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Day 161

Troubles Do Not Have the Last Word

Wisdom Psalm 71:19-24
New Testament Acts 6:1-7:19
Old Testament 2 Samuel 15:13-16:14

Introduction

George Matheson was born in Glasgow, the eldest of eight children. He had only partial vision as a boy. By the age of twenty he was completely blind. When his fiancée learnt he was going blind and that there was nothing the doctors could do, she told him she could not go through life with a blind man. He never married.

He was helped by a devoted sister throughout his ministry. She learnt Greek, Latin and Hebrew in order to aid him in his studies. Despite his blindness, Matheson had a brilliant career at the Glasgow Academy, University of Glasgow and the Church of Scotland Seminary.

When he was forty years old, something bittersweet happened. His sister married. Not only did this mean that he lost her companionship, it also brought a fresh reminder of his own heartbreak. In the midst of this intense sadness, on the eve of his sister’s marriage, he wrote one of the most popular and best loved hymns of the Christian church – ‘O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go’. He completed the whole work in five minutes and never edited, corrected or retouched it. ‘This came,’ he wrote, ‘like a dayspring from on high.’

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

Troubles are part of life. Jesus faced trouble and so did the apostles, David and all the people of God. However, as Matheson’s hymn beautifully articulates, troubles do not have the last word.

Wisdom

Psalm 71:19-24

19 Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens,
        you who have done great things.
    Who is like you, God?
20 Though you have made me see troubles,
        many and bitter,
    you will restore my life again;
        from the depths of the earth
    you will again bring me up.
21 You will increase my honor
        and comfort me once more.

22 I will praise you with the harp
        for your faithfulness, my God;
    I will sing praise to you with the lyre,
        Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips will shout for joy
        when I sing praise to you—
    I whom you have delivered.
24 My tongue will tell of your righteous acts
        all day long,
    for those who wanted to harm me
        have been put to shame and confusion.

Commentary

Restored after many troubles

God does not promise you an easy path. Life can be extremely hard. The psalmist has seen ‘troubles, many and bitter’ (v.20). His troubles, pressures and worries were not occasional or trivial. They were numerous and serious. He gives you a model of how to respond in these circumstances.

1. Keep trusting

It is easy to trust God when things are going well. The challenge is to keep trusting in the midst of troubles. Do not stop believing in the goodness of God: ‘Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things. Who, O God, is like you?’ (v.19).

2. Keep hoping

Your troubles will not last forever. In the midst of troubles, there is hope: ‘You will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honour and comfort me once again’ (vv.20b–21). God will use your troubles for good. He will shape your character through them. As a result, he will increase your honour. He will comfort you through them so that you can comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:4).

3. Keep worshipping

Keep on praising God in spite of the troubles: ‘I will praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praise to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel. My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you – I, whom you have redeemed’ (Psalm 71:22–23). The presence of God in worship brings us peace and solace, especially in difficult times.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that though I may see troubles many and bitter, you promise to restore my life again. I praise you for your faithfulness.’

New Testament

Acts 6:1-7:19

The Choosing of the Seven

6In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

Stephen Seized

8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia —who began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin

7Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?”

2 To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. 3 ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’

4 “So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Harran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. 5 He gave him no inheritance here, not even enough ground to set his foot on. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child. 6 God spoke to him in this way: ‘For four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated. 7 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,’ God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.’ 8 Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him eight days after his birth. Later Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs.

9 “Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him 10 and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So Pharaoh made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace.

11 “Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering, and our ancestors could not find food. 12 When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our forefathers on their first visit. 13 On their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph’s family. 14 After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all. 15 Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our ancestors died. 16 Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.

17 “As the time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt had greatly increased. 18 Then ‘a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.’ 19 He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our ancestors by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die.

