The Third Flying Angel

“Then a third angel followed them, shouting, “Anyone who worships the beast and his statue or who accepts his mark on the forehead or on the hand must drink the wine of God’s anger. It has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name.””
Revelation‬ ‭14:9-11 NLT

It’s time for the third flying angel to make his appearance in John’s vision. And his message is grim. It will obviously be delivered at a time when people are newly acquainted with the beast’s demands, and still have a choice about whether or not to wholeheartedly embrace the statue worship and accept the beast’s mark, the 666 reference, on their hands or foreheads. So just in case there were any who were having doubts about this, an angel appears. He gives them a stark warning – if they choose the way of the beast they will spend eternity in his company. He used words designed to instil terror into his hearers. Words such as fire, sulphur, continual torment. 

From the messages delivered by the three angels it is easy to question why the peoples in the global nations still rejected God and His grace. Everyone by now has heard the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus, the Son of God, and what He did for mankind through the cross at Calvary. They now know that the party is over. Their sinful and wicked ways, the immorality of their life styles, has come to an end. And here we have the last warning. Worship the beast, receive his mark, and there’s no way back. In spite of all this, most of the people still alive at this time rejected the angels’ messages. Why? What were they thinking?

In my meanderings around the community where I live, I occasionally have the opportunity to share about Jesus and what He did for mankind, and in particularly for what He has done for me. I find that most people I meet are aware of a spiritual life after death. Not something they want to talk about, but the awareness is there. But I have been taken aback by the anger in some that is directed against anything to do with God. They blame Him for so much. For the death of a loved one. For the state of the economy. For their ill-health. For a natural catastrophe (even insurance companies refer sometimes to an “Act of God”). And I have heard rants against churchgoers, and all that is wrong about them. Are these the sort of people who will hold out to the end, preferring eternal torment to repentance and a life with God? Do we find that inexplicable?

Jesus experienced unbelief and resistance even in the face of His miracles. We read in John 12:37, “But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him.” Why would that still be the case even in His day, when the people were in the presence of the Son of God? The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:4 wrote, “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.” Scripture is even more revealing in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, where we read with a reference to the beast, “This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth.”

It is so sad when we read these verses. To think that eternal life with God is so close. So accessible. And what makes the situation even more distressing is that there are those in our families, and groups of friends, who will be counted amongst those deceived by satan. What can we do? Thankfully, we are not in a hopeless place, because our loving Heavenly Father is a gracious and loving God. He wants no one to end up in that place we call hell. So we pray. We passionately pray. We call out to Him for our loved ones, that His mercy and grace will somehow penetrate hardened hearts and draw them into that place of grace where they embrace God’s son with love and acceptance. 

Dear Father. We pray for our loved ones today. And we’ll keep on praying until they too find Your grace and mercy. Thank You for Your love and acceptance of every sinner who repents. 

More Terrors to Come

“The first terror is past, but look, two more terrors are coming!”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭9:12‬ ‭NLT

There is a pause implied after the five months had elapsed. Our verse today records that the first of the terrors, that corresponded to the sounding of the fifth trumpet, is past. Can you imaging the relief flooding over the earth’s inhabitants as the locusts started to die off. Were there piles of dead locusts with their strange appearances lying in heaps around the nations? Or if the locusts were symbols of a terrible and fearsome army, did they withdraw back to where they came from? We don’t know, but in his vision John was told that this was not a time for complacency because there were more “terrors”, or “woes” as translated in other Bible versions, coming. We also don’t know how much time was to elapse before the next trumpet blew.

This might be an opportunity to float the question, particularly in the context of the End Times as portrayed in John’s vision, “Why does God allow disasters to happen?” A difficult question to answer, but the reality is that since history started to be recorded there have been accounts of many events similar to those recorded in the Apostle John’s Revelation. There have been earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, famines, wars, diseases and so on. Why didn’t God intervene to stop them? One question often asked is where God is when times of distress and devastation happen. One memorable event still in living memory was the Holocaust that saw the murder of millions of God’s own people, the Jews. And the cry for God to intervene must have reverberated around the heavens on countless occasions during those dark and evil times. The Covid virus has inflicted much in the way of death and distress on mankind during the past two or three years, and I’m sure many prayers were offered up for God to intervene, but He apparently hasn’t, and it is still wreaking havoc on mankind as I write.

