Bible in One Year

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June 23 Day 174

Three Keys to Great Friendships

The UK retail chain Topshop commissioned a survey by a team of psychologists into their key customer demographic: Millennials (those born between 1981 and the early 2000s, and also known as Generation Y). They interviewed 800 people. The results were so startling that they did not believe them. They interviewed another 800 and got the same results.

The results portrayed an alarming picture of an increasingly lonely and lost generation. More people live alone than at any other point in our recorded social history. On average, Millennials spend six-and-a-half hours a day on social media. Many who were interviewed considered work to be something they fitted in between social media and lunch! They found people had a very large number of ‘friends’ but an increasing sense of loneliness.

There is nothing wrong with social media, but it is no substitute for real, face-to-face friendships. We were created for friendship with God (Genesis 3:8) and with one another (2:18).

Marriage is part of the solution to aloneness. Friendship, vital also in marriage, is a crucial part of the solution too. Jesus set an example of close friendship with men and women. He demonstrated that marriage is not the only solution to aloneness. In one respect, friendship is even more important than marriage. Marriage is temporary; friendship is eternal. ‘Friendship’, as C.S. Lewis writes, is the ‘crown of life and school of virtue’. Friendship multiplies joy and divides sorrow.

The Bible is very realistic. We see examples of relationships at their very best, but we also see examples of their frailty and failure. Through these examples and the teaching of the Bible we see three keys.

June 22 Day 173

When Life is Difficult

He was arrested for preaching the gospel. His wife died leaving him with four children, one of whom was blind. Yet he refused to give up telling people the good news about Jesus.

John Bunyan wrote his greatest work in a prison cell. It has been a source of spiritual inspiration and help to countless readers. Translated into over 200 languages, it has never been out of print since the day it was first published in 1678.

Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory which tells the story of a person called ‘Christian’ on a journey from his hometown to the Celestial City. On the way he faces many difficulties, challenges and obstacles, yet he perseveres faithfully to the end.

A Christian life is not easy. You will face many difficulties along the way. But these need not derail you. In fact, as you go through difficult times staying close to Jesus, you will emerge stronger, wiser and more Christ-like.

June 21 Day 172

It's the Heart that Matters

Paul Swala was in prison in Zambia. He was charged with treason. He was accused of being involved in a coup to overthrow the government. While in prison, he did Alpha. He encountered Jesus and cried out for God to save him. He said, ‘The smile came on my face and my heart was filled with peace.’

Extraordinarily, he was the only one of the group of sixty-nine accused who was acquitted. He told his story, at our Leadership Conference at the Royal Albert Hall. His face radiated the joy of the Lord. He has now been into every prison in Zambia sharing the good news about Jesus Christ and how, even in the direst of situations, Jesus can bring hope and change hearts. He said, ‘I’ve never seen a friend like Jesus.’ God really has filled his heart with joy.

Photograph of Nicky Gumbel interviewing Paul Swala at the Leadership Conference 2015

The word ‘heart’ appears at least seventeen times in the passages for today. The Hebrew understanding of ‘the heart’ included the emotions, but it also involved the mind, the conscience and the will. It means everything that is going on inside of you.

All the men and women whom God chose to use greatly had weaknesses and made mistakes. But God saw that their hearts were turned towards him. It is your heart that matters. Your heart lies ‘open before the Lord’ (Proverbs 15:11). Only God sees and knows the heart of every human being (1 Kings 8:39).

June 20 Day 171

Come, Holy Spirit

Spending time in the presence of God is the most important activity of your life. You need God’s presence in your life more than you need anything else. But where do you find the presence of God?

I remember so well the first time I heard someone pray one of the most ancient prayers of the church, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’, with a real expectation that the Holy Spirit would come! It was on a Sunday night in 1982. We had a meeting in the crypt after our evening service at HTB. As we prayed, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ we saw remarkable events occur. We saw people being filled with the Holy Spirit with physical manifestations similar to those described in the book of Acts on the day of Pentecost. We saw extraordinary physical healings take place the following day when again someone prayed, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’.

God is always present with his people today by his Holy Spirit. When you pray, ‘Come, Holy Spirit,’ you are asking for an increased sense of the presence of God. There are times in the New Testament when the Holy Spirit filled a gathering of people sovereignly and spontaneously (Acts 2:2; 10:44). There are other times when the disciples prayed for the Holy Spirit: ‘After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit’ (4:31). In the Old Testament passage for today we read how ‘the glory of the Lord filled his temple’ (1 Kings 8:11).

Each of the passages for today tells us something about how to enjoy God’s empowering presence that comes through the Holy Spirit.

June 19 Day 170

How to Find Treasures in the Bible

I first encountered Jesus through reading the Bible. Ever since, I have read it practically every day of my life. Yet, I am constantly seeing and discovering new things.

As Immanuel Kant said, ‘The Bible is an inexhaustible fountain of all truths. The existence of the Bible is the greatest blessing which humanity ever experienced.’ It is full of inexhaustible treasure for you to read and digest, and through which you can encounter God.

Yet, it is not always an easy book to understand. One key ingredient to understanding the Bible better is to recognise the language and genre that the writer is using – the type of literature and therefore what the writer intended.

June 18 Day 169

Three Conversions Everyone Needs

At an Alpha Conference, someone handed me a scrap of paper with a note describing what had happened to her friend:

‘Sue (who was not a Christian) was attending a rehab clinic for people with severe respiratory problems. She had a chronic condition (COPD: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) that was getting progressively worse. The clinic meets at our church building. She arrived for her clinic, but there was no one there. (She had got the wrong date!) She waited around and had a look through flyers about our next Alpha.

