Shepherding God’s people

Series: 1 & 2 Peter, by Rosie Moore.

Last week we looked at the amazing sunrise fish braai, when the risen Christ restored Peter, commissioning him to shepherd his people (see Before the Rooster CrowsJohn 21:15-19). Thrice Jesus asked Simon, “Do you love me?” And thrice Jesus commissioned him as shepherd: “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-19). This encounter with Jesus was to become a defining moment in the Apostle’s life.

That’s why, thirty years later, when Peter gave detailed instructions for church leaders, his life had been radically hammered out by Jesus’s words to him. Simon the fisherman had become Peter the shepherd, willing to die for Christ’s name. Against this backdrop, he wrote to the first century church leaders:

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:2-4).

For Peter, power dynamics and self promotion have no place in church leadership. Instead, Church elders are to lead God’s people the way shepherds lead their sheep. Shepherding is a divine trust, an urgent and important business for which leaders will give account to the Lord Jesus himself. They will be rewarded and judged based on how they fed, tended and protected God’s people. Christ identified himself as God’s long-awaited Shepherd, and hence, he has the right to set the criteria for Christian leadership (John 10:11-16Ezek 34:10-24).

If we have been entrusted with leadership over people, whether it be over a large Church, a small Bible study or a family, it is good to know what faithful Christian shepherding looks like.

Christian shepherds are humble people.

There is humility in how Peter identifies as a ‘fellow elder,’ ‘a witness of Christ’s suffering’, and a ‘partaker in the glory to be revealed’. Notice that Peter doesn’t give himself a grand title like ‘Bishop of Rome.’ He reserves the title of ‘Chief Shepherd’ for Christ alone.

Rather, he identifies himself as a fellow worker, serving alongside other elders in shepherding God’s people. Every spiritual leader should grasp that Jesus is gathering his people from every nation and generation, “so there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). This should manifest in an attitude of collegiality rather than competition towards fellow leaders and other ministries.

Remember too, that when Peter wrote his letter in about 62AD, Rome ruled the world with an iron fist and status meant everything. Yet, the Christian church was to be radically different from the power-obsessed culture in which it operated. Jesus had impressed upon Peter that in God’s kingdom, authority is based on service, not on power (Mark 10:42-45). That’s why true shepherds are always humble people.

Three contrasts.

Then Peter gives a rubric of contrasting character traits for shepherding:

Not under compulsion….but out of willingness.

Not for personal gain…but out of eagerness.

Not domineering…but by example.

These contrasts harken back to the terrible spiritual leaders in Ezekiel’s day (the ‘shepherds of Israel’) who fed only themselves, not the people. They were negligent in their spiritual duties.  They ruled God’s people with harshness, scattering and leaving them as prey to wild beasts. These bad shepherds were at best neglectful, passive and weak. At worst, they were predatory and domineering.

Peter has a lot to say about false shepherds and ‘waterless springs’, which we will explore in the coming weeks. But for now, he instructs his fellow elders to be godly shepherds who lead from the front and serve their flock.

Here are two practical needs of the flock that every shepherd must meet:

  1. Feed the sheep!

First and foremost, sheep need to be fed! Emotional gimmicks and talking points will not nourish your flock. Give your people Bible-based expository teaching as their staple diet, because people crave plain biblical truth. If your sheep are to flourish in a hard world, they need shepherds who nourish them with rich pasture and clear water, not snacks of Scripture here and there to support the leader’s own opinions (Ezekiel 34:18).

This has become clear in recent years, especially since Covid has turned the world upside down. Many in the flock are feeling let down, because their leaders are timid of the truth. Many leaders water down the Bible to attract people to their ministries. They revise it to stay relevant, or apologize for it to make Christianity more mainstream.

Many leaders are afraid to teach with the raw Bible for fear that their congregation will lose interest. They’ve lost confidence in the word of God to change hearts, minds and lives. But Peter reminds us in the previous chapter: If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.” (1 Peter 4:11). There’s no better way to do this than to stick closely to Scripture.

Shepherds, please do not give up on the Bible! You and the sheep entrusted to you are transformed only one way: by the renewal of our minds. And we transform the world around us when we speak the plain biblical truth and do not compromise (Rom 12:2). So, whether you’re a parent, a Bible teacher or children’s worker, remember that the Bible is God’s word that is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, useful for everything in life (Heb 4:122 Tim 3:15-16). It doesn’t need to be helped along or adapted, because it is the “living and abiding word of God that remains forever” (1 Peter 1:23). “And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25). It is the only word that can save and sanctify people.

The Bible is as relevant today as in Peter’s day, because it’s simply the truth. But if men, women and children are not properly fed with God’s word, they will soon become malnourished and easy prey for Satan’s lies. Shepherds, train your sheep and lambs to be like newborn babies who crave the pure spiritual milk of God’s word. That’s the only way they will grow up in their faith and learn how to live healthy, holy lives in this generation (1 Peter 2:2).

Truth is like cool water in a hot desert, and recent studies are showing that Bible-centred churches are thriving, whereas liberal churches are dying. A leading study concluded that “while 69 percent of pastors at declining churches believe Christian beliefs need to change over time to stay relevant, not one pastor at a growing church says the same.”

  1. Watch over your sheep!

Shepherds, have courage to answer the big questions of our day, so that your flock will not be confused or deceived by the many false teachers who are muddying the waters of Scripture with their feet (Ezek 34:18). There are many hot-button controversial topics that you know will draw fire. You will never be able to keep everyone happy. But people will respect your courage to address a subject from a straightforward biblical perspective, even if they disagree with you. Controversy is unavoidable when you deal with truth, as it was with Jesus’s perfect teaching. The crowds who heard Jesus were always divided (John 7:43Acts 14:4). When Paul preached, he too caused revivals or riots. It’s what the truth does.