The reality that we observe is that God has occasionally intervened in the affairs of mankind and the natural events in the world around us, but most of the time He doesn’t. The Old Testament recorded occasions when His intervention brought about victories in battle (for example we read in 2 Chronicles 20:22, “At the very moment they began to sing and give praise, the Lord caused the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir to start fighting among themselves.”) And there was the occasion recorded in Joshua 10:13-14, “So the sun stood still and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies. Is this event not recorded in The Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the middle of the sky, and it did not set as on a normal day. There has never been a day like this one before or since, when the Lord answered such a prayer. Surely the Lord fought for Israel that day!” But on other occasions, the prayers of the Israelites went unheeded. There is an answer to God’s apparent intransigence in the face of disasters is puzzling but in the meantime we’ll leave the question hanging.

We pilgrims keep praying regardless of the circumstances, because prayer changes things. We might not see a result straight away, but God always answers prayers, should we choose to listen. He has three answers – “Yes”, “No”, and “Not Yet”. Often we say that God doesn’t answer prayers because His response is not what we wanted to hear. But over the years God, by His grace and mercy, has answered my prayers. For example, in answer to my prayers and the prayers of many of His people, He miraculously healed my daughter of a viral attack on her brain. And there have been many other times when an answer to my prayers popped up, often in a way I didn’t expect. Many people over the years have prayed for me as well, and I am so grateful for their faithfulness. 

We pilgrims will come up many obstacles on our journeys through life. We may not have encountered the terrors described in John’s vision, but we may have come up against sickness, disease, financial hardship, accidents, and other occasions when God’s intervention didn’t happen. Regardless of what is going on around us, we trust Him and put our hope in Him anyway, because he is our loving Heavenly Father. We only have to read His Book, the Bible, to tap into His amazing grace. How about these Scriptures?

Psalm 147:11, “… the Lord’s delight is in those who fear him, those who put their hope in his unfailing love“. 
Jeremiah 17:7, “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence“. 
Romans 15:13, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit“. 
Psalms 62:5-6, “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken“. 

Father God. We thank You for Your loving kindness, and proclaim today the prayer recorded by Your prophet, Habakuk. “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord ! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!” Amen and Amen!

Harps and Bowls

“He went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. And when He had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.”
Revelation‬ ‭5:7-8‬ ‭NIVUK

There is a change in John’s vision of Heaven. Jesus had taken the scroll, and John now sees that the twenty four elders are each holding a harp and a golden bowl full of incense. But what are the harps for, and why are they relevant? And what about these golden bowls?

To the Jewish nation, a harp was a national instrument. Much like the bagpipes have become the national instrument in Scotland. And harps cropped up from time to time in the Old Testament. I’m reminded that David, Israel’s greatest king, was a skilful harp player and he often was called to play it for Saul, his predecessor, to help with his mental health issues. The Jewish harp must have been a portable instrument, because each of the elders was holding one. Not like a modern harp in a symphony orchestra, that needs some strong men and a packing case to transport it. It’s strange that the popular image of angels with wings sitting on clouds clutching harps is out there, without any explanation. But a harp would be used in worship, bringing a sense of joy and peace to the listeners. It is interesting that the Greek word for harp is kithara, which means a harp or lyre. And from kithara we get the word English word guitar. So to those of us who are uncomfortable hearing or seeing guitar playing in our places of worship, we might have to get used to it, as there will probably be guitars in Heaven. Not pipe organs, though I could be wrong!

We move on to the golden bowls of incense. But what was the incense for? Incense was burned by the Jews as part of their worship to God. And we read in Psalms 141:2, “Accept my prayer as incense offered to you, and my upraised hands as an evening offering“. That Scripture was repeated in our verse today from Revelation, which points out that the incense in the golden bowls is the prayers of God’s people. And the encouraging thing is the the bowls were full, not half full, or nearly empty. There were many prayers in those bowls. What sort of prayers, I wonder? Just those applicable to the scene unfolding before John in his vision? Or every prayer ever uttered? There are many different prayers spoken and recorded in the Bible. There are prayers of anguish such as Hannah’s in 1 Samuel 1:10, “Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord”. Of course, we have what we call the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. And Jonah’s prayer from the stomach of a large fish. David’s prayer for forgiveness after his affair with Bathsheba in Psalm 51. There were some great prayers in those bowls. Prayers that perhaps make our own efforts sound a bit feeble. But our wonderful Heavenly Father hears them all. And we’re told in today’s verse that they are all stored up in the golden bowls.

What do we pilgrims make of this? Harps and bowls indeed, perhaps we say, in a way that sees little, if any, relevance to our daily walk. To me though, the presence of harps and golden bowls in Heaven is significant. It confirms the importance of our dialogue with God and our worship of Him. We must never give up praying to God. Through our faith, we know that He hears and answers every prayer that we sincerely say to Him. 

