The Interceders Encourager No. 32
The Good Things
With the coming of Spring, and all the colour and beauty and variety that it brings, along with the warmer weather, causing us to feel good to be alive, we may be tempted to think that everything is all right, and there is no need to make such a fuss about the state of the Church and the state of the nation. We are surrounded by the evidence that God is good and faithful, and He gives us everything to enjoy, so why not just enjoy it, why be so concerned about bad things?
Moreover, these feelings may well be reinforced by others in the church. It has been my experience, and it has probably been yours, that there are many people around us who think we are over concerned with the bad things in the Church and the world. "Be more positive," they say. "We are told in the Bible to think about what is honourable, what is just, pure, lovely and gracious, so why not do so, and stop complaining about other things?"
Now it is quite right that we should think about the good things, and be grateful for them, for our God is great and gracious and faithful. Let us think about some of these things.
1) We should constantly marvel at the vastness and wonder of the universe, which displays the immense power and creativity of our Creator God; how He, in His grace, on this tiny pinprick in the vast universe, has made man in his own image, placed him here, and lavished upon him innumerable blessings; how He, in His strength and wisdom, has placed the earth at just the right distance from the sun, for if it were a little nearer, we would all be burnt up, and if it were a little further away, we would freeze to death.
2) As we consider the earth, we should constantly be amazed at the way He has made such an incredible variety of life forms, all interdependent; at the beauty that is everywhere apparent on the earth and in the skies; at the miracles that constitute our physical bodies, the wonderful interaction and interdependence of our senses, "the mystic harmony linking sense to sound and sight," the incredible functioning of our brains, far greater than any computer could ever do, yet the uniqueness of each human being.
3) We should praise our God for the abilities He has given us to think, to appreciate, to love, to have relationships, to discover the laws of the universe, and harness these so that the quality of our lives has been enriched in so many ways to enable us to make so many things, from the tiniest computer chips to the largest buildings and bridges and tunnels.
4) We should constantly thank God for His providence, His provision and His preservation; for every new day, that He has spared us and lent us breath; for every moment of good health and freedom from pain; for every accident avoided and all the many journeys completed safely; for enough food and clothing provided; for work and employment to sustain and enrich our lives; for every difficulty in which we have proved the Lord's presence and faithfulness.
5) We need to remember all the great and fine people who have lived before us, and who have enriched our lives; the inventors, the discoverers, the explorers, the designers, the architects, the artists, the doctors, the composers; all the magnificent and beautiful music and the wonderful hymns that have been written, that can move us and inspire us, and cause us to think about the greatness and the glory of God.
6) We should also be thankful for all the good things that are still around us in this country; the loyalty, the dedication to duty, the kindness, the selflessness of so many people; the measure of honesty and integrity that is still present in our society; the limited courtesy that still exists. We should thank the Lord for every honest and upright tradesman that we encounter, every person in the public sphere that we can trust, being grateful that we do not suffer from the corruption that is common in so many other countries.
7) We should be thankful that, in spite of the recession, we still have a strong economy with a stable society, and that, in spite of terrorist threats, we live in peace, and do not have to contend with the insecurity and conflicts and wars that plague so many parts of the world. In spite of our sins, God has still blessed this country in this respect. We have not been invaded for nearly a thousand years, and very few countries can say that.
8) We should be thankful that all of us have enough food to eat, and to spare; enough clothes to wear; well built homes to live in; public services that work; electricity that stays on 24 hours a day; gas that continues to flow; clean drinking water in our homes, and a sanitation system for almost every house, a luxury that most people in the third world know nothing about; roads that are generally in good condition, with even very minor roads all tarmacked, something unheard of in both the second and third worlds; a good railway system, which, even though severely depleted from what it once was, would seem like a dream to developing countries; a telephone system that works well. In addition, our rubbish is collected regularly, our streets are swept regularly, (even though not as often as we would like), we have a police service with police who do not carry guns, a privilege that very few countries have; we have a free education system for all children and young people up to the age of eighteen, including free books and stationery, an incredible privilege that most countries would think impossible. We have fuel available for all vehicles without having to queue up for hours to get it. We still have freedom of expression, including freedom of religion, something that exists in only about twenty countries in the world.
"If you woke up this morning, with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million people who won't survive this week.
If you have never experienced the danger of war, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 200 million people in the world.
If you can attend a Christian meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death, you are more blessed than almost half the world's population!
