Bible in One Year

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August 19 Day 231

Sixteen Characteristics of Love

I tried following the example of a missionary I once heard about who, each day, would read the four verses from today’s New Testament passage, which lists sixteen characteristics of love. For the word ‘love’ she would substitute her own name. When she reached a characteristic that she knew was not true of her, she had to stop. Her aim was, one day, to get through the whole list.

The four verses (1 Corinthians 13:4–7) start with ‘love is patient’. So I substituted my own name and started with ‘Nicky is patient’. I do not think it will come as any surprise to those who know me well that I had to stop there!

The great evangelist D.L. Moody was once staying with friends in England. One evening they asked Henry Drummond to expound on a portion of Scripture. After some urging, Henry drew a small New Testament from his pocket, opened it at 1 Corinthians 13 and began to speak on the subject of love. D.L. Moody wrote in response:

‘It seemed to me that I had never heard anything so beautiful. The one great need in our Christian life is love, more love to God and to each other. Would that we could all move into that love chapter and live there.’

We get an idea of what Drummond must have said that evening in his book, The Greatest Thing in the World. He writes: ‘What is... the supreme good? You have life before you. Once only you can live it. What is the noblest object of desire, the supreme gift to covet?’ In 1 Corinthians 13 ‘Paul takes us to Christianity at its source; and there we see, “The greatest of these is love.”’

God is love. We deceive ourselves if we think we can love God and hate other people (1 John 4:20). Love should be number one on your spiritual priority list. It should be the main thing in your life. It is, in the words of St Paul, ‘the most excellent way’ (1 Corinthians 12:31).

August 18 Day 230

Intimate Relationships

In his book All I Want is You, Bishop Sandy Millar writes, ‘When I first visited the Vineyard Church in California I discovered that one of their principal values was “intimacy with God”. So when I came back I started to talk about that as being one of our values too.’

He continues, ‘One of the very nice members of our congregation at that time took me to one side and said, “Please don’t use the word ‘intimacy’ because we don’t use that word in that context.” So I started talking about “the closest possible relationship with God” which is quite a mouthful. But after a bit I stopped because what I really meant was “intimacy” and I think that’s what the Bible means for our relationship with God too.’

There is a hunger deep in our souls for an intimate relationship with God and with other human beings.

August 17 Day 229

How to Enjoy God

You and I are created to worship God. But why would God create human beings in order to receive their worship? Is this not, as some suggest, pure vanity?

Many years ago, I was helped in my understanding of worship through C.S. Lewis’s explanation in his Reflections on the Psalms.

He wrote: ‘The most obvious fact about praise… strangely escaped me… I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise… the world rings with praise... walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game – praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare books, even sometimes politicians and scholars…

‘I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It’s not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.’

In other words, worship is the consummation of joy. Our joy is not complete until it is expressed in worship. It is out of his love for you that God created you to worship. According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, humankind’s ‘chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever’.

August 16 Day 228

How to Raise Your Game

Some of the world’s top squash players used to practise at the club where I play. I remember well the first time I saw at close hand a high-level game. It was the son of one of our regular group of players. At the time, he was ranked number 11 in the world. He came to practise at our club with the world number 2.

We all watched in amazement. We had never seen anything like it. In fact, if that was ‘squash’, what we played should be called something else!

Watching them always raised our game. Suddenly we realised that it was possible to return practically any shot your opponent could serve you, however good they were. We saw how important it was to get back to the middle of the court after each shot. We watched how deep they hit the ball. We noticed the shots that they avoided playing.

When we went on court after that, we astonished ourselves by how well we played. Of course, we did not play anywhere near as well as them. But, inspired by their example, we played a whole lot better than usual.

During my Christian life, I have found the same pattern. For example, I had the privilege of working for Sandy Millar for nineteen years. Through watching his life and hearing him preach, I was always inspired by his example. Even though reaching the level of those who are examples to us might not be possible, hopefully it inspires us to raise our game.

A Christian is someone who believes in Jesus, puts their faith in him, knows him and lives ‘in Christ’. It is also someone who follows his example.

There is no greater example in human history than the example of Christ. Paul writes, ‘Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

August 15 Day 227

No Sloppy Living

I love to play sport. I have never been particularly good at it, but I enjoy it enormously. Not many of the guys I play squash with play at a very high standard; it is all very friendly and relaxed and yet, we are very competitive! Even the level we play at requires ‘strict training’. I have to train and play regularly. It is one of the reasons I try to be careful about what I eat and how much sleep I get.

The apostle Paul writes, ‘You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally’ (1 Corinthians 9:24–25, MSG).

If those who compete at sport go into strict training in order to achieve something that ‘will not last’, how much more should we go into ‘strict training’ in our moral and spiritual life in order to ‘get a crown that will last forever’ (v.25).