Jesus tackled the hard questions of his day too:

“What do you say about fasting?” (Matt 9:14)

“Should we work on the Sabbath?” (Matt 12:10)

“How often should I forgive someone?” (Matt 18:21)

“Is divorce allowed?” (Matt 19:3)

“What is needed for eternal life?” (Matt 19:16)

“What will signal the end of the world?” (Matt 24:3)

“Should we pay taxes?” (Matt 22:17)

Although it’s a messy, risky business, shepherding is a trust from God– a noble and vital commission. If you are a shepherd in any sphere, serve your flock faithfully and live as their example. You can’t shepherd from afar. Engage biblically with their real life issues and lead them to pure water. Feed the sheep, bind up the injured, seek the lost, bring back the strays, strengthen the weak, heal the sick and protect your sheep from predators (Ezek 34:2-9).  Anything else?! Yes, remember,

“You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God.” (Ex 34:31)

This song by Keith and Kristyn Getty is a wonderful reminder that Jesus is our tender Shepherd. Leaders cannot hope to shepherd others unless we ourselves are being shepherded daily by Christ.

Before the rooster crows

Haven’t you noticed that a person’s greatest strength is often their greatest weakness? No one illustrates this better than the brave and confident apostle Peter. His Achilles heel was fear of man.

Peter’s fall.

On the night of Jesus’s arrest, the eager, impetuous, quick, ready, brave disciple thrice denied having anything to do with Christ. Simon Peter was over-confident in his own ability to remain steadfast under temptation. After all, he was the favoured disciple that had been praised for his bold declaration that Christ was the Son of God: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” (Matt 16:17).

But even after Jesus’s repeated warnings, Simon Peter proved to be weak and cowardly in the face of pressure. In his self-confidence, he succumbed to fear of man. His betrayal of Jesus was brutal.

At first, his denial to the servant girl was evasive: “I don’t know what you’re talking about” (Matt 26:70). Later, he cursed and swore to convince them that he was not a disciple of Jesus: “I don’t even know the man!” (Matt 26:72Mark 14:71John 18:26-27).

‘The man’ he hung out to dry was his friend, the same Lord and Master that Peter had eagerly confessed as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Luke 22:54-62). Imagine the hurt and pain of Jesus, who, at that moment, was being beaten and mocked within hearing distance of his disciple and friend. Peter, one of the three most favoured disciples, fell spectacularly just two or three hours after his bold declarations of loyalty:

“I will never disown you!”

“Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Matt 26:31-35).

Most of us would prefer to gloss over Peter’s denials and focus on his restoration in John 21, when the risen Christ re-instated Peter as shepherd of his flock, to feed and care for his sheep and lambs. After all, didn’t Peter repent and become the fearless leader of the church in Rome, a bold evangelist, the author of two New Testament letters, and a brave martyr of the faith in 64AD? Isn’t that the bottom line of Peter’s legacy and the focus of his funeral eulogy? Isn’t that the inspirational story we enjoy so much?

But the New Testament writers don’t allow us to gloss over his fall that quickly! Peter’s detailed denials are recorded in all four of the gospels, because there are warnings embedded in them for every Christian.

The flesh is weak.

Firstly, the gospel writers made sure that future readers would be under no illusions about Christianity’s historical heroes. Even the best men and women are frail, weak and fallible, in desperate need of grace and redemption. Actually, the Bible is littered with failed and fallen saints, as if to make the point that it’s foolish to put any human being on a pedestal. Even Peter fell to temptation on the very night that Jesus forewarned him on the Mount of Olives (Matt 26:30). The only real human hero is Jesus.

In Gethsemane, Jesus again warned the sleepy Peter: “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt 26:40-41). Peter’s fall into fear and sin was aggravated by the fact that Jesus had forewarned him of his weakness.

We need to remember Jesus’s warnings for ourselves: Watch and pray. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Fear of man.

Secondly, fear of man was the reason why Peter denied Jesus.

The first time he was asked about his relationship with Jesus, Peter tried to dodge the servant’s question and avoid creating a scene (Matt 26:70). Then his denial progressed to cowardly betrayal. That’s how sin progresses when we fear man more than God.

And fear of man is the reason why so many of us disown Jesus and his ways when the pressure is on. We are tempted to be silent or evasive for fear of what friends will say behind our backs if we admit that we believe in Jesus and his Word. We are scared of being the butt of a joke; or being scoffed at; or cancelled on social media, because we dare to lift our head above the ‘offence’ parapet by saying something unpopular and counter-cultural. We are afraid of what people can say or do to us.

Years later, Peter committed exactly the same sin in Galatia when, for fear of the Judaizers, he denied the power of the gospel to demolish the barrier between Jews and Gentiles (Gal 2:12-14). It was fear of man all over again. Fear of man is every Christian’s Achilles heel. It is what makes us weak in our time of testing.

The blindness of self-confidence.

Thirdly, Peter’s confidence in himself blinded him to the dangerous threat of Satan. Luke describes how at the Last Supper, Jesus forewarned Peter of his dangerous adversary: “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith would not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).

One cannot help thinking of Satan’s part in Judas’s temptation (John 13:27).

If Peter had understood how weak he truly was, he would have relied on God, not himself. He would have watched and prayed in the Garden, as Jesus had asked him to. But because he was self-confident, Satan caught him off guard.

Just imagine how painful it must have been for Peter to hear the rooster crow, and to see the bloodied face of his Lord turning and looking straight at him (Luke 22:3460-62). He was instantly convicted of his sin and the terrible pain he had caused Jesus. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: 

“Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.”

