The Time is Near

God blesses the one who reads the words of this prophecy to the church, and He blesses all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near.
Revelation‬ ‭1:3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Right at the beginning of his book, the Apostle John, the writer, said it was a prophecy. It is common for Christians to expect a prophecy to tell of some future event that has not yet happened. A revelatory glimpse of the future granted to a chosen person from God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Well, this book is full of such events, portrayed in graphic and pictorial, even apocalyptic, language that is both fascinating to read but difficult to understand and relate to in our world today, particularly our physical world. But a prophecy can be more than that. Our “revelatory glimpses” can apply to the here and now, as God unfolds a situation or problem that has somehow eluded the attention it should have had through personal or pastoral care, bringing admonishment and exhortation as part of a prophecy. Such matters are in this book as well. 

John spoke out a blessing, to be bestowed on those who read this book to the church. A blessing direct from God. But when did we last hear a passage from Revelations dispensed from the pulpit? It is not a book commonly read because it needs a sharp mind to discern its meaning. In other places in the book it makes for uncomfortable reading and listening. But the blessing continues to those who listen to this book being read. There is much in John’s writings to bring a blessing, if we only take the time to read and study, listen and apply, the truths within. 

John finishes this verse by introducing a sense of urgency. He said “the time is near“. Other translations use different phrases such as “the time of fulfilment is near” (AMP), or “the time is almost near” (CEV). The KJV uses the phrase “the time is at hand“. But all these translations bring across the impression that what is contained in this book will soon happen. But it begs the question – if John said the time is near 2000 years ago why hasn’t what he wrote about happened yet? How near is near? There will be several answers to this question, just as there are several different events and situations mentioned in the book. “Near” started before the ink dried on John’s parchment and will continue until the end of time. This book did not describe a single point in time but set out a series of events that will encompass time as we know it but also might even push the boundaries of eternity. To start getting our affairs in order is probably a bit premature if all we take from Revelation is a picture of the end of the world. Jesus told us in Matthew 24:36, “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows”. So we need to trust our Heavenly Father with this. Sadly, there is always someone who pops up with a pronouncement that the world will end on such and such a time, only to find that the time comes and goes, with no end in sight.

There is much more in Revelation, however, that does apply to the hear and now. Timeless parts of the prophecy that we do well to take note of and apply in our own lives and the lives of our churches. So we pilgrims tramp on, studying the words of John, allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what God wants us to read and hear. The Book of Revelation is an amazing book. Yet again, God used a man incarcerated in a prison cell, set apart from every day life, to hear and record His Word. A man in a special place at a special time in history. And John faithfully wrote down what he was told. 

Dear Lord. We thank You for Your servant John and his faithfulness. We pray that the legacy of his words helps us to grow in our pilgrimage to become more like You. Amen.

Blessings

“May our sons flourish in their youth
    like well-nurtured plants.
May our daughters be like graceful pillars,
    carved to beautify a palace.
May our barns be filled
    with crops of every kind.
May the flocks in our fields multiply by the thousands,
    even tens of thousands,
    and may our oxen be loaded down with produce.
May there be no enemy breaking through our walls,
    no going into captivity,
    no cries of alarm in our town squares.
Yes, joyful are those who live like this!
    Joyful indeed are those whose God is the Lord.”
Psalm 144:12-15 NLT

What a lovely picture of God’s blessings. In just a few verses, David, the Psalmist, sums up blessings in three areas – the family, prosperity, and safety. And all because these people truly believe, and trust, in God, their Lord. What a lovely picture of sons and daughters, being raised in a Godly home, growing and functioning just as God ordained. Near where I live there is a new wooded area with some Ash and Sycamore saplings. Many of them are growing incredibly straight and strong, reaching skywards because they are “well-nurtured” by the climate God has provided for them. And you can just imagine these beautiful daughters exquisitely sculpted like “graceful pillars” by our Master Craftsman, God Himself.  Mums aren’t mentioned in these few verses, but I’m sure they were in there somewhere too. In today’s society, often experiencing dysfunctional family life, there is something very attractive about David’s picture. And everything that this family does seems to multiply prosperity – these family members don’t need to enter a world of crime or dodgy deals to see their wealth increase. And there’s more – they live in a time of peace without fear of an attack by the enemy nations around them. No fear of burglars breaking in, or attacks in dark alleys. 

