Devotional, day 8


8 Jan 2017

Is Anything Too Hard for the Lord?
Are you facing a seemingly impossible situation in your life? Is there an apparently irretrievable breakdown in a relationship? A serious health issue? An almost impossible challenge in your job? Is there a habit or addiction that you are finding hard to break?

Whatever challenges you may face in the year ahead, nothing is too hard for the Lord.

Abraham was a hundred years old. His wife Sarah was ninety. God promised them a son. They said, in effect, ‘That is impossible’. This is the context of the great rhetorical question: ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’ (Genesis 18:14). The answer is ‘no’. If Sarah could conceive when ‘already very old, and… past the age of childbearing’ (v.11), then nothing is too hard for the Lord.

In our passages for today we see three great challenges that all of us will face in the year ahead. In each of these challenges we need to remember that nothing is too hard for the Lord.

Proverbs 1:8-19

1. Resisting the temptations

Jesus never tells us to withdraw from the world. The challenge is to be ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’. We are called to resist the temptations of the world around us.

The book of Proverbs gives practical advice on how to achieve that balance. Don’t let others entice you into sin: ‘If bad companions tempt you, don’t go along with them’ (v.10, MSG). ‘If they say, “Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for innocent blood…”’ (v.11), we are not to give in to them.

When I was practising as a barrister I noticed how many people were led into crime by others saying to them, ‘Come along with us’.

In the midst of the global financial crisis, some banks in the UK defended unethical practices on the basis that other banks were doing the same thing. In the UK, celebrities from the 1960s and 1970s are defending past sexual offences on the basis that the behaviour was common practice at the time.

Don’t be enticed into sin by the fact that everybody else seems to be doing something – evading tax or travel fares, getting drunk or being promiscuous. Don’t follow the crowd: ‘Do not set foot on their paths’ (v.15). Something is not acceptable just because others are doing it. I can’t justify my actions on the basis that it is the way in which the world works.

In the end, if your ‘feet rush into sin’ (v.16), or you go after ‘ill-gotten gain’ (v.19a), it takes away your life. ‘When you grab all you can get, that’s what happens: the more you get, the less you are’ (v.19, MSG).

The enticement of the world is very strong. Yet, ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’

Lord, I pray that in the year ahead you will give me the strength to resist all the temptations of the world and not to be enticed into sin in any way.

Matthew 6:25-7:23

2. Living the Jesus lifestyle

Jesus’ words are the greatest words ever spoken. They are so challenging. For example, he says, ‘Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them’ (7:12, MSG). This golden rule is beautifully simple but seems almost impossibly hard to live out.

The great challenge is putting Jesus’ words into practice. His instructions are clear, but some of the standards seem impossibly high. Yet, ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’

Stop worrying and start living
Jesus commands you not to worry about your life or material things (6:25,28–31). Think ahead, plan ahead, but don’t worry ahead. Trust in your Heavenly Father to provide (v.26). He knows your every need (v.32). Faith is the antidote to worry.
You cannot add a single hour to your life by worrying (v.27). As Corrie ten Boom put it: ‘Worry does not empty tomorrow of sorrow; but it empties today of strength.’

Live in day-tight compartments. Live one day at a time. Don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow: ‘each day has enough trouble of its own’ (v.34b). Make a decision today not to worry about tomorrow. Trust God to provide for you one day at a time.

Sort out your priorities
Jesus tells you to change your ambitions and priorities. Seek God for who he is and not for what he can do for YOU. Like us, God does not want his friends only to be interested in what they can get out of him. He wants you to seek his ‘presence’ not just his ‘presents’.
Take on a new set of responsibilities that are both exciting and challenging: ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be yours as well’ (v.33).