Before the rooster crows.

Peter’s painful season of sifting warns us to have no grand delusions about ourselves and our strength to resist temptation. As a much older, humbler man, the Apostle warned scattered Christians in the first century that there is a real Satan who is still our adversary. He likened the devil to a roaring lion that seeks to devour God’s people. For this reason, Peter still urges us today to stay alert and sober minded, ready to resist Satan, standing steadfast in the faith and committed to prayer (1 Peter 5:8-91 Peter 1:131 Peter 4:7). Before the rooster crows, we must put our confidence in God alone, for “let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12).

“It is the Lord!”

But, by God’s grace, Satan did not have the final say in Peter’s life. My favourite scene in the whole Bible is the breakfast on the beach after Christ’s resurrection (John 21:7-13). His disciples had gone back to fishing and caught nothing all night. Then the miraculous catch of fish! And then John and Simon Peter recognized their Lord standing on the shore!

“It is the Lord!” exclaimed John.

“As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread” (John 21:7-13).

Spontaneous, eager, impulsive Peter doesn’t think twice about jumping in the Sea of Tiberius in his underwear! His exuberance is palpable. In this beach scene, Jesus completely removed the shame of Peter’s denial. Three times Peter had disowned Jesus. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him and commissioned him to be the shepherd of God’s people:

“Feed my lambs…Take care of my sheep…Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17).

Peter’s repentance was the beginning of his transformation. His sifting by Satan did not destroy him, but became a defining moment in his life. It purified his faith, exposed his fear of man and humbled his heart. His identity changed from impetuous Simon, to Peter the ‘rock’. His career changed from fisherman to fearless evangelist and protective shepherd. The elderly man who authored 1 and 2 Peter was indeed a courageous shepherd of Christ’s church amidst Nero’s terrible reign of terror against Christians.

Jesus’s first words to Simon Peter were “Come, follow me” (Mark 1:17). His last words to him were “You must follow me” (John 21:22). Even though Peter stumbled, he turned back to Christ and was restored, whereas Judas kept walking on the path to destruction.

Peter’s trajectory gives every weak and fearful Christian hope that we are never beyond redemption. Although we may sin, backslide and even fall dramatically, we can still choose to turn back and follow Christ. Every day of our lives, the Holy Spirit is there to help us choose Peter’s trajectory of repentance, forgiveness and eternal life, rather than Judas’s trajectory of hypocrisy, deceit and death. This is the difference between the two disciples who betrayed Jesus—Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter. Which trajectory are you on?

Thirty Pieces of Silver

Easter devotions: The difference between Peter and Judas.

By Rosie Moore.

Both Judas and Peter were handpicked as disciples by Jesus. Both watched Jesus heal the sick, deliver demoniacs, feed the crowds and raise the dead. Both listened to his teachings on God’s Kingdom and heard him foretell his impending death. Both were part of Jesus’s trusted circle who proclaimed the gospel and did miracles in his name (Mark 6:12-13). Both men struggled with sin and temptation. Both misunderstood Christ’s mission. Both betrayed Jesus on the night before his crucifixion. Yet, there were crucial differences between Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot which led them along different trajectories, to vastly different outcomes.

Join us for the next two weeks to look at why the lives of Peter and Judas Iscariot ended so differently, and what lessons we can learn from them. Thereafter, we’ll resume our devotions in Peter’s letters.

Thirty pieces of silver

Many have speculated on what motivated Judas to betray Jesus. Was it greed? Was it resentment that Jesus was not the political leader he had hoped for? Was Judas a pawn of Satan or God, with no choice in the matter (Luke 22:3)? Did he try to force Jesus’ hand to rebel against Rome and set up a new political government?

What we do know is that the gospel writers highlight Judas’s greed and dishonesty. Greed was Judas Iscariot’s besetting sin. He handed Jesus over to the Jewish leaders for just 30 pieces of silver, the average price to buy a slave in the first century.

Essentially, Judas sold the Son of God in exchange for four month’s salary. Loyalty, friendship, integrity, justice, truth, innocence—None of this mattered to Judas as much as his financial interests. He used the mission of Christ for personal advancement, and he was shrewd and deliberate in his plotting:

“He (Judas) went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.”
(Luke 22:4-6)

“Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.”
(Matthew 26:14-16).

Judas, who was trusted to take care of the moneybag and give money to the poor (John 13:29-30), was a pretender right up to the moment when he came up to Jesus and kissed him (Matt 26:48-50). He wore the mask of a friend, but treated Jesus as an enemy.

Twin embryos of betrayal.

But Judas’s betrayal didn’t come out of nowhere. It was conceived from the twin embryos of greed and hypocrisy that he’d incubated in his heart for some time. The apostle John, who knew Judas as a brother, gives us insight into this progression of sin in chapter 12 and 13:

It was at a dinner in Lazarus’s home in Bethany shortly before Jesus’s arrest. Mary, motivated by pure devotion, anointed Jesus with an entire bottle of expensive nard. When Mary poured the perfume lavishly over Christ’s feet and wiped his feet with her hair, Judas was highly offended, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He was indignant at the waste of money (John 12:5).

Perhaps he valued money more than Jesus. Perhaps he was jealous of Mary. Perhaps he failed to see his own theft and lies as sin, because he was enslaved to the evil desire of greed and self promotion (James 1:142 Peter 2:19).

Judas’s pretense to care for the poor was sheer hypocrisy, as John exposes his true motives, “He did not say this because he cared for the poor but because he was a thief. As keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” C.H Spurgeon makes an interesting comment about Judas’s hypocrisy:

“The kisses of an enemy are deceitful…Whenever a man is about to stab religion, he usually professes very great reverence of it. Let us beware of sleek-faced hypocrisy, which is assistant to heresy and infidelity.”