Are you thinking that this is all too good to be true? I don’t think so. Just because we don’t realise the blessings as described, or relate to the pictures the Psalmist paints, doesn’t mean that they do not, or will not, happen. But we notice that the blessings described all start with the word “May”. The Psalmist is praying a blessing on his family. He realises that it is only God who can turn his vision into reality. Though we know from various accounts, that David’s family life was often lacking functionality – we read for example the debacle with Absalom in 2 Samuel – such experiences didn’t stop David from praying. And neither must we stop praying either. Those of us who don’t have a family must know one that we can pray blessings over. And we must never stop thanking God for all the blessings He pours out on us. Food on our tables. The basics of life like air to breath and water to drink. The list is endless. It is pointless to focus on what we don’t have. Rather we should focus on God Himself. He never tires of blessing us, often in ways we won’t appreciate until we are in His presence. And there’s only one condition, and that is we must obey Him. Not for His sake, but for ours.

The Apostle Paul said in his epistle to the Philippians church, “I am convinced that my God will fully satisfy every need you have, for I have seen the abundant riches of glory revealed to me through Jesus Christ!” (Philippians 4:19 TPT). On the wall of his prison cell, Paul could see in his mind a similar picture to David. A vista vibrant with the potential of God’s “abundant riches of glory“. God’s blessings are not beyond our reach. He is not a stingy God at all. As David prayed, we pray too – may God bless us all today. Amen.

God Knows Us

“O Lord, You have examined my heart 
and know everything about me.”
‭Psalms‬ ‭139:1‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The thought that God knows everything about us, good and bad, is both comforting and scary at the same time. In the next few verses, the Psalmist, David, goes on to say that God is intimately acquainted with not just what we are doing but even what is about to come out of our mouths. Distance and time are no problem to God. And there is nothing that we can do to escape His presence; should we want to, of course. So if we know all that, why do we get so caught up in doing things that we know would cause God pain? The sins that blight our lives. Actions that are just plain wrong. The Apostle Paul felt that frustration. He wrote in Romans 7, “I have discovered this principle of life – that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.” Thankfully God forgives us of our sins when we repent. And we allow His life-giving Spirit to lead and guide us, and live within us (Romans 8). 

But back to our Psalm. It gets better and better. The wonder in David’s heart comes out in verse 5, as he remarks that God goes before him and follows him. Can you imagine that? God is there right in front of us, leading the way. Pointing out the pot-holes in life to help us to avoid them. But in case we still stumble and fall, there He is behind us, picking us up and dusting us off. And there’s more – if we look up, there’s His hand of blessing about to touch our heads. It is no wonder that David can’t cope with what it all means, as we read in verse 6. And he continues to meditate on God’s omnipresence, which extends all the way from Heaven to the place the Jews called Sheol (verse 8). And the lovely word picture emerges of David riding “the wings of the morning” and “dwelling by the farthest oceans” (verse 9). And he finishes this section with the thought that God is always there in the dark, because it is light to Him. Perhaps there’s a comforting thought there for people who do have a fear of the dark.

There is an amazing truth in this Psalm. No matter how we view God. No matter if we reject Him and try and run away from Him, He is still there with us. Embracing us. Encouraging us. Blessing us. All because He loves us. So if we’re feeling neglected and unloved today, we are believing a lie. Our enemy, the devil, would want to deprive us of God’s presence and His blessings. But he can’t. We reach out, switching on our God-receptors; switching off our devil-receptors. And because God knows our very thoughts, He will complete the circuit. Connecting us to His throne room. Giving us a glimpse of His wonder. Helping us in our life-pilgrimage, every step of the way.

Blessing Others

May all who hate Zion
    be turned back in shame.
May those who pass by not say to them,
    “The blessing of the Lord be on you;
    we bless you in the name of the Lord.”

Psalm 129:5,8

There is something significant about speaking out blessings. Or withholding them if appropriate. There is power in the spoken word. We can bless people in different ways. Practically by an act of kindness. Verbally by a kind word. But there is something special about speaking out a blessing from God. In fact, it is so special that we don’t want to waste the words or the sentiments on people who would not appreciate it. In this Psalm, the writer mourns the ill-treatment that Israel has been subjected to, and reminds his readers not to bless those who hate them, their treasured Zion, and who are wicked.

But the society in which the Psalmist lived was well used to speaking out blessings on each other. And this is something we need to do more of in our societies today. Not only can a blessing be just that when spoken over God’s people. It can also be a form of encouragement for people who are harassed, lonely, miserable, and neglected. People who we meet in the street, the supermarket checkout, the petrol station, or, as I have found recently, the electric vehicle charge points in a car park. The blessing we speak out need not be anything more than a kind word, or a “good morning”. Just something that shows a fellow member of our society that we care for them. That’s a real blessing from God. 