If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the world's population!
If you have money in the bank and some spare money in your wallet or purse, you are better off than 92% of the world's people!" (Source Unknown)
9) We should be very thankful for the climate of this land. Through the grace of God, we live in a land that has a temperate climate. This means it never has extremes of weather.
a) We have weather that gives us a beautiful, green country all the year round. Very few countries can say that.
b) Our dependable moderate climate, without risk of drought and floods, enables us to produce good harvests every year. Many countries cannot do that.
c) Our moderate climate without extremes of hot or cold means we can work all day and every day of the year. Most countries do not enjoy such privileges.
d) Our moderate climate has spawned the Agrarian and the Industrial Revolutions, with all the ensuing benefits that we enjoy.
Other nations would give everything they have to experience a tenth of the blessings and privileges we enjoy because of our temperate climate, but British people generally are always complaining about our weather! Such an attitude not only displays an incredible ignorance of the world's weather patterns, but a terrible lack of gratitude to our good and gracious God who has endowed us so richly. Let us make sure we are not among the grumblers, but spearheading those thanking and praising the Lord for our climate. We should also mention, of course, that it is because of our ingratitude and turning away from God, that He has had to do some unusual things with our weather, to warn us of worse to come if we do not repent.
10) Above all, we should thank God for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and all the blessings we have received, especially the privilege of prayer, and those we will receive as a result of the incredible sacrifice of the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us.
11) Furthermore, we should be very thankful for our Christian heritage in this country, for the saints, the pioneers, the reformers, the martyrs, the leaders, the preachers, and all who have changed this country, have stood for truth and righteousness, and given us a heritage like no other nation on the face of the earth. Even though much of that heritage has been lost, we can and must praise God for all that still remains of it in our day.
12) Finally, we should obviously be thankful for every triumph of the gospel, every miracle of healing or deliverance or provision, and for every person brought to repentance and faith, out of spiritual darkness into His marvellous light.
So there are many, many good things that we should constantly be praising and thanking God for. Yet, at the same time, we need to remember the way in which the people of this land have turned their backs on the God who made this nation great, and are paying the price for it.
B. The Burden
We now have a nation where people are not amazed at the vastness of the universe or the intricate placing of the earth in space by the Creator, but a people who are incredibly ignorant of our place in the universe and unappreciative of the wisdom and the grace of their Creator.
The people of this land, in their blindness and stupidity, are increasingly believing that man evolved from primeval forms, and is not the work of an incredibly clever and caring Designer. Consequently, they do not praise God for their lives, for the abilities He has given them, nor for His providence and provision. Increasingly, with the deficiencies of our educational system, people are less and less aware of those who contributed to the greatness of this land.
Most of them have become selfish, short sighted, shallow minded complainers, who care very little for the earth and for those who are worse off than they are.
In this country, and in the West, generally, we know how to produce bumper harvests, but millions still suffer from starvation. We know how to produce clean water, but millions still suffer from lack of clean water and sanitation. We know how to deal with many diseases, and spend huge amounts of money on unnecessary surgery, while most of the world's population are deprived of basic health care.
We are able to clean up our rivers, our air and our buildings, (and for that we should be profoundly grateful), but man is not able to clean up the human heart, which is the key to solving the real problems. A hundred years ago, in Wales, coal dust choked the air, dirt and grime fouled the houses and buildings, diseases were rife, but hundreds of thousands of people rejoiced in having clean hearts. Today we have physically cleaner air and buildings, but the atmosphere is polluted with swearing and blasphemy, with selfishness and pride, with fornication, promiscuity and homosexuality, with laziness and disobedience, with rebellion and anger and arguments, with adultery and marriage break ups, with drunkenness and drug taking, with violence and murder and suicides, with rejection of God's laws and rejection of His Son, and the fact that there is no fear of God in the land.
This is what God is concerned about, more than the physical air, the buildings and the greenery, even though God is concerned about these. A hundred years ago, God was far less concerned with the dirty air and the dirty buildings, just as He is far more concerned with the dirty hearts of people today; and He was far more pleased with the clean hearts and the morally clean people then, than He is with the physically clean air of today, accompanied by all the filth of self and pride.