Judas’s progression into sin is a shocking warning for each of us. It is a remarkable real life illustration of James’s metaphor describing how sin grows from conception to a stillborn baby:

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:13-15).

Judas’s despair and death is horrible to imagine (Acts 1:18Matt 27:5). That’s why James warns us to take our heart desires seriously and not to deceive ourselves (James 1:16). They are potentially lethal.

“Satan entered into him” (John 13:27).

Judas’s greed and love of ill-gotten gain was fertile ground for Satan’s seeds of betrayal. The Bible is clear that the devil prompted Judas’s betrayal (John 13:227), which was all part of God’s sovereign plan (Ps 41:9Matt 20:1826:20-25Acts 1:1620).

However, the Bible is equally clear that Judas was not just a pawn of Satan or God. None of us can blame others or make excuses for our evil thoughts and wrong actions, because they are ours alone (James 1:13-14). Judas’s unchecked desires left him like putty in the devil’s hands.

Jesus himself confronted Judas with his ‘sleek-faced hypocrisy’ on the night of his arrest:

“Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48). There’s almost a pleading in Jesus’s question, and no doubt that Judas was an active agent in his betrayal. But by the time Judas realized he didn’t like the way things were turning out, it was too late. The wheels of God’s sovereign plan had begun to turn (John 13:210-11).

“Surely not I, Rabbi?”

Judas’s story should leave us feeling sad and troubled, as Jesus was (John 13:21). I can hardly imagine a sadder meal than the Last Supper, when Jesus told his disciples, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” (John 13:22Matt 26:21).

An inside job always leaves us feeling perplexed. How could a member of this loyal band of brothers betray Jesus? But in Matthew’s gospel, we see that Judas’s response is different to the response of Peter and the other disciples:

Each of Jesus’s disciples was deeply worried that he might be the traitor. Their consciences were tender and concerned. Matthew recalls that night: “They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?” (Matt 26:22). But there is a stark contrast in the tone of Judas’s question: “Surely not I, Rabbi?” he asks, formally (Matt 26:25).

The other disciples addressed Jesus as “Lord,” but for Judas, he was just “Rabbi”. Of course, Rabbi is a Jewish title of honour that conveys respect for a wise teacher, but it belied a deeper issue in Judas’s heart. Judas acknowledged Jesus as a man, but never as his Lord, the Son of God, with the right to rule his thoughts, desires and actions. He’d never accepted responsibility for his sins, confessed them and bowed the knee to Christ as his Saviour, as Peter had (Luke 5:8). Judas had no personal relationship with Jesus.

A tragic trajectory

Judas was a real man who, in real space, time and history, betrayed Jesus for thirty sheckels of silver. It’s a shocking and tragic story. But Judas is also a picture of anyone who ultimately rejects Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Although he was closely associated with Jesus and looked just like the other disciples, he failed to follow Christ as Lord of his life. Tragically, he committed suicide without faith and without hope.

But, no matter how great Judas’s sin was, betrayal is not the unforgivable sin. Nor is greed, theft, lying or suicide. No sin is an obstacle to Christ’s forgiveness. As Thomas Brookes explained many centuries ago:

“The least sin should humble the soul, but certainly the greatest sin should never discourage the soul, much less should it work the soul to despair. Despairing Judas perished, whereas the murderers of Christ, believing on him, were saved.”

But Judas had worn the mask of hypocrisy too long. When he realized what he had done and wanted to recant and return the money, he couldn’t humble himself to repent or even say Jesus’s name. He could only admit to the chief priests that he had betrayed “innocent blood” (Matt 27:3-10).

But Jesus’s verdict on Judas is even more tragic than his suicide: “Woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Matt 26:24). Judas is called “doomed to destruction,” because he was never saved (John 17:12).

Our own trajectory

Judas’s story is not some remote cautionary tale, for we are all by nature traitors and rebels, ‘doomed to destruction’ unless we’re made right with God through Jesus. No matter what our church association or Christian pedigree, we’re either true followers of Christ or pretenders. It’s not enough to feel guilty and remorseful for sin and the havoc it causes in our lives. Even Judas did that. We need to surrender, turn back to Jesus, ask forgiveness and put our trust in him. And then we need to act on the truth that we are no longer enslaved to sin (Rom 6:6John 8:34).

Judas shows us that Christ is more than a wise teacher who teaches us to love our neighbour and live good lives. He is Lord of all, or not Lord at all.

And, as Christians, we’re also tempted to sell out Jesus’s unpopular teachings; to use the church and the gospel for our personal advancement; to try to force Jesus’s hand to suit our own agenda. Like Judas, we’re tempted to lie, steal, covet, envy and worship money and the things it buys.

Judas’s life is a big red flag to those ‘small’ invisible sins of the heart, like greed, resentment, pride and hypocrisy, which grow into dangerous habits and always end in terrible tragedy—now and/or in eternity. “The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them” (1 Tim 5:24).

But, thanks to the gospel, we do not need to follow Judas’s tragic trajectory. We can choose to follow Christ, for “Stronger than darkness, New every morn, Our sins they are many, But his mercy is more”  (Keith and Kirstyn Getty).

This is the difference between the two disciples who betrayed Jesus—Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter.

Join us on Easter Friday, as we contrast Peter’s trajectory. The devotion is titled, “It is the Lord!”