As an aside, to those doubters who say God never answers their prayers, there are three answers that He provides – “Yes”, “No” and “Not Yet”. His answers to our prayers are for our highest good, not in response to our wants. Sometimes we expect God to answer our prayers in a particular way or with a particular response. But His answers will always be righteous. And sometimes we need to be careful about what we pray for – we might get a response we least expect!

Regarding the harps, I hear many say that they can’t play an instrument at all, let alone a harp, so how will that work? Playing a musical instrument is not the only way to worship God here on earth. We can do it with the instrument God provided for us at birth, our voices. Even those who are tone deaf can worship with their songs. Those humans around them might complain but our loving Father in Heaven thinks they are the most tuneful and marvellous expression of worship to Him. We can even worship God with our thoughts and actions. True worship is offered in “spirit and truth”. We read in John 4:23, “But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.” The presence of harps is optional. Worship isn’t. And I have a suspicion that when we reach Heaven we will find we have a new-found ability to do all sorts of things we can’t today, even playing a harp.

Dear Father God. Once again we are reminded of the importance of our prayers and our worship. How wonderful You are. You hear us when we call out to You and respond with Your love and grace. We are so grateful. Amen.

Completeness

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Ephesians 3:19 NLT

The love of Christ. Just the very thought of it drove Paul to his knees in that prison cell. And he once again prays for his Ephesian friends, that his experience of the love of Christ would be experienced by them as well. But you can just imagine him shaking his head, sadly, appreciating and understanding that Christ’s love would be too much for them to fully understand. But he comforted himself with the thought that as they grew in the Christ-love-experience, they would grow in completeness, experiencing the “fullness of life and power that comes from God“. 

Have we experienced the love of Christ? Has it permeated into our lives, changing who we are and what we do? Are we grumpy pilgrims who have shut out the love of Christ from our lives, being bounded and constrained instead by our sinful natures? Or are we renewed people, with Christ’s love displacing the selfishness and anger that can so easily grow inside of us? Are we a people who are experiencing “all the fullness of life and power that comes from God”

I suppose it boils down to the question, what is filling our lives? Paul wanted his friends to be filled with everything that God had for them. He wanted them to live a life worthy of their calling. He wanted them to experience the power of God working through their lives, as they acted as “salt and light” in their communities. Nothing has changed in the centuries between Paul’s letter and today. The prayer Paul prayed for his friends has echoed through time, touching countless people throughout the world. And it is still alive and active in our own lives. The path before us has been well-trodden by many pilgrims over the years and as we place our feet in their footsteps, let us feel the love of Christ, allowing the Holy Spirit to work within us, as He did with them.

Perhaps it is a good exercise to personalise this verse. To adapt it to become our personal prayer. To allow our thinking to turn away from a few Christians in a past time, to instead touch us today. The prayer would look something like this, “May [I] experience the love of Christ, though it is too great [for me] to understand fully. Then [I] will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God“. And perhaps add something like “Please help me to fully understand Your love, allowing it to transform my life this day and forever”. This is a prayer that, if prayed sincerely, God will never fail to answer. Amen.

The Fourth Dimension

“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is.”
Ephesians 3:18 NLT

Another verse with that “power” word. Some would question how a helpless prisoner could write about power. But that would be because they don’t understand anything about God’s power and what He had planned for Paul’s life. In this verse Paul was praying that God’s people would grasp how extensive and complete God’s love is, but Paul thought that God’s power would be required to help them understand.

We live in a three-dimensional world. If we pick up any object we can see that it has length, height and depth. Three dimensions. If we consider our homes, they have three dimensions – length, height and depth. We have transport systems that switch between two-dimensional and three-dimensional travel, for example an aircraft. And in this technical age we have very clever computer apps that are able to design three dimensional objects and then we have 3D printers that will manufacture them. Amazing! But our physical world is just how God designed and created it, in three dimensions. 

But in our verse today, it was as though Paul was introducing a fourth dimension. He wrote about width, length, height and depth. So what did he mean? Was it just a repetitive slip of his pen? Or did he have something else in mind, in his thoughtful prayer? Something else relevant and to do with God’s love? 

