time, then we have to be people who have set our faces to Jesus and who delight in Him. We have to turn our backs on our old ways and the ways of sin and be those whose delight is in God’s word and God’s ways.
Tonight we looked at passages from Is 58:9-12 and Jer 31:11-14 which tell us God wants to make us a well-watered garden. It can be hard for us living in ‘this green and pleasant land‘ where rainfall is in plentiful supply to imagine how hard it is to have a well-watered garden in a sun-scorched land, but these passages remind us that God is able to make things grow, even in circumstances where growth does not seem possible. God is able to help us to grow, no matter what the exterior conditions look like.
The source of spiritual growth is God Himself. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah lived during desperately difficult times for the people of God: warnings of exile and exile itself were the messages these prophets had to bring. Yet it was during this time of apparent hopelessness that God promised His people to be their guide. He promised to satisfy their needs and strengthen them like a spring that never goes dry. (Is 58:11) He promised to ‘deliver Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.’ (Jer 31:12) It’s God who will turn their mourning into gladness, God who will give comfort and joy instead of sorrow. (Jer 31:13) Both passages speak of satisfaction: Isaiah says, ‘he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land’ (Is 58:11); Jeremiah says, ‘I will satisfy the priests with abundance, and my people will be filled with my bounty.’ (Jer 31:14)
The sooner we grasp the fact that it’s God alone who satisfies, the quicker we will grow up and become mature. So often, our problems occur because we are looking to other things to satisfy us and we are working on growth ourselves. Growth is the natural consequence of life lived God’s way and it’s God who makes things grow. (1 Cor 3:6-7) If we do the things that God has commanded us to do, He takes care of the growth; He takes care of the satisfaction. Yet so often, we try to turn things around and do it ourselves. At the heart of Isaiah’s message and Jeremiah’s message is the reminder that God is at the centre. He is God. He will not yield His glory to anyone else. (Is 42:8) There are plenty of things that God wants us to do, but fundamentally, we have to understand there are some things only God can do and we must not seek to take His place or do the things only He can do.
Stephen spoke this morning about unity, likening this to the finished picture on a jigsaw puzzle. A jigsaw puzzle is made up of individual pieces fitted together to form a picture. God is working in the church to bring every individual together to fit together like a jigsaw and reflect the picture He is making.
God began this unifying picture in the Garden of Eden when He made Adam and Eve to be united as one flesh (Gen 2:23-24). (We might think of this as the simplest kind of jigsaw, with just two pieces!)
Ps 133 shows us a picture of unity within the family of God, likening this to precious oil pouring down Aaron’s beard and clothing and dew falling on Mount Zion. Anyone who has had a pamper session with refreshing oils will know how reviving and revitalising this can be. God’s love is bestowed lavishly upon us, uniting us to be one as Jesus is one with the Father (see John 17:20-23).
The more complicated a jigsaw becomes, the more it is a challenge for us – 1000 piece puzzles and 3D puzzles can be really difficult to complete. Unity challenges us because it means loving as God does, putting others before ourselves. We have to participate in this and can’t just be spectators. God’s love is vaster than we can comprehend; as the children’s song reminds us, ‘It’s so high, you can’t get over it/ So low, you can’t get under it/ So wide you can’t get round it.’ (Richard Irwin) Love is God’s full picture (since He is love) and unity comes as we are united to God and each other in love.
2020 is proving a happy year for me musically, as some of my favourite artists release albums. Matt Redman’s ‘Let There Be Wonder’ and Jeremy Camp’s ‘The Story’s Not Over’ have found their way to me this year and I’m eagerly awaiting Rend Collective’s new album ‘Choose To Worship’ next month (conveniently my birthday month!)
I’ve been cleaning this morning (never a favourite chore) and to keep me going, I’ve been listening to the new Jeremy Camp album. The last song, ‘Wilderness’, is very poignant.
‘I’ve had seasons of goodness
Overflowing with life,
But I’m no stranger to sorrow
Or a heart that wanders sometimes.
I know the darkest night cannot outrun the sun.
The burden will be light but until that day comes
I will rest,
I will rest,
Rest my heart in Your hands
‘Cause I know that I can
Put my hope in Your faithfulness.
I will rest
And trust with confidence
If You’re God in the good, in the promised land,
You’ll be God, God in the wilderness.
When I’m stuck in the silence
And my mind’s full of noise,
You’re my light in the distance
You’re my peace in the storm.
I know the longest fight cannot outlast Your love
The wrong will be made right but until that day comes
There is joy on the horizon.
I can feel it rising up.’ (‘Wilderness’, Jeremy Camp)
Whatever the season, whatever the place, we can rest in God and know His peace and light.