There is a lovely blessing recorded in Numbers 6. It is so significant that I added it to my business card. I speak it out over all my readers today.

“The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.”

Connections

“May the nations praise you, O God. 
Yes, may all the nations praise you. 
Then the earth will yield its harvests, 
and God, our God, will richly bless us. 
Yes, God will bless us, 
and people all over the world will fear him.”
Psalms‬ ‭67:5-7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We continue in Psalm 67. Just a short Psalm but it’s positivity uplifts and encourages our lives. And at the end of this Psalm, the Psalmist makes the connection between the national praise of God and universal provision for mankind. But how can that be? How can that connection work in our so called sophisticated societies, consumed by our love of gadgets and secular philosophies? The answer is that it won’t, and doesn’t. There is a special relationship available to all, between us and our loving Creator God. That personal connection started at Calvary’s cross and will never end because we will live with God Himself forever. 

But back to praise and provision. When we start praising God we are transformed into a new dimension where He Himself overtakes the world in relevance and importance. Where the Divine supersedes the mundane. Where we are elevated into Heavenly places far from the drudgery most experience. The Psalmist paints a picture of a perfect world where every person in every nation knows God intimately and all praise Him together. What an amazing place that would be. And to be an inhabitant of such a world would be too wonderful to get our minds around. But that’s never going to happen, I hear the sceptical and cynical unbeliever say. Well, I’ve got some good news and bad news. One day such a world will exist, because God said so. Read Revelation 21. And we who are God’s people will populate that new Heaven and new Earth. The bad news is for those people who have chosen not to be inhabitants of the new world to come. But don’t worry. Another place has been reserved for them.

The last line of this Psalm brings in the word “fear”. Do I fear God? As a child of God, I don’t “fear” Him with feelings of terror and panic, imagining being in perilous and life-threatening situations. The “fear” I have of God is a sense of respect and awe. I am not afraid that He is about to zap me because I’ve done something wrong. We have a wonderful Heavenly Father. A God who loves us, cares for us, forgives us, is gracious to us. Is patient with us. The wonderful qualities of God fill His Book, the Bible. When we read it we are changed. Transformed. And all we can do in response is praise Him.

A Shining Face

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us
Psalm 67:1

Have you ever seen anyone with a “shining face”? Not literally of course, but I have been in someone’s company when they seem to have come alive, and their face seems to light up with expressions of enthusiasm and excitement. They seem to radiate with an infectiousness that impresses and invites us as well to get caught up with whatever is illuminating their thoughts and communication.

Psalm 67 starts with a request that God would make His face shine on us and that He will be gracious to us and will bless us. But what does that look like in our societies today? Would we know if God behaved in that way to us? Calvinistic theologians talk about “common grace”, which is defined as the protection and care that God provides for everyone. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, “…For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” So this would include the air we breathe, or the rain watering the crops in the fields. The sun for warmth, and so on; everyone, Christian or not, will benefit from His “common grace”. But the Psalmist was meaning more than that. He was asking God for His specific grace to be poured out on His people, encompassing natural and spiritual blessings. So in the natural world today, as God’s people, we will ask for blessings that will encompass good health, provision for our everyday needs, success in whatever we turn our hand to, for example, our employment, and so on.  And God’s graciousness also extends to spiritual blessings. We can find a few in the first chapter of Ephesians. In verse 3 it says that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing because of our relationship with Jesus. And, amazingly, these blessings are not held back because through Jesus we are holy and without fault in His eyes. We were chosen and loved by God even before He put the world together (verse 4). We have been adopted into God’s family and we give Him great pleasure (verse 5). He has smothered us in His grace (verse 6). He forgave our sins through the blood of Jesus (verse 7). God has poured out on us His kindness, wisdom and understanding (verse 8). Through Jesus we have an inheritance from God (verse 11). The spiritual blessings that we receive are limitless, and available to us just for the asking. 

So when we pray the first verse of today’s Psalm, we are tapping into God’s unlimited resources, both natural and spiritual. But is that our experience? Do we enjoy God’s blessings on a daily basis? But do we ask God for His blessings? Do we ask for more of Him in our lives, with more love and more power? Do we pray for Him to meet our needs, thanking Him for the provision He continually makes for us? That is not to say that we will not encounter problems in our daily lives, but His provision and presence will always help us to overcome them. Too many questions? The Psalmist was quite simply asking God for His blessings, and so must we. And as we stare into the face of Jesus, His shining face dims the world and its contents around us. Jesus is enough for me. You as well?