I’m sure the theologians have their answers, but for me I believe Paul was saying something significant about God’s power. Whatever we think, or the Ephesians thought, there is something about God’s love that is, well, just complete. It is so extensive that we will never totally understand it, and then by a huge margin. It has depths that we will never be able to plumb. It has height that is unmeasurable. It has width that extends across every human being who has ever lived, or who is yet to come. Our world is permeated by God’s love. But this fourth dimension? I believe that this is eternity. For me, Paul was describing a love that was not only unmeasurable in our three dimensional space, but was with us for all time, for eternity. 

And so it is today. We pilgrims are traveling through an amazing cosmos. We have all that we need for physical life – air, water, food etc. – but we also have all that we need for our spiritual life. And it starts and ends with God’s love. I imagine it to be all around us like oxygen but for our very spirits. It is there all around us, but we cannot see it with our physical senses. It’s not something we can measure. But God’s love is so extensive and complete that words cannot describe it. Was that Paul’s difficulty as he wrote this verse from the confines of his mind, from the confines of his prison cell? We received a glimpse of God’s love at Calvary, when His Son, Jesus, gave His life for us, for the redemption of our sins. And the same love is still around us today. Seasoned with God’s grace. Disseminated by the Holy Spirit. Covering us day by day. And all we have to do is take deep spiritual breaths to receive it. No wonder in that prison cell, as the enormity of God’s love suddenly hit him, that Paul fell to his knees. What else could he do before our truly loving God? And the same for us. What else can we do? And on our knees we humbly express our praise and thanks, worshipping at His feet. 

In our pilgrimage through life, we do so, rubbing shoulders with our fellow members of society, with our family, with our friends. But do we individually bask in a God-love-bubble? In splendid isolation, keeping His love just to ourselves? There’s something about God’s love that has to be shared. We are wired to spread this love to those around us, the unloved, the lonely, the weary, the spiritually starving. There is something within us that bursts to tell others. We can’t keep it in. So in our war-torn world, we do what Jesus said, we love our enemies. We love the unlovely. Warts and all. And perhaps, through us, they too will feel the love of God in all its width, its height, its length, its depth; the oxygen of God’s Spirit infusing into their very own souls as well as ours. Jackie Pulling is quoted as saying, “God wants us to have soft hearts and hard feet. The trouble with so many of us is that we have hard hearts and soft feet”. She explained that we need to have soft hearts to love people, and hard feet to keep on loving them. Let us pray that we too have soft hearts, with the power to understand “How deep [God’s] love is“.

Distress

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! 
His faithful love endures forever. 
“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble, 
and He rescued them from their distress. 
Let them praise the Lord for His great love 
and for the wonderful things He has done for them.
Those who are wise will take all this to heart; 
they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord.

Psalms‬ ‭107:1, 6, 31, 43‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This is a wonderful Psalm full of testimonies about the goodness of God, about His saving grace and response to His people’s distress. The sixth verse is repeated a further three times, on each occasion defining a pivotal moment, when God answered His people’s cries for help in their times of trouble. Two rescue themes in this Psalm emerge – one of them when God responds to His people’s predicament caused by their own bad choices, and the other when they were caught up in a natural calamity. The Psalm concludes with a section outlining the consequences of “wickedness” being applied to the environment in which the people live, and then how the hungry and poor are blessed, while the leaders, the “princes” are let loose into “wastelands”. This Psalm could almost be the plot of a movie, setting out as it does a storyboard of how the oppressed and the distressed come through in the end, with God’s help, into a place of rescue.

What about distress today? There is certainly enough of it around us, even in the supposedly affluent Western societies in which some of us live. In particular in the UK the Food Banks are in great demand, as people in need are provided with sufficient provisions to keep them going in their time of distress. Charity shops abound in shopping centres once thrumming with commerce but now full of empty shops. There is almost a society within society, defining a distressed underclass, surely defining a modern equivalent of the Biblical times that we read about in this Psalm. And a thought of compassion enters my mind, perhaps a God-thought, of how people, rich and poor, stagger through life without God in their lives. Everyone, at one time or another, will endure a crisis where they need Someone to call out to, Someone who will “rescue them in their distress”. As verses 10 and 11 say, they sit in darkness and deepest gloom, imprisoned in iron chains of misery, their rebellion against God compounding their distress.

