Bible in One Year

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April 23 Day 113

The Gracious Hand of God

‘Eighty per cent of life,’ according to Woody Allen, ‘is just showing up.’ So much of life is simply the set of circumstances we find ourselves in – things happen to us. For example, our parents, our genetic design, the weather, much of our education and our government are all things that we experience as ‘happening to us’. In Greek grammar, these things are expressed in what we call the ‘passive voice’. However, we also make things happen. When I initiate an action and do something, this is expressed in the ‘active voice’.

But Greek grammar also has a third voicethe ‘middle voice’. This is neither wholly active nor wholly passive. When I use the middle voice, I am participating in the results of an action.

Christian prayer is spoken in the middle voice. It cannot be in the active voice because it is not an action I control, as in the ritualistic pagan prayers where the gods do our bidding. Prayer is not in the passive voice either, in which I’m at the mercy of the will of gods and goddesses. In Christian prayer, as Eugene Peterson puts it, ‘I enter into an action begun by another, my creating and saving Lord, and find myself participating in the results of his [gracious] action.’

In one sense, the whole of the Christian life is prayer. We welcome God’s gracious hand in our lives, and we participate in what he is doing in the world. God involves you in his plans. Of course, he could do it all on his own, but he chooses to involve you. He gives you freedom, yet he remains in control.

April 22 Day 112

Your Words are Powerful

Sir Winston Churchill’s impact on the twentieth century is difficult to overestimate. A master orator and writer, Churchill knew the power of words. Martin Gilbert, Churchill’s official biographer, wrote a book called Churchill: The Power of Words. Churchill’s words sing in a way that English-language leaders and politicians have tried unsuccessfully to match ever since.

Nevertheless, for all of us, words are powerful. Your words are powerful. With kind and encouraging words, you can change a person’s day – or even their entire life.

April 21 Day 111

Hello God!

The Vicar of Dibley, a UK TV sitcom featuring a woman vicar played by Dawn French, is based on the life of one of the first women vicars – Joy Carroll Wallis. A few years ago, Pippa and I met Joy. She told us a story about when she was an Anglican Priest in London.

One of the congregation members was a very godly eighty-seven-year-old woman, called Flory Shore, who underwent serious surgery. Flory had been told that her prospects of recovery were very slim.

Thankfully, she survived the surgery. As she opened her eyes, one of the first things she saw was the blurred image of her doctor, dressed in his white jacket.

She smiled and said, ‘Hello God! I’m Flory Shore.’ 

Joy commented that this demonstrated two things. First, it showed Flory’s humility. She did not expect God to know who she was. Second, it showed her absolute certainty about the resurrection and where she was going.

Her certainty about the resurrection was based on the cornerstone of Christianity: the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the first Easter day. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead now lives in you through the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 1:18–23). One day, you too will be raised and be able to say, ‘Hello God!’

April 20 Day 110

Five Ways God Guides You

God designed you with a purpose in mind. God loves you. He has a specific, unique and glorious destiny for you. He promises to guide you.

God’s purpose for you is bigger than your mistakes. I have made many mistakes in my life, but God has not stopped guiding me.

When we go on a journey by car we use a GPS. When we take a wrong turn, it reroutes us. But it never gives up until we reach our destination. You can ignore it or switch it off but if you follow it, it makes your journey more enjoyable and peaceful. Eventually, it will say ‘You have reached your destination.’

Of course, this is not a perfect analogy. God is not a machine but a person who is with us on the journey. God wants to communicate with you and has promised to guide you.

There are five main ways in which God guides us (the five CSs):

  • Commanding Scripture (the Bible)
  • Compelling Spirit (the Holy Spirit)
  • Counsel of the Saints (the church)
  • Common Sense (reason)
  • Circumstantial Signs (providence).

In each of today’s passages, we see first something general about the way in which God guides us, and then specific examples of each of these ‘five CSs’.

April 19 Day 109

God's Strategic Plan

I live in London. With a population of over 8 million, it is the largest city in Europe and one of the largest in the world. It receives over 18 million visitors a year. It is a city where over 300 languages are spoken.

Cities are strategic places for the spread of the gospel. They always have been. The apostle Paul took the gospel from city to city. As early as AD 100, more than 40 Christian communities existed in cities around the Mediterranean world, including North Africa and parts of Italy. By AD 300 half the citizens of that region were Christian while 90% of the countryside was still pagan. Most of Paul’s letters were written to cities.

Cities tend to be places where culture is formed. Many of the spheres of influence emanate from the city, including government, politicians and law-makers; arts and entertainment; business and the marketplace; universities and other places of education; media and communication centres. The river of influence tends to flow from the city to the suburbs and rural areas. The way to transform a culture is to transform the city.

It is not surprising, therefore, that cities have always had an important role in the purposes of God. In particular, one city has been at the heart of God’s strategy for the world.