Commentary

Rescued from all his troubles

There is sometimes a temptation to idealise the life of the early church – as if they were the perfect church and had no problems at all. We need to read the idyllic picture of the church in Acts 2 alongside the events of Acts 6 and, of course, not forget all the troubles of Paul in his letters. The early church had plenty of troubles. Do not be surprised by any of the following in the church today:

  1. Complaining

    Good leaders pick their battles carefully. They do not get involved in everything, but they do take responsibility for everything. The apostles faced a justified complaint that ‘widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food’ (Acts 6:1). Yet they needed to concentrate on their main task: ‘prayer and the ministry of the word’ (v.4). The solution lay (as it does so often) in effective delegation.

    The apostles dealt with the issue by setting aside a group of people who would ‘wait on tables’ (v.2). They chose people ‘full of the Spirit and wisdom’ (v.3). As a result, they kept their focus and ‘the word of God spread’, and the number of disciples increased dramatically (v.7). Good leaders delegate and release others into their God-given gifts and ministries.

  2. Stirring

    A group of opponents of the church ‘stirred up the people’ (v.12) and ‘produced false witnesses’ (v.13). They twisted Stephen’s words and said, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law’ (v.13).

  3. Fear of change

    Some of the opposition came from a fear of change. They said, ‘We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us’ (v.14).

    They found they could not keep their eyes off Stephen, whose ‘face was like the face of an angel’ (v.15). He gave his defence. He recited the history of the people of God and cited the parts of history that were particularly relevant to his own situation. He said of Joseph, ‘God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom…’ (7:9–10), just as God was clearly giving Stephen wisdom (see 6:10).

    Stephen’s own rescue came only in martyrdom. He ‘saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God’ (7:55), and Stephen was rescued for all eternity.

Prayer

Lord, help me not to be put off by troubles but rather, like Stephen, to be full of faith and the Holy Spirit. May we see the word of God spread and the numbers of your followers increase more and more each day.

Old Testament

2 Samuel 15:13-16:14

David Flees

13 A messenger came and told David, “The hearts of the people of Israel are with Absalom.”

14 Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, “Come! We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom. We must leave immediately, or he will move quickly to overtake us and bring ruin on us and put the city to the sword.”

15 The king’s officials answered him, “Your servants are ready to do whatever our lord the king chooses.”

16 The king set out, with his entire household following him; but he left ten concubines to take care of the palace. 17 So the king set out, with all the people following him, and they halted at the edge of the city. 18 All his men marched past him, along with all the Kerethites and Pelethites; and all the six hundred Gittites who had accompanied him from Gath marched before the king.

19 The king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland. 20 You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your people with you. May the Lord show you kindness and faithfulness.”

21 But Ittai replied to the king, “As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”

22 David said to Ittai, “Go ahead, march on.” So Ittai the Gittite marched on with all his men and the families that were with him.

23 The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed by. The king also crossed the Kidron Valley, and all the people moved on toward the wilderness.

24 Zadok was there, too, and all the Levites who were with him were carrying the ark of the covenant of God. They set down the ark of God, and Abiathar offered sacrifices until all the people had finished leaving the city.

25 Then the king said to Zadok, “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. 26 But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him. ”

27 The king also said to Zadok the priest, “Do you understand? Go back to the city with my blessing. Take your son Ahimaaz with you, and also Abiathar’s son Jonathan. You and Abiathar return with your two sons. 28 I will wait at the fords in the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” 29 So Zadok and Abiathar took the ark of God back to Jerusalem and stayed there.

30 But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up. 31 Now David had been told, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” So David prayed, “Lord, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.”

32 When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head. 33 David said to him, “If you go with me, you will be a burden to me. 34 But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘Your Majesty, I will be your servant; I was your father’s servant in the past, but now I will be your servant,’ then you can help me by frustrating Ahithophel’s advice. 35 Won’t the priests Zadok and Abiathar be there with you? Tell them anything you hear in the king’s palace. 36 Their two sons, Ahimaaz son of Zadok and Jonathan son of Abiathar, are there with them. Send them to me with anything you hear.”

37 So Hushai, David’s confidant, arrived at Jerusalem as Absalom was entering the city.

David and Ziba

16When David had gone a short distance beyond the summit, there was Ziba, the steward of Mephibosheth, waiting to meet him. He had a string of donkeys saddled and loaded with two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred cakes of raisins, a hundred cakes of figs and a skin of wine.