‘Sue turned up for our course on Wednesday evening. She soaked it all up and was full of excitement and interest. She came to church on the Sunday and was back again on the Wednesday. It suddenly clicked for Sue that Jesus is God! A huge piece of the jigsaw for her. She gave her life to the Lord – dramatic. She called her sister to tell her she had become a Christian and her sister was in the middle of a meeting with a friend to pray for Sue! She had been praying for her for twenty-five years!

‘The following Sunday – Sue came to church, came forward for prayer for healing and was remarkably healed of her COPD. [She has been] running up and down stairs at home, off her medications, etc! She met with her physio at the medical clinic who was astonished at what had happened to her – remarkable difference. She has been healed and has since prayed for and seen others healed, including one of cancer! 

‘On 30 April Sue was baptised and brought over 150 friends and family to celebrate with her. She is having a huge impact on people – evangelising to anyone that will stand still long enough to listen!’

John Wimber often used to say that we all need three conversions: to be converted to Christ, converted to his church and converted to his cause. Sue was obviously not only converted to Christ, but also instantly converted to his church and to his cause! Today’s passages focus especially on this third conversion.

June 17 Day 168

Your Prayers Make a Difference

Saint John Chrysostom (349–407) wrote, ‘Prayer… is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings… The potency of prayer has subdued the strength of fire, it has bridled the rage of lions… extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, expanded the gates of heaven, assuaged diseases… rescued cities from destruction… and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt.’

We have a 24-7 Prayer Room on our church site at HTB. Although it has been temporarily closed during the coronavirus crisis, it was one of the highlights of my week to go into the room and spend time alone with God. Prayer really is the root and fountain of all that we do at HTB. It is such an encouragement to know that every hour, day and night, there is someone praying in that room.

June 16 Day 167

Following and Not Opposing God

I remember so well the time when Alpha started in the Catholic Church. Bishop Ambrose of Newcastle and Hexham heard what was happening with Alpha in some of the Anglican churches. He became interested and wanted to find out more. However, he did not want to let us know he was interested. So, he sent two Catholic priests to a London Alpha Conference in disguise! They went back to their parishes and started running Alpha, to great success.

As a result of that, Cardinal Hume invited us to hold a conference for Catholics at Westminster Cathedral. The place was packed out with 450 Catholic priests and laity. A few people were very critical of us doing a conference for Catholics. One or two churches even threatened to stop running Alpha if we went ahead with the conference. With hindsight it seems quite extraordinary that anybody could object, but at the time it was of some concern.

On the first night of the conference there was a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit and singing in tongues like we had never heard before. I went home that night and read the passage for today: ‘If God gave them the same gift as he gave us... who was I to think that I could oppose God?’ (Acts 11:17). It was the same Holy Spirit who was poured out on them as on us. I realised that if we did not continue to work together, I would be opposing God.

The most foolish thing that any human being can do is to oppose God. Jesus was opposed: ‘They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen’ (10:39–40). Contrastingly, the most wonderful privilege any human being can have is to be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth whom ‘God anointed… with the Holy Spirit and power’ (10:38).

June 15 Day 166

When You Don't Understand God

John Newton, whose life we looked at yesterday, mentored a man called William Cowper (1731–1800). Cowper had experienced tragedy. His mother died when he was six. His father died while he was still young. He qualified as a barrister. Outwardly he was successful. However, he suffered from serious depression. When applying for an administrative post in the House of Lords that entailed a formal examination, he was so disturbed by the prospect of the exam that he attempted suicide. For the rest of his life he suffered from mental illness.

When he was in his thirties, John Newton encouraged Cowper to begin composing hymns. He wrote powerfully of the joys and sorrows of everyday life. In 1774, he suffered such a severe episode of mental illness that he was prevented from entering into his intended marriage to Mary Unwin. He was crestfallen. Shortly afterwards, in perhaps his most famous hymn, he wrote:

God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform

God is good. God is love. God loves you. God has revealed himself supremely in Jesus. All this we know. Then you read passages in the Bible that don’t seem to fit with your understanding of God. You may also have experiences in life that don’t seem to fit either.

You cannot put God in a box. He is far greater than you could ever conceive. Some passages in the Bible are mysterious. Jesus said on one occasion, ‘You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand’ (John 13:7). Sometimes that understanding may come in our lifetime. Some things we will only understand when we meet the Lord.

How should you respond when you don’t understand God?

June 14 Day 165

A Spacious Place

John Newton (1725–1801) was a militant atheist, bully and blasphemer. He was a wild and angry young man. He was press-ganged into the Navy at the age of eighteen where he broke the rules so recklessly that he was publicly flogged for desertion. He was hated and feared by his crewmates and himself became a slave trader.

At the age of twenty-three, Newton’s ship encountered a severe storm off the coast of Donegal and almost sank. He called out to God as the ship filled with water and on that day, 10 March 1748, God rescued him. He began a new life. He started to pray and read the Bible. Eventually he joined William Wilberforce in the campaign to abolish the slave trade and became a leading light in that campaign.

Newton is best known as the author of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost but now I’m found,

Was blind, but now I see.

To be rescued is to be saved, set free, delivered from danger, attack or harm. Jesus is the one who rescues you and brings you into ‘a spacious place’ (2 Samuel 22:20).