Are any of us in difficulties this morning? The loving Heavenly Father that I know is there for us and with us. And as we cry out in our troubles, The Psalmist says that He will save us from our distress. As I look back over my life, to the times when I offered up to God my prayerful cries for help, to each I received one of three possible outcomes. The first was an instant Divine rescue – an immediate answer to my prayer. The second was also a positive God-response, but one that took place over a period of time, in one case nearly a year. And the third was no response at all, leaving me in a hard and difficult place. But through it all, whatever the response, I know that God was there for me. So today, I not only believe that He answers prayer. I know that He does. And a negative or lacking response does not mean that God doesn’t care for me. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans – “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord“. So in the times of silence, while I walk in my life-pilgrimage through difficult times of trouble, I know that God is there with me. I only have to reach out and feel His touch. Somehow the troubles don’t seem nearly as bad then.

Solomon’s Prayer

“Give your love of justice to the king, O God, 
and righteousness to the king’s son. 
Help him judge your people in the right way; 
     let the poor always be treated fairly. 
May the mountains yield prosperity for all, 
     and may the hills be fruitful. 
Help him to defend the poor, 
     to rescue the children of the needy, 
     and to crush their oppressors.”
Psalms‬ ‭72:1-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Psalm 72 was written by Solomon, David’s second son from his marriage with Bathsheba. This Psalm is a prayer with three interwoven themes, instructions to the king, prosperity for all, and justice and provision for the poor. But do these themes have any relevance for Western societies today? 

Regarding instructions for the king we can overlay them onto our democratic system and its political leaders. The Psalmist lists love of justice, righteousness, treating people fairly and judging in the right way as being qualities that leaders should adhere to. So when the opportunity comes to vote for our leaders, we should look for these qualities in the candidates, praying for God to help us in the selection process. And it reminds us that we should pray for our political leaders, that they will faithfully follow God’s ways.

One word that repeatedly crops up in the Psalm is “May”. It’s a word that is full of a prayerful aspiration for something good to happen. An expression of hope. A yearning for better times. Verse 3 sets out a prayer for prosperity, with a picture of the mountains and hills providing a fruitful source. Prosperity for everyone, not just the favoured few. This is a prayer for today as well. Many parts of our world today are experiencing poverty. Famines and diseases are rife. Wars destroy what little some people have. And we have a terrible imbalance between the rich and the poor nations. So we must pray for all people, and provide from our resources what we can. But there is a wider, more prevalent, poverty. Poverty of spirit is a universal problem, affecting all nations, whether rich or poor. Jesus highlighted the “poor in spirit” in the first of the Beatitudes. Such people realise their need for God, and can approach Him with open hands to receive His riches, the prosperity found in His Kingdom. 

But in this Psalm, Solomon writes about how the leader should protect the poor in his nation. It is interesting that Solomon didn’t pray for the poor to become rich and prosperous. He accepted that in spite of the prosperity of the nation, there were still poor, needy and oppressed people, and he prayed for the leader to do what was necessary to look after them. Though Western societies are generally rich and prosperous, we still have poor people who are needy and oppressed. Jesus said in John 12:8, “You will always have the poor among you…”. And that is certainly today’s experience. The solution has evaded every generation since Solomon. But as God’s people, we must pray and help those in need in our communities and families.

There is perhaps a prophetic hint of the Messiah’s reign to come in this Psalm, with its reference to the “ends of the earth” in verse 8. That is when we will see the reality of the prayers of this Psalm fulfilled.

Paranoia?

Those who hate me without reason
outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore
what I did not steal.

But I pray to you, Lord,
in the time of your favour.
in your great love, O God,
answer me with your sure salvation.
Rescue me from the mire,
do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me,
from the deep waters.

Psalm 69:4,13-14 NIVUK

Is David being paranoid here? Apparently, the average number of hairs on a person’s head is about 100,000. So did this many people really hate David? Were his thoughts being driven by his feelings of persecution and a lack of justice, or was he really in a very difficult place? Whatever the answer would be to this question, David always ending up being reminded of God and His love, salvation and deliverance. And he prayed. David was doing what we all do from time to time. Who has never wondered what other people are thinking about us? Who has never had thoughts that the whispering and quick glances in our direction are gossip about us? David was setting out his feelings, graphically describing what was going on inside of him. And the expression of the negatives were followed through by his arrival on God’s door step. Where he prayed and received the assurance that he was seeking. And in the process he was setting us an example to follow when we too feel a bit paranoid. 