We need to see beyond the obvious and the outward. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, it was Springtime. The brightly coloured flowers would have been displaying their beauty, the sun would have been shining, and the trees would have been breaking into leaf. Everywhere, new life would have been evident. In addition, people all round him were singing praises to Him. By outward appearances, it should have been the happiest day of His life, yet Jesus stopped the procession and wept over the city, not rears of joy, but tears of sorrow; for He saw beyond the outward fašade, to the sin beneath, and it broke His heart. Everything in the city seemed normal as people went about their business, but Jesus saw their sinful, rebellious hearts. God was still faithful in sending the sun and the rain and the Spring to the just and the unjust, but the sin of man was so great that His Son had to pay the price of it, so that sinners could be redeemed and cleansed for fellowship with a holy God.
Therefore God expects all Christian believers to see beyond what is outward and obvious, and be concerned for the true state of the people in this land, whose evil hearts, full of self and sin, will bring this country to destruction, unless they are changed; just as the sin of the people of Jerusalem led to its destruction, because they did not repent. The tragedy is that so many of the people in today's churches do not see things as God sees them, resulting in them not having the burden they should have. Our task, therefore, is to open their eyes to the truth.
C. The Balance
1) On the one hand, therefore, we need to make sure that we are not known as negative people. Even though, as realists, we are very aware of the sins of the church and the sins of the nation; at the same time, we are to be as much aware of the good things that God has provided, and be very thankful for them. Christians around us are not to think that the choice is between being thankful and complaining, but between a) a shallow, blinkered view, where everything is beautiful, and other things are pushed under the carpet; or b) a realistic view, where we are thankful to God for everything that is good, while at the same time seeing things as He sees them, facing up to the things that are displeasing to Him, crying over them, as Jesus did, and beseeching Him to send His Spirit to stop the spread of wickedness, and change this nation into what He wants it to be.
So it is right to be thankful for the good things, but it is far more important to be concerned about the way the Church and the world have gone against Him. In our churches, it is easy to think and sing about the good things that God has done for us, and it is right to do so, but we should be far more concerned about the rejection of Him by most of the people in the world around us. These people show no concern for the things of eternity, and in their blindness are going deeper and deeper into sin. Yet the churches show little concern, and seem quite satisfied in their complacency, as they sing their songs. They think they are all right and need nothing, not knowing that they are poor and blind and naked, wretched and pitiable. They need to repent and seek God's face. They need to have their eyes opened, so that they see the world as Jesus sees it, so that they will cry over its sin, and call out to Him to have mercy.
2) Our gratitude is not to be the shallow thankfulness of most of those around us, who are affected by the things that pass away, who are pleased when the sun is shining and things are going well, but not so pleased when circumstances change; but ours is to be a much deeper, genuine, continuous gratitude to God for His power, His wisdom, his faithfulness and His grace, aligned with a consistent, genuine concern for His Church, which has become so worldly, so full of compromise and so weak, and for this land, which has gone so far away from Him.
3) There is another way in which the two can be combined. The more we think about the churches and the nation departing from God's ways, the more we should be grateful to Him for His longsuffering and patience, remembering the words of Peter that the Lord withholding His judgment shows His forbearance, not wanting any to perish. (2 Pet.3:9)
4) If I may put in a personal testimony, one that many of you may agree with. Sometimes when I am in touch with the reality of God, thinking about His holiness, the sin of the world overwhelms me, and makes me long for God to deal with it. At such times, I feel I cannot stand this world any more, I just long to be taken away from this vale of tears and sin, and to be with the Lord. If we, who are sinners, can feel this, then how much more Jesus must have felt it, and longed to be back in heaven, in the light, the joy the beauty and the glory that was His; but He stayed on earth because He knew He had a job to do. Jesus was obviously full of thankfulness to His Father, yet He was also a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, the sins of this world weighing Him down, as He offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears. (Heb. 5:7) He had to hold the two together, and He did it perfectly, keeping in mind the joy that was set before Him.
Like Jesus, we are called to keep the two together, the thankfulness and the burden; so ask Jesus to help you to do it, and keep them in balance. If we major too much on the thankfulness, especially in a shallow way, the temptation will be to become unconcerned. If we major on the concern, the temptation will be to become ungrateful.
5) It is possible to keep the right balance. "Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1Thess.5:16-18) At the same time, we are called to be those with a mark on our foreheads, burdened for the sins of the church and the nation, (Ez.9:4) Pray that the Lord will enable you to do both fully in balance, so that when our intercessory prayers are answered, and we see the Lord working in power, our thankfulness will increase a thousand fold.