2 The king asked Ziba, “Why have you brought these?”

Ziba answered, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and fruit are for the men to eat, and the wine is to refresh those who become exhausted in the wilderness.”

3 The king then asked, “Where is your master’s grandson?”

Ziba said to him, “He is staying in Jerusalem, because he thinks, ‘Today the Israelites will restore to me my grandfather’s kingdom.’”

4 Then the king said to Ziba, “All that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.”

“I humbly bow,” Ziba said. “May I find favor in your eyes, my lord the king.”

Shimei Curses David

5 As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the same clan as Saul’s family came out from there. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and he cursed as he came out. 6 He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones, though all the troops and the special guard were on David’s right and left. 7 As he cursed, Shimei said, “Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel! 8 The Lord has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The Lord has given the kingdom into the hands of your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a murderer!”

9 Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head.”

10 But the king said, “What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’”

11 David then said to Abishai and all his officials, “My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. 12 It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today. ”

13 So David and his men continued along the road while Shimei was going along the hillside opposite him, cursing as he went and throwing stones at him and showering him with dirt. 14 The king and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted. And there he refreshed himself.

Commentary

Refreshed in the midst of troubles

David’s own son Absalom has turned against him and David is told that the ‘hearts of the people of Israel are with Absalom’ (15:13). This must have been devastating news. David, a great man of God, a king for God’s people and a ‘type’ of Christ (indeed, an ancestor of Christ), faced many troubles in his life. If you face these kinds of troubles in your life, do not be surprised by them or think that you have done something wrong. Sometimes troubles come simply because you are doing something right.

1. Tears

We see just how upset David was. He ‘continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot’ (v.30). All the people were also ‘weeping as they went up’ (v.30). Indeed, ‘the whole countryside wept aloud’ (v.23).

2. Disappointment

Not only did David’s own son turn against him but Mephibosheth was also disloyal to him even though David had gone out of his way to help him. He stayed in Jerusalem because he thought, ‘Today the house of Israel will give me back my grandfather’s kingdom’ (16:3). Disloyalty from those we love is especially disappointing.

3. Criticism

Shimei shouted insults, threw rocks and cursed David. David does not seek revenge. Rather, he chooses to leave the matter in God’s hands (vv.11–12).

4. Exhaustion

David ‘and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted’ (v.14). When we read of what David went through it is not surprising that he was genuinely ‘exhausted’.

The Christian life is never without troubles, tears, sadness and disappointments. However, what distinguishes the people of God is their relationship with God.

In the midst of all his troubles, David prays, ‘O Lord, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness’ (15:31). His prayer is answered – but not in the way he expects. Ahithophel gives good advice, but it is rejected. So God answered the spirit of the prayer (see 17:14).

In the midst of his exhaustion, David ‘refreshed himself’ (16:14). ‘They rested and were revived’ (v.14, MSG). Sometimes you just need to take a break and rest to be revived and refreshed physically, spiritually and emotionally. We are not told how David did this exactly. However, if the Psalms are anything to go by, we know it was through his close relationship with God that he found refreshment.

Also, no doubt David was emotionally refreshed by the loyalty of his friends Zadok (15:24 onwards), Hushai (v.37), Ziba (16:1–4) and Ittai, who said to him, ‘Wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be’ (15:21).

Prayer

Lord, thank you that there is no trouble that this life can bring from which you do not rescue me, ultimately with eternal life in your presence. Thank you that, in the middle of my troubles, I can pray to you and be refreshed by the presence of God (Act 3:19).

Pippa adds

Psalm 71:24

‘My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long.’

A few years ago I wrote: ‘I have just tried talking to God on a walk to the post office about all the amazing things he has done. I started okay and then got distracted. I’m working at “all day long”.’

And I’m still not doing any better this year!

Verse of the Day

Psalm 71:20

‘… you will restore my life again’.
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References

George Matheson (1882).

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

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