Answered Prayer

You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.
Psalm 65:2-3 NIV

Another Davidic Psalm. He was certainly a prolific Psalmist, but so much of his writings bubble up out of a heart firmly fixed and grounded in his Father God. In verse 2 of this Psalm, David drops in the unequivocal statement that God answers prayer. In Matthew 21:22, Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer“. There’s the story of a woman living in the coal belt in Wales, who got so fed up with a slag heap located behind her house that she took the words of Jesus at face value and prayed one night for God to remove the mountain. The next morning it was still there. Her response was, “I didn’t think prayer would work anyway”. An example of unbelieving prayer? When Jesus spoke about asking for something in prayer, there is implied within the request the assurance that what is being asked for is in accordance with God’s will. There is also the implied requirement for having faith that God is who He says He is, and that He will grant the request. Sometimes we try and pray beyond our faith. For example if I pray for revival to break out in my nation, is that within the faith that I have? Perhaps I need to start with praying for my next door neighbour, developing my faith muscles in the process. Both belief and faith required a living, breathing relationship with our Heavenly Father. In Matthew 7:7, Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you…”. The word ask in this context means to keep on asking, being persistent in prayer. 

But after all this, we have to accept that our believing, faith-filled, persistent prayer requests may not be answered in the way, or with the result, we hoped for. These are the times when we need to trust God, because only He knows what is best for us. However, there is one prayer that God always answers with a resounding “Yes”. That is the prayer for forgiveness for all our sins. In 1 John 1:9, the Apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” We need never be overwhelmed by our sins again. We can live a life free of guilt and sin. Thank You Lord!

How Long?

How long, Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me? 
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Psalm 13:1-2 NIVUK

This is the “How long” Psalm. Just a few verses but profound in its message. “How long” appears four times in the first two verses, so it must have been a phrase significant in David’s mind when he wrote this Psalm. In the first verse he questions God’s silence and accuses Him of forgetting him. In the second he turns inward and asks the same question of his soul. He must have been an impatient and demanding man at times! 

We too get caught up in “How long” situations. How long will I have to put up with this illness? How long will I have to work at this job? How long will I …. (fill in your own problem). In Western society we are very much wired into expectations that we want delivered instantly. Instant coffee. Turn on a tap and water comes out instantly. Even though, rationally, we know that “instant” is not always possible, it doesn’t stop the expectations of immediacy from rolling in, nagging us with their strident demands. Some want to lose weight. Or learn a foreign language. Or play a musical instrument. Or get a University degree. Instantly! Right now! We want to download a film from the internet instantly and pursue the fastest broadband solution to get as close to instant as we can. We want an electric car (when we can afford to buy one!) to charge up – yes, you’ve guessed it – instantly. The opportunities for the demands of the “How long” generation are endless. Frustration builds and dissatisfaction permeates our minds and corrupts our very souls when “instant” cannot be delivered.

David wasn’t caught up with ancient Jewish gadgets though. Or the faucets in the palace plumbing. Rather, he was in a hard place, once again, because of his enemies. And obviously he was getting impatient with God for not dealing with them. Note that he wasn’t saying that the issue was too hard for God to sort out. He was instead trying to twist God’s arm into helping him out of his predicament sooner rather than later, as we can see in his demanding prayer in verse 3. 

The worldly spirit of urgency also has a pervasive influence on our Christian lives. We want an immediate answer to prayer. We want to see church growth straight away, by Sunday, or perhaps the next, God, if you can’t organise it earlier. But we worship a God whose timing in everything is totally spot on. Never too late. Never too early. 

Many years ago my daughter was hospitalised with a serious, and at the time possibly terminal, illness. The prognosis was grim. And around the world good Christian people prayed for her. A well known itinerant preacher with a proven healing ministry prayed at her bedside. The church Elders anointed her with oil. The family held a daily vigil, each day and most of each night. I personally rattled Heaven’s gates asking God to bring about a breakthrough. But one day halfway through her four months in hospital, I was summoned from my office in Glasgow to her bedside in Edinburgh, the medics fearing the worst. And half way along the M8 motorway I was crying out to God, yes – you’ve guessed it, “How long” God? And amazingly I heard this voice from the back seat say, “Trust Me”. God in His mercy heard my anguish and gave me something that has stayed with me ever since. A reminder that He is in control of all situations and His timing will be perfect. There were further crises in her remaining hospital stay, but we were eventually allowed to bring her home to commence a long, but successful, convalescence. God healed her, not instantly as we would have liked, but nevertheless He healed her. And those two words, “Trust Me” turned me from being a “Believer” into being a “Knower”. 

David finished his Psalm with a declaration of his trust in God’s love, in faith rejoicing in the coming rescue, proclaiming the goodness of God. We don’t know how long David had to wait for God to sort out his enemies. But perhaps, as David lifted his thoughts into Heavenly places, the importance of his problems dimmed, replaced by the comforting arms of his Lord and God, and that still small whisper, “Trust Me”