Prayer

Lord, Judas’s shocking story reminds us that the human heart is deceitful above all things. Show us our invisible sins before they take root. Above all, do not let us become pretenders. Rule over every aspect of our lives and help us to be like Mary, who valued you more than anything else. Do not let us sell out the truth of your word for the sake of popularity, personal promotion or security. And though our sins are many and great, help us to remember that your mercy is more.  Amen.

Hospitality as a way of life

Series: 1 & 2 Peter, By Rosie Moore.

“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies.”  Peter 4:9-11.

Practise hospitality… without grumbling!

Generous, cheerful hospitality. This is a vital way that God works through his church family to bring refreshment and love to others. But there is a deeper significance to hospitality than providing food, drink and a place to sleep. Hospitality is one of the ways that we welcome Christ into our everyday lives and homes. And it is the way that we mirror his gospel invitation to others.

What’s more, like all God’s commands, hospitality enables us to live well in God’s world. According to a seventy-five year old Harvard study of well-being, the happiest and healthiest people prioritize relationships with family, friends and community (Click here). God’s ways always work.

Hospitality reflects God’s heart

But hospitality has always been more about God than us. Among God’s Old Testament people, welcoming a stranger was a cultural expectation, as was hospitality among friends (Ruth 2:91 Sam 25:6Job 31:31-32). And likewise, in the New testament, hospitality is a pillar of Christian living: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom 12:13Heb 13:2).

Amazingly, Rahab the prostitute demonstrated true faith in Yahweh by welcoming the spies into her home in Jericho (Heb 11:31). And the Bible remembers the Shunammite woman and the widow of Zarephath, (both Gentiles), for their willingness to show hospitality to the prophets Elisha and Elijah (2 Kings 4:9-101 Kings 17:9).

Likewise, hospitality is listed as an attribute of a godly leader in the Church (Titus 1:81 Tim 3:2). And specific mentions are made of first century lay Christians like Aquila and Priscilla who, through their willingness to show hospitality, opened the doorway of the gospel to many people in Rome, Corinth and Ephesus (Rom 16:3-41 Cor 16:192 Tim 4:19). We read about this hospitable couple in Acts 18.

Hospitality and the gospel invitation

But the Greek word for hospitality in the Bible (philoxenia) has a much wider definition than just having our friends around for a meal. It means “love of the stranger”. It has always been a fruitful vehicle for gospel ministry. As Stacy Reaoch explains,

“We want to serve others well so they will see Jesus and desire to follow him, bearing kingdom fruit. We want them to be drawn to the love of the church, not because of our elegant china, but because of the kindness shown them”.

Hospitality is important to Christianity, because it mirrors God’s gospel invitation. And so, when Jesus told his parable of the Great Banquet, he was inviting sinners into God’s spiritual family. But then he concluded his parable by instructing his followers to offer hospitality to those who couldn’t repay them, just as God has done with us (Luke 14:13-14). And so, hospitality is an everyday, tangible way to mirror God’s gracious offer in salvation. That’s why it’s just a way of life for a Christian.

Looking from this gospel viewpoint, it would seem that when we show hospitality to someone, we welcome and serve Christ himself (Matt 25:34-3540.)

A joy… or a duty?

Yet, despite knowing all these things, I’ve often found myself viewing hospitality as just another guilt-inducing chore, a heavy burden to bear. Why are we prone to be more like Martha, “troubled by many things” (Luke 10:41), rather than like Lydia, who begged to host Paul in her home in Thyatira (Acts 16:15)? It’s easy to see hospitality as a duty rather than a joy:

Especially if you’ve got young children and can barely make it to the 5pm finish line;

Especially when your living space is tiny (and your bank balance is even tinier);

Especially if you’re an introvert and find people draining;

Especially if you’re in the habit of burning supper!

But Peter must have anticipated this response, since he adds the condition– ‘without grumbling!’ Perhaps we’ve been brainwashed by too many episodes of ‘Come Dine with Me’ or ‘Downton Abbey!” We’ve bought into the idea that hospitality is about cooking skills, an impressive menu, a decorated home and table settings.

Hospitality is not entertaining

But Jen Wilkin stresses that hospitality is nothing like entertaining, for

“Entertaining seeks to impress, Hospitality seeks to bless.’

Unpretentious hospitality is accessible to every Christian, married or unmarried… if our focus is directed away from ourselves and towards Christ and the person he has led us to serve.

The goal of Christian hospitality is not what we offer, but the heart behind it. There are many ways to show hospitality, including inviting a friend for coffee; hosting a Bible study; spontaneously inviting someone for lunch after Church; having children over for a play date; cooking and childminding for a sick friend; offering a meal or basket of eggs as a gift; baking a loaf of fresh bread. Hospitality is simply using whatever God has given us to refresh others.

The heartbeat of hospitality is to echo God’s welcoming heart, regardless of how much money we have or what our living arrangements are. I’m sure Peter’s original readers– scattered Christians in the first century—did not have fancy homes or special food. In fact, many of them were homeless, but I imagine that Aquila and Priscilla’s tents came in handy as a shelter from the cold.

To make hospitality a sustainable way of life, we must avoid the fuss-trap! Here are some principles to help us:

  1. Hospitality starts at home.

During Covid, the Lord has shown us that hospitality begins in our own household: Make a regular dinner-time, arrange a special night of the week to read Scripture and speak words of blessing over your household. Invite one or two guests at a time to share a meal, especially the vulnerable and lonely. Ask them to share what the Lord is doing in their lives. Pray that guests will find Christ in your heart and home.

  1. Focus on people, not preparation!

You’re much more likely to practice hospitality if you keep things simple from the word go! Collect simple recipes for one-pot meals and cook double quantities so that there’s always a spare meal in the freezer for unexpected guests. Use up whatever you have in the house to avoid a special trip to the shops. Remember that the goal of hospitality is to make your guest/s feel loved and cared for, rather than to impress them with a fancy menu and spotless home. So don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself.

