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The story this week for July 9 is all about the journey we make from relying on our own efforts, to experiencing God’s joy and peace.
We start the story in the Old Testament with Abraham, or rather, Abraham’s servant, Eliezer, who he has entrusted with a vital mission.
He has to travel from Canaan, all the way back to Mesopotamia, somewhere between northern Iraq and Turkey, to find Abraham’s kith and kin in a place called Nahor.
The reason for this is for God’s promise to be fulfilled to Isaac, the son miraculously born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age. He needs a wife, and it is important for the succession that he finds a wife from his own people, rather from the Canaanites around where they are living.
And so Eliezer sets off with a caravan of camels, with some valuable gifts of gold, and no doubt with some other servants to help on the journey.
And after a lot of difficult desert travelling, he arrives at the right place.
But how will he know who is the right person? How is he to choose a suitable wife for his master’s son? It’s an awesome responsibility, and he is under oath to his master to carry out his mission in a prayerful and God-guided way.
Is he going to find the joy and peace of his master by his hard work and striving to be faithful to his duty? Or will he find it another way?
Abraham, we know, was a deeply spiritual man of faith in God with whom he had walked, literally, all the way to the new land God has shown him in Canaan – and in many adventures since.
And Eliezar is not just a faithful servant to his master, but he is a faithful worshipper of God. The clue is in the prayer that he prays, which is a request based on a prophetic insight — we might say a word of knowledge – that God has given him. So he prays with spiritual discernment:
“So today when I came to the spring, I prayed this prayer: ‘O Lord, God of my master, Abraham, please give me success on this mission. See, I am standing here beside this spring. This is my request. When a young woman comes to draw water, I will say to her, “Please give me a little drink of water from your jug.” If she says, “Yes, have a drink, and I will draw water for your camels, too,” let her be the one you have selected to be the wife of my master’s son.’ “
Genesis 24:42-44 NLT
Rebekah now enters the scene and shows herself in the flow of God’s favour as she offers Eliezer refreshment, draws water over and over again for the camels — and amazingly, shows herself willing to enter into a new relationship, living far away with someone she has never met.
The joy and peace in the story comes through the servant’s response as he relates:
“Then I bowed low and worshipped the Lord. I praised the Lord, the God of my master, Abraham, because He had led me straight to my master’s niece to be his son’s wife.” Genesis 24:48 NLT
This wasn’t joy coming as a result of his diligence and success. Rather, the joy and peace of the Lord found him, as he prayerfully followed the Lord’s leading and placed humble reliance on the Lord’s plan coming to pass.
It’s a fine distinction but a really important one. And it gives us the first lesson in how to allow God’s joy and peace to find us.
We move now to Jesus, teaching the Kingdom of God to a mixed group of seekers and disciples and some from the Pharisee party in their distinctive robes and bearing of superiority. Surely they were more knowledgeable and more righteous than this working-class Galilean rabbi!
But Jesus challenges them: why didn’t they hear God’s call to repentance through John, and could they miss the freedom and joy that Jesus brought to people? His words draw a familiar picture:
“It is like children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends, ‘We played wedding songs, and you didn’t dance, so we played funeral songs, and you didn’t mourn.’
They were too bound up to respond! They were so caught up in the minutiae of their religion that they had lost sight of God and the relationship He wanted with them.
No, what was important to them was doing right — being seen to be doing all the religious things they thought necessary, to be counted righteous.
And they resented Jesus, who questioned their authority and called them out for the way they bullied others to keep all their rules and requirements.
Knowing God in the way Jesus makes possible changes everything. When we know Him, the way we please Him is different. It’s now about being His in a relationship. He said:
“No one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”
Then Jesus said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Matt. 11:27-30 NLT
Religious people of every age are pursuing this self same wrong priority. They are dismissing the priority of personal faith in Jesus while elevating man-made rules, rituals and church commitments — and adding their own burdens of supposed holiness.
Religion is not relationship. Formal religious structure is no substitute for the loving partnership God so wants with us. Any attitude of pride in what we know or what we have achieved cuts us off from what God is graciously giving and revealing, as Jesus pointed out earlier in the narrative:
“I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children”.
Matt. 11:25-26 NLT
Most of Jesus’ disciples were akin to ‘little children’ in terms of their learning. Unlike the Pharisees, they made no claim to wisdom or scholarship, but they were growing fast in spiritual insight. As Jesus taught, they were getting it — just as the scholars and religious leaders were not.
The way to find joy and peace is to acknowledge what we can’t create ourselves. It’s accepting the partnership — and help — that goes with sharing the harness with Jesus.
There’s another reason the peace and joy of Jesus can be frustratingly elusive.
We have lived too many years learning to be independent and self-sufficient, capable and resourceful.
We’re made that way. These are important life skills.
But Jesus brings us to a crisis about self — who we are alongside who He is, what He has won for us and the new life we don’t deserve that He has graciously offered us.
We come to the point of recognising that who we are, and what we have achieved, isn’t what counts.
It’s like one of these moments when you realise that all the paper qualifications listed on your CV don’t qualify you to do the thing you’re facing…
It’s like that with Jesus. We start by accepting His sacrifice for us on the Cross. But for Him to be Lord — to give us His direction to our day by day lives — ‘self’ has to get up off the throne and go and sit elsewhere.
And ‘self’ will try to get back the place it has lost.
Paul, who had a Pharisee upbringing and was well tutored in all the ways of being a model of rigorous Jewish observance, met with Jesus on his journey to arrest believers in Damascus and that proud self was dethroned there and then.
But it was a journey for him to become free of it. The old, unspiritual but proud way kept on with its push-back. Only complete, and repeated, surrender to Jesus would break its hold. As he writes to believers in Rome, he shares his journey and the tensions he has experienced — because this is an encouragement to us all.
Reflecting on an earlier time, he writes:
”I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway… I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind… Who will free me from this life… dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:19-25 excerpted
This scene is played out at the point where we know we need to give our heart and life to Jesus — and it is not fully resolved, even then. The flesh life, or sinful nature, will push back at times. Like a high-sided vehicle experiencing crosswind on the motorway bridge over the Bristol Channel, we’re being pushed off course and have to work at the steering to keep in the right lane.
In this teaching we are looking back at the pull and push of the old nature, but in the context of the peace and joy that the new, spiritually-regenerated nature gives us.
“I love God’s law with all my heart” is here helpfully set in the context of living renewed lives with Christ enthroned by the Amplified version: “For I joyfully delight in the law of God in my inner self [with my new nature]
Romans 7:22 Amp
And Paul will teach in the following chapter:
But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.)
Romans 8:9 NLT
And, reminding us that we have to make that day by day choice to live by the Spirit of Jesus:
Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.
That’s agreeing with God that we WON’T find what we need by striving for it — but we are making a choice for Jesus, making room for Him, for His peace and joy to FIND US.
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