Day 173

When Life is Difficult

Wisdom Psalm 77:1-9
New Testament Acts 15:1-21
Old Testament 1 Kings 9:10-11:13

Introduction

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.

Wisdom

Psalm 77:1-9

For the director of music. For Jeduthun. Of Asaph. A psalm.

1 I cried out to God for help;
  I cried out to God to hear me.
2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
  at night I stretched out untiring hands,
  and I would not be comforted.

3 I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
  I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
4 You kept my eyes from closing;
  I was too troubled to speak.
5 I thought about the former days,
  the years of long ago;
6 I remembered my songs in the night.
  My heart meditated and my spirit asked:

7 “Will the Lord reject forever?
  Will he never show his favor again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
  Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
  Has he in anger withheld his compassion? ”

Commentary

Distress: How should you respond?

I have a friend who is now a priest. He told me that he often begins his prayers with ‘a time of complaining’! This psalm also begins with the psalmist pouring out his complaints to God.

Having a relationship with God does not protect us from ‘distress’ (v.2). The psalmist was ‘awake all night – not a wink of sleep’ (v.4a, MSG). He feels as if God has rejected him and that he will never experience God’s favour again (vv.7–9).

In this, the first half of Psalm 77, we begin to see how to respond to distress. You can be assured that:

1. God listens to your cry

Tell God exactly what you’re feeling: ‘I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might, I yell at the top of my lungs. He listens. I found myself in trouble and went looking for my Lord’ (vv.1–2a, MSG).

2. God likes your honesty

There is a therapeutic effect in asking honest questions. God’s people bring their doubts, difficulties and distress to God and question him. Even Jesus, on the cross, asked a question, quoting Psalm 22:1: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46).

God wants you to be real with him. He does not want you to pretend that all is well. He wants to hear the cry of your heart. This draws you close to him, even in times of great distress.

Prayer

Thank you, Lord, that you hear the cry of my heart. Thank you that you do not reject me, that your promises do not fail.

New Testament

Acts 15:1-21

The Council at Jerusalem

15Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

16 “‘After this I will return
  and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
 Its ruins I will rebuild,
  and I will restore it,
17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
  even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
 says the Lord, who does these things’ —
  18 things known from long ago.

19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

Commentary

Disputes: How should you resolve them?

There is nothing surprising about ‘arguments’, ‘disputes’ and ‘debates’ in the church today. We read here of a ‘sharp dispute and debate’ (v.2) about what was required in order to be fully accepted as a Christian – a member of the church – and to be ‘saved’ (v.1). Was circumcision a requirement? (v.1).

We see here a four-step process for decision-making. This is a great model for dealing with disputes in the local, national and even global church today.

  1. Call a meeting
    Some were insisting that everyone be circumcised. Paul and Barnabas fiercely protested. They called a special meeting to bring the two sides of the debate together.

    Do not be afraid of conflict. When people come together to talk about issues that matter, it is both natural and productive for disagreement to occur. In fact, that is what makes meetings interesting!

  2. Consider and discuss
    ‘The arguments went on and on, back and forth, getting more and more heated’ (v.7, MSG). In the end, two factors swayed the debate.

    First, their reasoning was based on the experience of the Spirit. Peter’s first argument was based on what he had seen the Holy Spirit doing at Cornelius’ house: ‘God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them [the Gentiles] by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them’ (vv.8–9). To make a distinction would have been to oppose God. This led him to the conclusion: ‘We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are’ (v.11).

    Second, their reasoning was based on the evidence of the Scriptures. James points out that the word of God and the Spirit of God are in alignment: ‘The words of the prophets are in agreement with this’ (v.15). He shows that the Scriptures foretold the inclusion of ‘all the Gentiles’ (v.17) and suggests a way forward consistent with following the experience of the Holy Spirit and the evidence of Scripture (vv.19–21). We can be sure that the word of God and the Spirit of God will always be in agreement. What we cannot be sure of is that our understanding of either is correct. Those arguing that everyone should be circumcised did so on the basis of Scripture. Peter and James did not set aside the Scriptures, but they did argue that they had been misunderstood.

  3. Come to a decision
    In the end, they decided (v.22). This was an extraordinary moment in the life of the early church. ‘The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them’ (v.12). It was a spine-tingling moment, which reduced them to silence.

    At the end of the day decisions require judgment. The apostle James says, ‘It is my judgment’ (v.19). The deciding factor was that they did not want to ‘make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God’ (v.19). All people were to be invited into the church, regardless of their background, although not all practices were allowed (v.20).

    The lesson here is that we need to be very careful about putting unnecessary obstacles in front of people who are exploring faith in Jesus and we need to be careful about defining the church too narrowly.

  4. Communicate the decision
    They wrote it down (v.20). Minutes of a meeting are not just a formality. It is important to record decisions. Then, as we will see tomorrow, they need to be communicated (vv.23–29).

Prayer

Lord, give us wisdom as we deal with disputes within the church. Thank you that you are pouring out your Holy Spirit again on all parts of the church today. Help us to have the same attitude as you, who ‘made no distinction between us and them’ (v.9).

Old Testament

1 Kings 9:10-11:13

Solomon’s Other Activities

10 At the end of twenty years, during which Solomon built these two buildings—the temple of the Lord and the royal palace— 11 King Solomon gave twenty towns in Galilee to Hiram king of Tyre, because Hiram had supplied him with all the cedar and juniper and gold he wanted. 12 But when Hiram went from Tyre to see the towns that Solomon had given him, he was not pleased with them. 13 “What kind of towns are these you have given me, my brother?” he asked. And he called them the Land of Kabul, a name they have to this day. 14 Now Hiram had sent to the king 120 talents of gold.