Do not be judgmental
We are not to take pleasure in judging others, not to enjoy seeking out other people’s failings or presuming their actions spring from bad motives. If we knew what people had been through, their sorrow and their suffering, we would not be so quick to judge. Jesus tells us to get our own lives sorted out first. We are to change ourselves before we try and change other people (7:1–5). Rather than sowing harsh criticism and judgment, we are to sow mercy, kindness and love.
Persist in prayer
Don’t be repetitious, but be persistent. Jesus makes wonderful promises of answered prayer (vv.7–8). He promises ‘good gifts’ as you pray (vv.9–11).
Choose to live a radical life
Stay on the narrow road that leads to life (vv.13–14). On the narrow road there is no room for pride, dishonesty, anger, hatred of enemies or un-forgiveness.
Humility is the order of the day. You have to give, to pray, to exercise self-control and seek first the kingdom of God. It is a road of purity, integrity, honesty and forgiveness. It is a road where you are required to ‘do to others what you would have them do to you’ (v.12). You are to show good fruit – by your character, lifestyle, teaching, actions, impact and relationships (vv.15–23).

Lord, as I face the challenge of living the Jesus lifestyle this year, thank you that nothing is impossible with you. Fill me today with your Holy Spirit and help me to live the kind of life that deep down I long to live.

[For a more detailed explanation and application of ‘The Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew 5–7) see Nicky Gumbel’s book The Jesus Lifestyle : shop.alpha.org/product/182/jesus-lifestyle-nicky-gumbel]

Genesis 17:1-18:33

3. Trusting the Lord in difficult times

The Lord appears to Abraham and lays before him a huge challenge: ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless’ (17:1). Then he makes a wonderful promise: ‘I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers’ (v.2). No wonder Abraham ‘fell face down’ (v.3).

God makes a covenant with Abraham. He promises him the land of Canaan, and also that many descendants and nations will come from him (vv.4–8). This promise is highlighted by God in the name change from Abram to Abraham, as Abraham means ‘father of many nations’ (v.5). God also changes Sarai’s name to Sarah – who was to be ‘the mother of nations’ (v.16). The sign of the covenant was circumcision (v.9 onwards).

God did not just say once to Abraham that he would have a son. He confirmed it time and time again (15:4; 17:16; 18:10). You can expect God to speak to you about major matters in your life and confirm them many times over.

Abraham’s relationship with God is very intimate. God engages in conversation with Abraham. Abraham pleads with him about Ishmael. God’s response is ‘Yes, but…’ (17:19). He says he is not only going to answer Abraham’s prayer for Ishmael, he is also going to do more than Abraham could have ever asked or even imagined (vv.19–21).

The third time that God made this promise to Abraham he sent the ‘three visitors’ (18:1–15). As we read this through New Testament eyes, we can see an image of the Trinity here. It is clear that there are three of them (v.2) and yet it seems they speak as one: ‘Then the Lord said’ (v.13).

Indeed, this is famously illustrated by Andrei Rublev’s painting in 1410 (see below), which reflects the communion of the three angels who visited Abraham and symbolises the tri-unity of God (one God in three persons), and the fellowship of love at the heart of God’s being.

God promises, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son’ (v.10). Sarah laughs. She thinks, ‘After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?’ (v.12).

It is encouraging that Sarah also had the usual human weaknesses. The Lord says to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Will I really have a child, now that I am old?”’ (v.13). ‘Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh”’ (v.15). We all are tempted to lie to get ourselves out of trouble. With the exception of Jesus, the Bible never presents the great men and women of God as faultless.

The Lord’s response is to repeat his promise and ask rhetorically: ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’

Lord, thank you that, whatever the issues I am facing in my life, nothing is too hard for you. Help me this year to continue to trust in you.

Pippa Adds

Matthew 6:25

‘Do not worry about your life…’

I have spent far too much time worrying about things in my life – family, illness, what to wear! … I find it difficult not to worry at all. If you don’t worry, it almost seems as if you don’t care. There is a balance between being really concerned and burdened to pray, and being worried. I think the answer is really trusting that God hears our prayers and will act. Hopefully he doesn’t mind us asking lots of times!

Corrie ten Boom, Clippings from My Notebook, (Triangle, 1983)

Andrei Rublev, Holy Trinity Icon 1410, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Angelsatmamre-trinity-rublev-1410.jpg [public domain]

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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