Paul writes, ‘I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition’ (v.26, MSG). Worshipping and serving God is Paul’s aim and ambition in life. He wants to do it to the very best of his ability. He wants to give it everything he’s got. He is going for gold.

Worship and service are very closely connected (the same Greek word latreuo is used for both). All human beings are worshippers. You either worship the one true God, or someone or something else. All human beings are servants – to God, to yourself or to someone or something else.

In the passages for today, we see the importance of worshipping and serving the one true God with all of our hearts and beings – giving everything we have got – no sloppy living.

August 14 Day 226

The Night with a Mosquito

History is in many ways a story of influence. Leadership is about influence. Everyone influences someone. Therefore, in a sense, everyone is a leader. Sociologists tell us that even the most introverted individual will influence 10,000 other people during his or her lifetime. We all influence one another in all sorts of ways – from what to have for lunch and what films to watch, to more important matters of truth and ethics.

My life has been influenced by so many people – my parents, teachers, friends and family. Just as I have been influenced by others, inevitably what I do and say will influence others for good or ill.

As the African proverb puts it, ‘If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent the night with a mosquito.’ The mosquito makes a difference in an annoying way, but the principle is the same. One person can stop a great injustice. One person can be a voice for truth. One person’s kindness can save a life. Each person matters.

How can you maximise your influence and use that influence for good?

August 13 Day 225

Who You Need to Know

We lived in Oxford for three years. I was training for ordination in the Church of England and studying for a degree in Theology at Oxford University. One of the things we noticed while we were there was that, compared to London, Oxford seemed to be relatively non-materialistic. People, on the whole, were not impressed by wealth. Success was measured differently.

The people in Oxford tended to be more impressed by brains than by money or beauty. Success was measured in starred firsts, distinctions, PhDs, professorships and published works. It made me wonder whether intelligence and ‘knowledge’ could be as much a false god as money and wealth.

Knowledge is, on the whole, good. The facts are your friends. Education is good – reading, learning and discovering are all good activities. However, as Lord Byron wrote, ‘The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.’ We need to see ‘knowledge’ in perspective. Our knowledge is very limited. The more we know, the more we realise how little we know. God is our creator and he alone knows everything.

There are also different types of knowledge, and they are not all equally valuable. In French, there are two different words for ‘to know’. One (savoir) means to know a fact, the other (connaître) means to know a person. God is more interested in us knowing people than facts. The most important knowledge of all is knowing God and being known by him. Even this is not the end though. It is never enough simply to have knowledge – you must also have love.

August 12 Day 224

Enjoy Life in the Present

Some people see life today as the Three Witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth put it, ‘Double, double toil and trouble.’ My own perspective on life changed when a friend wisely pointed out to me that, in a sense, this life is a series of problem-solving exercises. We will never be without problems in this life. If, in the midst of all the challenges, you cannot learn to thrive in the situation in which you find yourself, you will never find contentment.

The writer of Ecclesiastes says, ‘We should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now’ (Ecclesiastes 5:19, MSG). Learn to enjoy this wonderful gift of life in the present. If you do not, life will pass you by and you will never enjoy where you are right now.

August 11 Day 223

Anxiety and Peace

Anxiety can rob you of the enjoyment of life. The causes of anxiety are numerous: health issues, work (or lack of it), finances (debt, unpaid bills and so on) and much else besides. Some of the biggest causes of anxiety are those dealt with in today’s New Testament passage: relationships, marriage (or lack of it), sex (or lack of it), singleness and divorce.

In our Old Testament passage, the book of Ecclesiastes suggests that much of the anxiety we experience is caused by something deeper. This could be described as the anxiety of meaninglessness. In the midst of all this, you are called ‘to live in peace’ (1 Corinthians 7:15).

August 10 Day 222

Good Judgment

When I practised as a barrister most of the judges I appeared before were extremely good. However, I remember one occasion when I appeared before a judge who was not good. It was a terrible experience.

I was representing the defendant in a criminal case. It was only the second case I had ever done in front of a jury. I was young and inexperienced. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that there was something very wrong with the way in which the judge was conducting the case. She kept interrupting me whenever I was speaking. She intervened over and over again with her own questions. I ended up having what the court usher described as a ‘stand up row with the judge’.

The judge’s summing up was more like a second prosecution speech; my client was duly convicted and sent to prison. We appealed, on the basis that the defendant was entitled to a fair trial and he had not been given one.

When I appeared before three very senior judges in the Court of Appeal, I was extremely nervous that they might not approve of my part in the ‘stand up row with the judge’! To my relief they were as appalled as I had been by her conduct of the trial. They overturned the original decision and my confidence in the British legal system was restored.

Good judges are scarce. In many parts of the world, judges are subject to bribery and corruption. There is no rule of law. The result is terrible injustice. The poor, in particular, tend to be the victims.