15 Here is the account of the forced labor King Solomon conscripted to build the Lord’s temple, his own palace, the terraces, the wall of Jerusalem, and Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer. 16 (Pharaoh king of Egypt had attacked and captured Gezer. He had set it on fire. He killed its Canaanite inhabitants and then gave it as a wedding gift to his daughter, Solomon’s wife. 17 And Solomon rebuilt Gezer.) He built up Lower Beth Horon, 18 Baalath, and Tadmor in the desert, within his land, 19 as well as all his store cities and the towns for his chariots and for his horses—whatever he desired to build in Jerusalem, in Lebanon and throughout all the territory he ruled.

20 There were still people left from the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites (these peoples were not Israelites). 21 Solomon conscripted the descendants of all these peoples remaining in the land—whom the Israelites could not exterminate —to serve as slave labor, as it is to this day. 22 But Solomon did not make slaves of any of the Israelites; they were his fighting men, his government officials, his officers, his captains, and the commanders of his chariots and charioteers. 23 They were also the chief officials in charge of Solomon’s projects—550 officials supervising those who did the work.

24 After Pharaoh’s daughter had come up from the City of David to the palace Solomon had built for her, he constructed the terraces.

25 Three times a year Solomon sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings on the altar he had built for the Lord, burning incense before the Lord along with them, and so fulfilled the temple obligations.

26 King Solomon also built ships at Ezion Geber, which is near Elath in Edom, on the shore of the Red Sea. 27 And Hiram sent his men—sailors who knew the sea—to serve in the fleet with Solomon’s men. 28 They sailed to Ophir and brought back 420 talents of gold, which they delivered to King Solomon.

The Queen of Sheba Visits Solomon

10When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. 2 Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan —with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. 3 Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. 4 When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, 5 the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the Lord, she was overwhelmed.

6 She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. 7 But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. 8 How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! 9 Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.”

10 And she gave the king 120 talents of gold, large quantities of spices, and precious stones. Never again were so many spices brought in as those the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.

11 (Hiram’s ships brought gold from Ophir; and from there they brought great cargoes of almugwood and precious stones. 12 The king used the almugwood to make supports for the temple of the Lord and for the royal palace, and to make harps and lyres for the musicians. So much almugwood has never been imported or seen since that day.)

13 King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all she desired and asked for, besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty. Then she left and returned with her retinue to her own country.

Solomon’s Splendor

14 The weight of the gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents, 15 not including the revenues from merchants and traders and from all the Arabian kings and the governors of the territories.

16 King Solomon made two hundred large shields of hammered gold; six hundred shekels of gold went into each shield. 17 He also made three hundred small shields of hammered gold, with three minas of gold in each shield. The king put them in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon.

18 Then the king made a great throne covered with ivory and overlaid with fine gold. 19 The throne had six steps, and its back had a rounded top. On both sides of the seat were armrests, with a lion standing beside each of them. 20 Twelve lions stood on the six steps, one at either end of each step. Nothing like it had ever been made for any other kingdom. 21 All King Solomon’s goblets were gold, and all the household articles in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon were pure gold. Nothing was made of silver, because silver was considered of little value in Solomon’s days. 22 The king had a fleet of trading ships at sea along with the ships of Hiram. Once every three years it returned, carrying gold, silver and ivory, and apes and baboons.

23 King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. 24 The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart. 25 Year after year, everyone who came brought a gift —articles of silver and gold, robes, weapons and spices, and horses and mules.

26 Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem. 27 The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills. 28 Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue—the royal merchants purchased them from Kue at the current price. 29 They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty. They also exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and of the Arameans.

Solomon’s Wives

11King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. 2 They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. 3 He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. 5 He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.

7 On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. 8 He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.

9 The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. 10 Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. 11 So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. 12 Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

Commentary

Decoys: How should you resist them?

Solomon’s life presents us with a challenge and a warning: success can be more dangerous for us than failure.

Solomon did much that was right. He was highly successful – the richest and wisest king of his day (10:23). Everyone wanted to meet him and ‘hear the wisdom God had put in his heart’ (v.24).

Solomon had everything. In twenty years, he had built two great buildings: the temple and his palace (9:10). The Queen of Sheba was astonished by what she saw (v.7). She recognises it could only be God: ‘making you king to keep a just order and nurture a God-pleasing people’ (v.9, MSG).

Yet, the tragedy is that Solomon did not finish well. He was led astray. His ‘heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been… his heart had turned away from the Lord’ (11:4,9).

What went wrong? It started with promiscuity. King Solomon was obsessed with sex: ‘He had seven hundred royal wives and three hundred concubines – a thousand women in all!’ (v.3, MSG).

It ended with following detestable gods: ‘As Solomon grew older, his wives beguiled him with their alien gods’ (4a, MSG). He ‘did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done’ (v.6). He acted contrary to the Lord’s explicit command that the king ‘must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold’ (Deuteronomy 17:17). These decoys led Solomon astray.

David messed up from time to time. When he did, he repented and turned back to the Lord and followed him wholeheartedly. Solomon shows us something different. Seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines do not happen overnight. There must have been compromise in Solomon’s heart. In spite of all God’s blessings, Solomon allowed sin to breed and, in the end, it ruined him.

To avoid ending up like Solomon you need to stay close to Jesus and listen to him. For as Jesus said, the Queen of Sheba ‘came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here’ (Matthew 12:42).

Prayer

Lord, thank you for this warning. Guard my heart. Help me to be fully devoted to the Lord, to follow you completely to the end of my life.

Pippa adds

1 Kings 11:1

How could Solomon who was such a wise man be so foolish over women? He was also disobedient. God had said don’t marry women from those places. But Solomon did. God said that they would lead him astray. And they did.

Verse of the Day

1 Kings 10:9

‘The Lord your God… has delighted in you…’.
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References

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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