  1. Hospitality is a team effort

Hospitality is often misrepresented as a one-sided gesture—the host must wait hand-and-foot on the guest, who sits on the sofa! But the Bible speaks of mutual sharing and reciprocal serving among his people. In fact, the phrase “each other” occurs 100 times in the New Testament. So, if your guest offers to contribute something or to help with the meal, accept their offer gladly. Great conversations happen over the chopping board and braai! And if you have children, train them to help. Make your meal a team effort, so you won’t say, “Once, but never again!” Likewise, if you are the guest, think of how you can refresh your host.

  1. Be you!

Remember that there’s no rubric for hospitality!

My mom’s love language is food and her meals are pure heaven! Even at 80, when she invites people over, her table groans with a feast that the best chefs would envy.  She loves poring over recipes, planning menus, and her greatest joy is watching her grandchildren relish five roast potatoes for Sunday lunch! In contrast, my sister and I are in the habit of serving ‘recycléés’ to our guests– a fancy French term for recycled leftovers! Our greatest joy is seeing an empty fridge by the end of the week!

But I remember being a child and living for six years in a tiny caravan. Even with four children in that tiny caravan, far from the nearest town, I watched my parents offer generous hospitality to friends and strangers alike. We had a steady stream of guests staying with us, eating and laughing around our wobbly green table! If I were to sum up what I saw in our home, it would be this:

People mattered, not perfection. My parents were genuinely interested in other people, and so they created a home where the elderly were cherished, young people were welcomed and children were loved. Relationships were nurtured and nourished as a way of life.

In obeying Peter’s instruction to practise hospitality, we do not have to meet some unattainable standard. We don’t have to pretend that our homes and families are perfect. We just need to be ourselves. Peter reminds us that God has gifted us differently to serve one another in the church family, “as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). And God’s name is glorified when we open our hearts and our homes to those around us, whether that’s over a three course meal, Uber Eats or a can of baked beans on toast.

Loving each other in times of testing

(Painting by Aaron Spong)

Series: 1 & 2 Peter, by Rosie Moore.

Knowing God in a personal relationship should naturally lead to a grace-based life. This is how Peter instructs first century believers to go about their everyday lives, as homeless exiles scattered all over the Greco-Roman world:

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:8-11)

Peter affirms the ethic we see throughout Scripture—that love is our top priority as God’s special community (Luke 10:27Lev 19:9-18): “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This distinctly Judeo-Christian idea, which is given flesh and bones in 1 Corinthians 13, used to be known as Christian charity. Charity is the natural response of a believer who grasps the mercy and grace of Jesus poured out in their own life. What’s more, God is praised when we use our abilities as he directs, to help others (Matt 5:161 Peter 4:11).

What’s striking about Peter’s instructions is that the first century church’s base was broad—it crossed cultural, social, ethnic, gender and economic lines. Mutual love across these lines wasn’t natural or socially acceptable in the Greco-Roman world. Yet, Peter urged this diversely-gifted, mixed bag of Christians to love one another, as ‘good stewards of God’s varied grace.’

Love one another earnestly

If Peter is to be believed, fiery trials are never wasted on a Christian if we continue to use whatever gifts God has given us to love one another earnestly.  Some of these diverse gifts are listed in Romans 12:6-81 Cor 12:8-11 and Eph 4:11, but Peter sorts them into two pigeonholes: Serving and speaking.

I love that word “earnestly”! It means seriously, sincerely, eagerly and from the heart. It’s like a pure stream of love for fellow believers that wells up in response to the gospel which has saved us all. “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love each other deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

A few months ago, when a woman joined a Bible study group that I’m part of, her husband was taken aback, “Where did you find all these new friends who love you so much? I’ve never known you to have such caring friends, and you’ve only known them a few months!” Our care for each other is born out of our common bond and precious faith in the Lord Jesus (2 Peter 1:1). It is a natural, but at the same time a supernatural kind of love that makes instant friends out of total strangers. But it’s also a love that mutually serves.

Peter must have recalled the night when Jesus had illustrated earnest love with a bowl of water and a cloth:

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet…A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13: 1434-35).

Although none of us will live up to the radical love of Jesus, who gave up his life to save his enemies, we know that loving and serving our neighbour is part of our DNA as Christians. It’s what makes us different from the world.

Peter lays out four identifying marks of love that would distinguish them from their culture:

  1. Steadfast service.
  2. Love that covers over a multitude of sins.
  3. Cheerful hospitality.
  4. Christ-like speech.

We’ll explore the first two marks today.

Steadfast service

If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’ll have discovered that love is easier to talk about than to do over the long haul. It’s hard to keep serving in relationships, when our own selfish hearts rub up against real people with their fears, weaknesses and sins. Virtue signaling is a lot easier than obeying Peter’s instruction to “keep loving each other” in the present continuous tense.

Like a car, relationships require ongoing maintenance, not a once-off visit to the carwash!

Joni Earekson Tada describes this kind of steadfast service as ‘long obedience in the same direction’. Bearing in mind that Joni is now 70 years old and has been a quadriplegic since she was 16, her perspective is pretty amazing:

“Someone once said that the challenge of living is to develop a long obedience in the same direction. When it’s demanded, we can rise on occasion and be patient . . . as long as there are limits. But we balk when patience is required over a long haul. We don’t much like endurance. It’s painful to persevere through a marriage that’s forever struggling. A church that never crest 100 members. Housekeeping routines that never vary from week-to-week. Even caring for an elderly parent or a handicapped child can feel like a long obedience in the same direction.

