Bible in One Year

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January 31 Day 31

How to Lead Like Jesus

Few people have shaped the day-to-day management of people and companies more than Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, which has sold more than 13 million copies. The book was so successful that he had trouble taking credit for its success. He began to think about God. He started to read the Bible. He went straight to the Gospels. He wanted to know what Jesus did.

He became fascinated with how Jesus transformed twelve ordinary, and unlikely, people into the first generation of leaders of a movement that continues to affect the course of world history 2,000 years later. He became aware that everything he had ever taught or written about effective leadership, Jesus had done to perfection way beyond Ken’s ability to portray or describe.

Jesus is more than just a spiritual leader. He gives a practical and effective leadership model for all organisations, for all people, for all situations. You may not think of yourself as a leader, but leadership is about influence. You do have influence, therefore, in a sense, all of us are leaders.

Jesus is the greatest leader of all time. In the passages for today, we see some of the characteristics of Jesus’ leadership together with those of two other great influencers in the Bible – David and Job.

January 30 Day 30

Does God Answer All Your Prayers?

I love cricket. At least, I love watching it; I was never any good at playing it. But I know many people don’t like cricket and don’t even understand the rules of it (especially if they come from a country where it isn’t a popular sport). So I hope you will forgive me for using a cricketing analogy.

When two batsmen are running between the wickets on a cricket pitch, they need to co-ordinate the decision about whether to run or not. One will shout to the other ‘Yes’ (that is, ‘Let’s run’), or ‘No’ (that is, ‘Stay where you are’), or ‘Wait’ (that is, ‘Let’s see what happens before we decide whether to run’).

God hears all your prayers (Psalm 139:4, 1 John 5:14–15, 1 Peter 3:12) and, in one sense, he answers all your prayers. But we do not always receive what we ask for. When we ask God for something, the response will be ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ or ‘Wait’.

John Stott wrote that God will answer ‘No’ if the things we ask for ‘are either not good in themselves, or not good for us or for others, directly or indirectly, immediately or ultimately’.

We don’t always get to know the reason why the answer is ‘No’. We need to remember that God sees things from an eternal perspective and that there are some things we may never understand in this life.

In the passages for today we see examples of all three types of response from God.

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.’

January 28 Day 28

With God, All Things Are Possible

‘When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade,’ wrote Norman Vincent Peale, who published his best-known book, The Power of Positive Thinking, in 1952. It stayed in The New York Times bestseller list for 186 consecutive weeks. Much of what he had to say was extremely good and helpful. But, the words of Jesus go way beyond the power of positive thinking.

Norman Vincent Peale said, ‘A positive mental attitude is a belief that things are going to turn out well, and that you can overcome any kind of trouble or difficulty.’ Jesus said, ‘With God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:26). This is far more than the power of positive thinking. It is the power of God that makes what seems impossible possible. Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

January 27 Day 27

How to Stay on Track

Pippa and I love to go for walks. Not so long ago, we went for quite a long walk on the South Downs. Neither of us has a very good sense of direction and we had forgotten to take the map. Somehow, we managed to wander off the track and we ended up on someone’s farm.

It was one of the shortest days of the year and soon the light started to fade. It seemed that the only way to get back to where we had parked the car was to cross a field occupied by a large herd of cows. As we approached them, some surrounded us in an overly friendly fashion, blocking our way, while others took off in fright and started charging around the field.

Fearing that we were going to be mown down into the mud by terrified cows charging at us, we decided to make a rather speedy exit up a very steep and slippery bank. Pippa had exceeded her desired length of walk, darkness was falling and we seemed to be nowhere near a track. Things were not looking good.

Thankfully, we managed to find a path leading us back. It was such a relief. For future walks we decided we would definitely take a map and stick to the route. Staying on the track proves much better for being able to relax, talk together and for our relationship generally!

In the Bible, the image of God’s tracks is frequently used: tracks that lead to life.

January 26 Day 26

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

A one-year-old boy shattered his back falling down a flight of stairs. He spent his childhood and youth in and out of hospital. Gavin Read, the former Bishop of Maidstone, interviewed him in church. The boy remarked, ‘God is fair.’ Gavin asked, ‘How old are you?’ ‘Seventeen,’ the boy replied. ‘How many years have you spent in hospital?’ The boy answered, ‘Thirteen years.’ Gavin asked, ‘Do you think that is fair?’ He replied, ‘God has got all of eternity to make it up to me.’

We live in a world of instant gratification that has almost entirely lost its eternal perspective. The New Testament is full of wonderful promises about the future: all creation will be restored. Jesus will return to establish ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ (Revelation 21:1). There will be no more crying, for there will be no more pain and suffering. Our frail, decaying mortal bodies will be changed for a body like that of Jesus’ glorious resurrected body.

Suffering is not part of God’s original created order (see Genesis 1–2). There was no suffering in the world before rebellion against God. There will be no suffering when God creates a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:3–4). Suffering is, therefore, an alien intrusion into God’s world.

