You Are Loved

January 29 Day 29

You Are Loved

Shane Taylor was considered one of the most dangerous men in the UK prison system. Originally jailed for attempted murder, he had his sentence extended by four years when he attacked a prison officer with a broken glass, setting off a riot.

He was put in a segregation unit inside a maximum-security prison. He was given his food through a hatch. His door was not opened unless there were six officers armed with riot shields waiting outside.

Later, he was transferred to Long Lartin maximum-security prison where he was invited on Alpha. During the course he prayed, ‘Jesus Christ, I know you died on a cross for me. I hate who I am; who I’ve become. Please forgive me and come into my life.’ At that moment he was filled with the Holy Spirit. He went running out onto the wing, telling everyone he could find, ‘Jesus is real!’

His behaviour changed so much that he went from living in total segregation to getting a trusted job in the prison chaplaincy. He prayed for the prison officers and for his enemies and, when he came out of prison, he got involved in a church. He met a young woman called Sam, who had also had a tough life and had been involved with drugs and criminal activity. She also came to faith in Jesus. Now, they are married and have five children.

Talking to Shane now, it is hard to imagine that he is the same person who terrified so many people in the past. He has experienced ‘the wonder of [God’s] great love’ (Psalm 17:7). He says, ‘Jesus has shown me how to love and how to forgive. He has saved me. He has forgiven me for what I have done. He has turned my life around.’

Know that you are loved and treasured by God

Psalm 17:6-12

God’s love for you is so great because it is so intimate. David calls on God and asks him to ‘show the wonder of your great love’ (v.7). He prays, ‘Keep me as the apple of your eye’ (v.8a). The apple of the eye is the pupil (the opening of the iris in the eye through which light passes to reach the retina), and so signifies the thing most treasured. Meditate today on just how much you are treasured by God.

Then he prays, ‘Hide me in the shadow of your wings’ (v.8b). Again, this tells of God’s love, intimacy and protection. Jesus picked up this image as he looked over the people of Jerusalem in the days leading up to his crucifixion and longed for them to come and hide under his wings (Matthew 23:37).

David is surrounded by ‘enemies’ (Psalm 17:9), people with ‘callous hearts’ who speak arrogantly against him (v.10). There may be times in your life when you literally face ‘enemies’, but whatever struggles or difficulties you may face, you can rely on God’s intimate love for you.

Lord, I call on you today. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.

Experience God’s love, generosity and grace

Matthew 20:1-19

Jesus tells a parable that demonstrates again the wonder of his great love. The parable of the workers in the vineyard shows the extraordinary generosity and grace of God, who gives to those who enter the kingdom last the same blessings that he gives to everybody else. This sometimes makes us ‘envious’ (v.15b). We are happy with our situation until we hear of someone else doing even better. Then, we are tempted to envy them.

The landowner in this parable overturns all the normal commercial practices. He does this, not to make extra profit for himself, but for the very opposite reason. He wants to be generous and pay more than justice demands. God is like that landowner, and his blessings and forgiveness are always more than we could ever deserve.

We sometimes hear testimonies from people like Shane Taylor who have lived terrible lives. Then, at the ‘eleventh hour’ (v.9), they repent and believe in Jesus. They are totally forgiven and receive all the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection (v.19). Some people complain that this is unfair, or that those like Shane are given too high a profile. Yet God uses their testimonies greatly, often seemingly more than those who have borne ‘the heat of the day’ (v.12b).

As we saw yesterday, God’s kingdom is an upside-down kingdom: ‘So the last will be first, and the first will be last’ (v.16). Jesus is saying this is not a reason to be envious. Rather, it is a reason to marvel at the generosity of God. In his great love, he is generous to all. It is all grace. It is all undeserved. It is all a result of what Jesus foretold (vv.17–20).

The reality is that it is not just other people like Shane to whom God is generous. He is generous to you and me. If God gave us only what we earned, we would be far worse off. Yet if you accept the generosity that God showers on you, the result is staggering.

Through his death and resurrection (vv.18–19), Jesus makes it possible for you and me to be forgiven and to enjoy his great love into eternity.

Lord, thank you for your extraordinary generosity to me. May I never be envious of those you seem to be blessing even more than me. Thank you that I can know that I am loved now and into eternity.

Hold on to his wonderful love through the difficult days

Job 11:1-14:22

Job, in the middle of a long period of intense suffering, holds on to God’s wonderful love. He says, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him’ (13:15).

Although Job had lived a blameless and upright life, fearing God and shunning evil (1:1), he was not perfect. He speaks here of ‘the sins of my youth’ (13:26) and says, ‘My offences will be sealed up in a bag; you will cover over my sin’ (14:17).

The mistake that Job’s friends made was to think that his suffering was linked to his sin. In this passage we see Job’s increasing frustration with his friends. They go on about ‘sin’ (11:6,14) and effectively heap condemnation on Job (v.5). They talk in platitudes, which do not offer any real comfort.

Eventually Job turns around and replies, ‘But I have a mind as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know all these things?’ (12:3). ‘What you know, I also know’ (13:2). He points out to them that their best policy would be to say nothing: ‘If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom’ (v.5).

We need such wisdom when people are suffering, not to speak in glib platitudes but to ensure we demonstrate God’s wonderful love by our actions and are very careful in what we say.

Job has a far healthier attitude than his friends. In his intense suffering he experiences that awful feeling of aloneness and cries out to God, ‘Why do you hide your face?’ (v.24). After C.S. Lewis’ wife died, he wrote A Grief Observed, likening this kind of experience to ‘a door slammed in your face’.

Yet, in the midst of all this, Job is able to say to God, ‘Even if he killed me, I’d keep on hoping’ (v.15, MSG). He knows God and trusts him enough, even in the very depth of despair.

Know and trust that the length of your life is ultimately determined by God and that ‘the number of [your] months is wholly in [God’s] control’ and that no one can ‘pass the bounds of his allotted time’ (14:5, AMP).

At the same time, Job seems to get a glimpse of life beyond the grave – that nothing, not even death, can separate you from God’s great love: ‘If we humans die, will we live again? That’s my question. All through these difficult days I keep hoping, waiting for the final change – for resurrection!’ (v.14, MSG; see also 19:25 onwards).

You and I are so much better off than Job because we know about the cross and resurrection of Jesus and we have the sure hope of eternity in the presence of God – wondering at his great love forever.

As the story of Job unfolds, we see that he is right to keep trusting in God. God never explains to Job why he's allowing him to go through so much, but Job’s confidence in God’s love is vindicated. In the midst of suffering, somehow we have to hold on to ‘the wonders of [God’s] great love’ (Psalm 17:7).

Lord, thank you that although there is so much that I do not understand in this world, I can trust in your wonderful love. Help me today, and every day, to continue to wonder at your great love for me.

Pippa Adds

Matthew 20:16

‘So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

I have taken this verse out of context many times. When our children were young and they lost running races, or didn’t do well in an exam or competition, I would recite, ‘The first shall be last and the last, first.’ It was a sort of joke, but also a reminder that what we value in life – success, achievement, getting to the top – will not be valued in the same way in the kingdom of heaven.

 

 

Verse of the Day

‘Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings’ (Psalm 17:8).

References

C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, (Faber & Faber, 2013).

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group