If only we could open our spiritual eyes to see the fields of grain we’re planting, growing, and reaping along the way. That’s what happens when we endure…

Right now you may be in the middle of a long stretch of the same old routine…. You don’t hear any cheers or applause. The days run together―and so do the weeks. Your commitment to keep putting one foot in front of the other is starting to falter.

Take a moment and look at the fruit. Perseverance. Determination. Fortitude. Patience.

Your life is not a boring stretch of highway. It’s a straight line to heaven. And just look at the fields ripening along the way. Look at the tenacity and endurance. Look at the grains of righteousness. You’ll have quite a crop at harvest . . . so don’t give up!”

(Joni Eareckson Tada, Holiness in Hidden Places).

But, just in case we think we can serve in our own strength, Peter reminds us to serve “with the strength God provides” (1 Peter 4:11). If we depend on our own abilities, or serve to feel better about ourselves, we’ll be burnt out before we’re around the first bend. Christian charity is fuelled and directed by Christ, and it’s about God’s glory not our own: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

Love covers over a multitude of sins

Then, in verse 8, Peter makes the point that it’s not possible to keep loving and serving one another unless we also overlook offenses and extend mercy to each other, for “love covers over a multitude of sins”. Paul describes this charitable love as “bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:2-3).

Charitable love gives people the benefit of the doubt. It extends Christ’s tenderhearted forgiveness (Eph 4:32Col 3:13) even when it’s undeserved. It doesn’t look for hidden faults or motives in what a person says or does, but takes people at face value. Covering over a multitude of sins is only possible when we know how much it cost Jesus to cover over our own sins. How much we need his mercy every day!

Lydia Brownback comments that verse 8 “doesn’t mean that love erases sin or the pain it causes. Peter’s point is that love wants to see the best in others and interprets their circumstances in a favourable light whenever possible. And even when it’s not possible, love takes no pleasure in harping on someone’s sin or discussing it with others.”

The prophet Zechariah adds substance to this charitable attitude: “Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another” (Zech 8:16-17). Authentic peace in relationships is never achieved at the expense of truth and charity. Truth and charity go hand in hand.

The receiving end of charity

As Peter wrote these words, I’m sure he remembered how he had been on the receiving end of truth and charity many times in his own life:

There was that breakfast on the beach when the risen Jesus had forgiven him after his three denials (John 2:15-17). Christ hadn’t harped on Peter’s disloyalty, but had restored Peter with grace and truth.

Then there was the time in Galatia, when Peter had acted like a hypocrite for fear of offending the Judaizers (Gal 2:11-12). Peter had effectively enabled division in the church when he favoured one group (Jews) and would no longer eat with the other group (Gentiles). Yet, after Paul’s truthful confrontation and Peter’s repentance, Paul and Peter remained fast friends, because love covered over a multitude of sins.

How do we find the power to show grace to a person who has hurt us deeply, to cover over a multitude of sins? Certainly not by our own strength or willpower, for ‘flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit’ (John 3:6).

It is only possible through Christ’s Spirit in us. It is only Christ’s love that can move us to be peacemakers and ministers of reconciliation (1 Cor 5:14), to forgive as he has forgiven us. As sinners saved by grace, our relationships can only be sustained by Christ’s supernatural grace in us.

But the Holy Spirit will never compel or bully us into extending charitable love–Love that covers over a multitude of sins. Gordon Macdonald and Corrie Ten Boom remind us that forgiveness requires our co-operation:

“Forgiveness, I came to see, is about cleaning up the memory by renouncing and flushing vengeful feelings about other people.” (Gordon Macdonald, A Resilient Life: You can move ahead no matter what.)

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” (Corrie Ten Boom)

Lord, with all the brokenness and needs around us every day, help us to be led by your Spirit in how and whom we serve. Make us aware of the gifts you have given us, so that we will be good stewards of your varied grace. Give us your heart of mercy, compassion and unfailing love. Give us your strength and grace to love deeply, to forgive easily, to be charitable and to serve each other faithfully and steadfastly. To the glory of your name, Amen.

Living for Jesus in a season of testing

Series: 1 & 2 Peter. By Rosie moore.

Peter’s own blood, sweat and tears drip onto every page of his letters, which the Lord has miraculously preserved for almost 2000 years for us to read. Peter became the faithful, nourishing shepherd of God’s sheep that Christ commissioned him to be (John 21:17). Today we land on chapter 4, zooming in on Peter’s counsel to Christians in a season of violent and unjust persecution. It was a fiery ordeal that believers in liberal democracies can only imagine, but which is still suffered by many of our brothers and sisters around the world today (read here).

Under Nero’s tyrannical rule, their fiery ordeal was about to get worse. They would soon be targeted and put to death for public amusement (read here).

For Peter’s readers, following Jesus cost them everything.

A credible counsellor.

As for the author, I can only imagine Simon Peter, the burly, ageing fisherman, writing from a cold prison cell, awaiting his horrendous execution, which Christ had foretold thirty years beforehand (John 21:18-19).

I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit skeptical when a hear elites issuing instructions from their ivory towers. Or handing out advice that is clearly not costing them anything. But that’s definitely not the case when we read Peter’s letters to exiled believers in the first century. He was crucified in Rome in 64AD, probably upside down. (read here).

One can almost feel Peter’s heart of longing for Christ’s return… his love for his suffering brothers and sisters around the Greco-Roman empire…his memories of his conversations with Jesus. With his own eyes, Peter had seen the perfect lamb of God pay the ultimate cost to redeem him (1 Peter 1:19). He’d seen Christ raised from the dead and glorified (1 Peter 1:21Luke 24:52Acts 1:9-1). He’d heard the angels assure him at the ascension that “this same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11). Given the context, I think Peter’s counsel is highly credible. And this is what he wrote about living for Christ in a season of testing:

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:7-11).