This, of course, is not a complete answer to the question ‘Why does God allow suffering?’ As we saw yesterday there is no simple or complete solution, but each of today’s passages gives us some further insight.

January 25 Day 25

'God Intended It for Good'

In 1947, a young New Yorker named Glenn Chambers had a lifelong dream to work for God in Ecuador. At the airport on the day of departure, he wanted to send a note to his mother but he didn’t have time to buy a card. He noticed a piece of paper on the terminal floor and picked it up. It turned out to be an advertisement with ‘Why?’ spread across it. He scribbled his note around the word ‘Why?’ and put it in the post box. That night his aeroplane exploded as it hit the 14,000-foot Colombian peak El Tablazo. When his mother received the note after the news of his death the question burned up at her from the page… ‘Why?’

Why does God allow such suffering? This question is the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith. The amount of suffering and its distribution seem to be random and unfair. It outrages and bewilders us.

Theologians and philosophers have wrestled for centuries with the mystery of undeserved suffering, and no one has ever come up with a simple and complete solution. Today and tomorrow’s passages are only part of the answer, but each of them gives us some insight.

We see that although suffering is never good in itself, God is able to use it for good in a number of ways. God loves you. Your suffering is also God’s suffering. He suffers alongside you. Yet he does not always simply remove suffering from your life; he sometimes uses the bad things that happen to bring about his good purposes

January 24 Day 24

How to Listen to God

Suppose I go to the doctor and say, ‘Doctor, I have a lot of problems: I twisted my knee... my eyes itch... my finger is swollen... I have backache...’ Then, having got through my list of complaints, I look at my watch and say, ‘Goodness me, time is getting on. I must be off.’ The doctor might say, ‘Hang on, do you not want to hear what I have to say?’

If we only speak to God and never take time to listen, we make the same mistake. We do all the talking and we don’t actually listen to him. But our relationship with God is meant to be a two-way conversation. When I’m praying, I find it helpful to write down thoughts that come into my mind that may come from the Spirit of God.

In a media-saturated age we have many voices that come to us on TV, radio, the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email and text message. We have the voices of family, friends and colleagues. And sometimes we have the voice of Satan tempting us to disbelieve God’s word and to doubt that God has our best interests at heart.

How do you hear the voice of God in the midst of the noise and distractions of life?

January 23 Day 23

You Have the Keys

On 15 January 2009, US Airways flight 1549 hit a flock of geese. Both engines failed. The plane was flying over New York. Potential disaster loomed. Not only were the 155 occupants on board in danger, but thousands more could have been killed had the plane hit one of New York’s skyscrapers. Captain Chesley Burnett ‘Sully’ Sullenberger III guided the crippled US Airways plane with immense skill and courage. He performed a successful emergency landing on the Hudson River. Not a single passenger died, nor were there any serious injuries. The Mayor of New York City gave to the heroic pilot, who had saved them, the keys to the city.

To give someone the keys to a city is an immense privilege. They symbolise access and authority. Keys are usually given in recognition of some great service to the city. In the New Testament, we see that Jesus is the key holder. The risen Christ says, ‘I hold the keys of death and Hades’ (Revelation 1:18). Jesus has brought about a far greater salvation than any other person could achieve. The authority he holds is also the greatest there could ever be – he holds the keys of life and death.

Amazingly, Jesus gives to Peter and the church (that is, to us) ‘the keys of the kingdom’ (Matthew 16:19). Many Christians feel powerless, lacking in any kind of spiritual authority. They do not seem to realise what Jesus has given to them. You are not powerless. You have the immense privilege of having been given ‘the keys of the kingdom’.

January 22 Day 22

How Long, O Lord?

Have there ever been times in your life when you have found yourself wondering, ‘How long, O Lord?’ How long will these struggles and disappointments last? How long will we have these financial difficulties? How long will these health issues persist? How long will the difficulties in this relationship last? How long will I struggle with this addiction? How long will these intense temptations last? How long will it take me to get over this loss?

Pippa and I sometimes visit St Peter’s Brighton, one of our church plants. At the end of one service, a woman came up to us and told us that for thirty-seven years she had been praying for her husband to find faith in Christ. For all those thirty-seven long years, she had cried out, ‘How long, O Lord, how long?’ (Psalm 13:1).

When St Peter’s reopened in 2009, her husband decided he would like to start coming to church with her. The moment he walked into St Peter’s, he felt he had come home and had been ‘reborn’. Now he loves the church and comes every week. Throughout our conversation she kept repeating, with a huge expression of joy on her face: ‘How long, O Lord, how long?’ God had heard. At last, her prayers were answered.

Four times in quick succession David cries out, ‘How long…?’ (vv.1–2).

There are periods when it appears that God has forgotten us (v.1a). It seems that he has hidden his face (v.1b). For some inexplicable reason, we don’t sense his presence with us. Every day seems to be a struggle – wrestling with our thoughts (v.2a). Every day brings sorrow (v.2b). We seem to be losing the battle and the enemy seems to be triumphing over us (v.2c).

How should you respond in times like these?