Readings for Sunday, November 12
Finding the message and applying it
Intentional about meeting with God… in the right frame of mind
The word through Amos sets a scene in which God Almighty, who is also God all-holy, has an expectation that we will seek Him as He is. But we start by expecting God to meet us as we are. The starting points are different.
The Father wants our worship in close relationship. He has no need of anything, no need of us, but he desires our response to His love.
We, however, come to Him with needs. We don’t feel good about ourselves, so we seek affirmation. We even delude ourselves that we deserve it!
To read that God may despise our carefully prepared Sunday worship is a shock. But what has He told us to attend to? If there are relationships which are not right, or we are in competition with the other churches, or we are sitting on reserves on deposit when the missions we have been given are crying out for support, He might rather we made that prayer of confession real and hold a meeting to decide to do something about it. Otherwise we’ll be continuing to come to church to encounter God and His Spirit will be withdrawn. How long will our complacency last until we notice?
Intention or pretension? Meeting God without pretence
Isaiah seems to be saying much the same as Amos a couple of generations earlier. “Going without” choice food or Facebook or television for a time as a way of drawing closer to God is still something we practice (it’s behind the ‘fish on Friday’ and ‘Lent lunch’ traditions) but if we only seem eager for God to draw near and leave attitudes abhorrent to Him unconfessed, we make things worse than ever because of the hypocrisy we are showing. God, of course, knows our hearts.
We may hear Him gently reminding us: You cannot ‘fast’ or worship, or intercede as you do today, insincerely, with the wrong intention, and still expect your voice to be heard in heaven.
Too much in church, in the nation, in our everyday lives is judgmental and oppressive of others, when we are called to show our love for God by loving others. A more compassionate society starts where I am in my pew, and then God will be listening and empowering because we are of the same heart and on the same mission as Him.
Intentional about needing God’s day by day help and deliverance
We can’t do it ourselves, the psalmist reminds us. There are difficulties, there is opposition – the enemy is always prowling round, seeing who he can devour – and we not only need help but need to know to ask for help. Pride always wants to be self-sufficient, but God wants a relationship with us that lets Him in, that asks Him to be involved, that looks to His provision.
Deism is a philosophy that arose in the Age of Enlightenment in the 1700s when modern science and discovery (from Isaac Newton onwards) and ideas such as Thomas Paine’s ‘The Age of Reason’ elevated discovery and reason above mystery and revelation from God, which was criticised as the control of ‘priestcraft’. Newton’s mathematics explained the universe as a perfectly balanced gravitational system. It was not a big leap from this to seeing the world as created by God and left to run, without need of His intervention. Deists view God as detached and distant, not wanting to be involved in our world; you may not hear the term used much today, but that thinking still affects our relationship with God today and has robbed much of the church of an effective prayer ministry.
This mature prayer by David towards the end of his life teaches us the exact opposite. God knows what we need, but out of relationship He loves us to ask, and to share our lives with Him.
Intentional about being ready for the Lord’s coming – or just His timing
A key doctrine that the Bible teaches is that the Lord, the Messiah who came, will at a time unknown to any but the Father, come again. This will be a time of glorious celebration, but also judgment, echoing the message of Amos and that of Isaiah which we read earlier. It depends whether we are expectant and prepared, or complacent (even arrogant) about how we are spiritually, in the Lord’s sight. The story of the bridesmaids teaches us that we all have to be ready for Christ to come again. “Ready” must mean looking to Him, not to other values – it means we have to take responsibility for our own spiritual condition. That will involve healthy self-examination – is my lamp burning bright and well-supplied?
Oil is a familiar metaphor for the Holy Spirit; anointing was done with oil and the outward action with the oil had (and still has) a spiritual counterpart. Jesus Himself needed this anointing at the start of His ministry, which He announced following His baptism: quoting the start of Isaiah 61, he said “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me, to preach good news…proclaim freedom…sight for the blind…release for the oppressed…and the Lord’s favour” Luke 4:18-19. So is it too much of a stretch, in this parable about readiness and bridesmaids having enough oil, to see our responsibility to ask day by day for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit, so we are found to be living in the light and giving light to others, whenever or however Jesus comes?
Without taking anything away from the promise we live with, that one day Jesus Christ will come again in glory, there are situations day by day which call for an encounter with Jesus. We ask that someone might know a touch from Him, that a person in spiritual blindness may have the ability to see Him, for freedom for a person spiritually captive to be able to turn to Him, and so on. And He will often say to us to minister, so that our mouth conveys His words, our hands His touch. “Fill me afresh, Lord, as I submit to You.”
Intentional about expecting an encounter with the Lord – personal or world-changing
In Thessaloniki the church of relatively new believers were getting hold of the expectation that Jesus, who died and rose again, would come again. In fact, they were concerned that their older saints might come to the end of their earthly lives before it happened!
Too much has been made of the precise way this will happen, when we are not told. Too many have attempted to predict when it will happen, when we are told that no one knows (and no one should be concerned to know). There are better concerns.
Jeremiah tells us in another place that “the heart is deceitful above all things” [Jeremiah 17:9](https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jer+17%3A9&version=NIVUK). So we carry on thinking we are the most spiritual people on earth, when in reality there are things God has told us and shown us, which we are not attending to. Then our worship is less than true.
Because we are human, there will always be things we need to put right with God. Many church traditions start worship with a confession of sin and that’s a good priority. But we should do this for ourselves anyway, before attempting to draw close to God in worship, aware of the displeasure of God to hear expressions of adoration when our hearts and actions deny them. This is all part of our ongoing spiritual renewal, recognising that in ourselves we are poor and needy – we need God to step in and help us, and He is waiting to hear that! Then we’re in the right place to live for the Lord, looking to Him – and ready for whatever He might say or do. Or indeed His return.
To reflect on or as discussion starters
1. Do we long for a kind of “Day of the Lord” with wistful memories of full churches and spiritual impacts in past years?
2. In what ways have we fallen into the trap of divided hearts where we are “seeming eager to know God’s way, seeming eager for Him to draw near” (Isaiah 58:2, Amos 5:22) but in reality guarding our comfort zone and what is familiar to us?
3. From the Scriptures this week, it appears that a lot of what we ‘do’ for God, may not actually please Him. What would happen if we focused more on “being” before God and let go of our attempts to please God in what we do?
4. From time to time it is reported that there has been a move of God, with communities impacted and many lives transformed. Do we dare to ask for such a thing, and what might be the barriers that God is showing us?
5. The Scriptures teach us to live in constant readiness. How ready are we? What would help us to be more prepared, more ready for whatever God will do next?