April 18 Day 108

The Rocking Chair Test

I like to think of myself as young. Recently, I heard that middle age runs from thirty-five to fifty-eight years of age. On that basis, not only am I not young, I am not even middle-aged! 

People often speak of being middle-aged as a time of ‘midlife crisis’. A midlife crisis can be caused by ageing itself, or ageing in combination with changes, problems, or regrets over work, career, relationships, children and physical changes associated with ageing.

Individuals experiencing a midlife crisis are often searching for an undefined dream or goal. We may have a deep sense of remorse for goals not yet accomplished. We may fear humiliation among more successful colleagues. We often desire to achieve a feeling of youthfulness.

At the root of all these things is a sense of something being missing. There is often a tragic wisdom in mid-life crises, as individuals realise the emptiness of much of what they used to strive for (even if what they replace it with is not always particularly wise).

I have often wondered whether Zacchaeus, whom we read about in today’s New Testament passage, was going through a midlife crisis. Whether he was or not, he found the answer that so many people are searching for in his encounter with Jesus.

No matter how long you have travelled in the wrong direction, you can always turn around. With Jesus it’s never too late to make a new start and ensure that your life is set in the right direction.

April 17 Day 107

Six Steps to a God-Centred Life

William Temple, like his father before him, was Archbishop of Canterbury (1942–1944). Among his many remarkable achievements, he wrote a superb commentary on the Gospel of John. He wrote the entire commentary, entitled Readings in St John’s Gospel, whilst praying on his knees before God.

About worship, he wrote:

‘Worship is a submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose – and all this gathered up in adoration.’

Worship saves us from being self-centred and makes us God-centred. You were created to live in a relationship with God. That should be your number one priority. If you put God first in your life all kinds of blessings follow. Because God loves you he warns you of the dangers of disregarding the design for your life.

But what does it mean to lead a God-centred life and what steps do you need to take in order to get there?

April 16 Day 106

His Presence

If you love somebody, what you long for more than anything else is that person’s presence with you. Photos are a comfort. Telephone calls, emails and texts are nice. Letters are good. Skype and FaceTime are great ways to communicate. Yet nothing can compare to actually spending time with them in person.

What Adam and Eve lost in the Garden of Eden when they sinned was the presence of God. Even more than possessing the law, the distinguishing feature of Israel was God’s presence with them. The temple was not primarily a place of sacrifice but a place of God’s presence. The exile was such a disaster for the people of God because they were away from God’s presence.

God promised to be in the midst of his people again. This promise was fulfilled with the coming of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. He promises to be with you.

April 15 Day 105

Choose What You Remember

Memory is strange. There are some things I would prefer not to remember but find difficult to forget. There are other things that I would love to remember that are all too easily forgotten.

There are some things that are important for societies as a whole not to forget. All over the world, we see war memorials with the names of those who have died for their country. Often in Britain these memorials feature the words ‘Lest We Forget’. A plaque at Auschwitz Concentration Camp reads, ‘The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again’ (George Santayana). 

We do have some control over our memory. There are some things we are told in the Bible to ‘forget’. There are other things we are repeatedly called to ‘remember’. You can make choices about what you choose to ‘forget’ and what you choose toremember’.

The word ‘remember’ in its various Hebrew and Greek forms occurs over 250 times in the Bible. It is so easy to forget all that God has done for you. It is important to look back at your own life as well as the history of the church, both local and global, to remember all that God has done.

At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the service of communion so that we would not forget the central events of world history – the death and resurrection of Jesus.

April 14 Day 104

How to Avoid the Titanic Mistake

James Cameron, director of the movie Titanic, describes the Titanic as a ‘metaphor’ of life: ‘We are all living on… [the] Titanic.’

When the Titanic set sail in 1912, it was declared to be ‘unsinkable’ because it was constructed using a new technology. The ship’s hull was divided into sixteen watertight compartments. Up to four of these compartments could be damaged or even flooded, and still the ship would float.

Tragically, the Titanic sank on 15 April 1912 at 2.20 am. 1,513 people lost their lives. At the time, it was thought that five of its watertight compartments had been ruptured in a collision with an iceberg.

However, on 1 September 1985, when the wreck of the Titanic was found lying upright on the ocean floor, there was no sign of the long gash previously thought to have been ripped in the ship’s hull. What they discovered was that damage to one compartment affected all the rest.

Many people make the Titanic mistake. They think they can divide their lives into different ‘compartments’ and that what they do in one will not affect the rest. However, as Rick Warren (from whom I have taken this illustration) says, ‘A life of integrity is one that is not divided into compartments.’

David prayed for ‘an undivided heart’ (Psalm 86:11). He led the people with ‘integrity of heart’ (78:72). Supremely, Jesus was a ‘man of integrity’ (Matthew 22:16; Mark 12:14). How can you and I avoid the Titanic mistake and live lives of integrity?