Verse 19 is a handy summary of the whole chapter:

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19).

The end of all things is near!

Peter’s tone is urgent, expectant and absolutely certain. There’s even triumph in his perspective of the future.

Without the perspective of Christ’s return at the forefront of our minds, we will live unprepared for that day. Jesus said that those who are not watchful for his return, will be ‘weighed down’ by the excesses and cares of this life (Luke 21:34-36). That’s because the Second Coming crystallises what’s valuable in life. It’s the canvas on which Peter paints the picture of the ‘good life’ described in 1 Peter 4:7-11. Without this future perspective, our life here is just whistling in the wind. It is exhausting and futile.

But the imminent return of Jesus is a powerful incentive to live now for the glory of Christ — expectantly, hopefully and joyfully, even in seasons of great testing. Because the end of all things is at hand, we know that even the worst season of testing lasts only ‘a little while.’ Christ himself will renew us and make us strong, firm and steadfast (1 Peter 5:10), until the day of final restoration. And so, we press on from a place of victory.

The return of our Lord is also our motivation to keep urging people to accept salvation in Christ, because “the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:8-9).” This is our motivation to proclaim him patiently and persistently.

We base our lives on the promise of the Lord’s return, not just from Peter’s mouth, but from Jesus’s too: “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matt 24:27-31).

I’m no prophet, but I’m certain that we’re getting ever closer to the day when the world will be rolled up like a scroll, and when “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the last trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor 15:52). Every day we are a day closer to the great reckoning of John’s vision, when “the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (Rev 6:15-17)

According to Peter, we need to be ready for Jesus’s return, sober-minded, self-controlled and prayerful.

Sober-minded and self-controlled.

Sober-minded and Self-controlled? When last did you hear that advice? Our culture’s mantras are usually along the lines of “Love yourself”, “Accept yourself”, “Live and let live”, “Untamed,” and my personal favourite, “Unleash your inner legend!”

Of course, there are half truths in all this advice, but according to Peter, the character traits that set us apart from the excesses of our culture (1 Peter 4:3-4) are self control and sober-mindedness. This ordered, disciplined attitude is repeated several times in Peter’s letter, so it must be important:

Peter speaks about being mentally alert, disciplined, and focused on meeting Christ when he returns (1 Peter 1:13). In 1 Peter 5:8, he calls on us to be self-controlled and alert to resist our enemy the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” So, if Peter is to be believed, self discipline is not some boring legalism for accountant types, but the foundational mindset for effective prayer (1 Peter 4:7). No matter what our temperament, we need to order our private world.

Has Satan persuaded us that we can multitask while we pray, rendering our prayer life weak and ineffectual for yet another day?

Watch and pray

There’s a clear link between self-control and prayer at the end of verse 7, and Peter knew this firsthand. The elderly apostle probably winced at the memory of himself, thirty years before, in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the eve of Jesus’s great time of testing on the cross. It was an urgent time for Jesus and his little band of disciples, a time that called for prayer and watchfulness, not sleep. It was the evening before Christ’s Kingdom was established on earth, as well as the most terrible ordeal in human history: “See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners”.

Jesus had asked Peter to watch and pray, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here and watch with me…Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:3841).

But, despite Jesus’s urgent pleas to stay awake and pray, Peter and his friends fell asleep over and over again. And that’s what makes Peter’s advice so poignant. And personal.

For me personally, my flesh is very weak and distractions flow far more fluidly than prayer. I’ve discovered that an alarm clock is an essential piece of gym equipment for training the muscles of prayer! I’ve also found that I need to build boundaries intentionally in my routine to ensure that I actually pray, undistracted. Without self discipline, I either prioritise the most urgent needs of the day or descend into laziness. Soon my prayers become shallow and me-focused. There’s no sense of urgency or deep need for Jesus, just platitudes. How I hate those prayers!

I also need my husband, Christian friends and family to pray with me regularly, because their prayers strengthen me. Likewise, as home groups and local churches, we need to pray together, not as a rushed formality at the start and finish, but as an integral part of our time together.

For, if Peter’s letters are to be believed, there’s an urgency about the the way we live out our Christian lives. Like Peter, we’re living in the end times. And our lives are important, because God uses everything, especially seasons of testing, to burn off the muck of sin and prepare us for heaven (1 Peter 4:17-18).

I’ll end with a word from Joni Eareckson Tada, another credible counsellor who has lived as a quadriplegic for 54 years: “Your life is not a boring stretch of highway. It’s a straight line to heaven. And just look at the fields ripening along the way. Look at the tenacity and endurance. Look at the grains of righteousness. You’ll have quite a crop at harvest…so don’t give up!” (From Holiness in Hidden Places.)

Come Lord Jesus, and fill me with your Spirit today. Give me oil in my lamp, and keep me burning, burning, burning until the break of day. Amen.

Next week’s devotion: Loving one another in a season of testing.

Join us next week as we flesh out three practical areas that we can show love, asking ourselves how we can live them out in our own Christian communities today (1 Peter 4:8):

By offering hospitality (without grumbling).

By serving (with the strength God provides).

By speaking (the very words of God).

His eyes are on the righteous

Series: 1 & 2 Peter.

“Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, but always do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

The second part of 1 Peter 3:15 is often quoted in isolation, as a kind of mantra for apologists and evangelists. It is an important reminder to Christians that our faith is not a personal matter to be kept to ourselves. As Peter demonstrated in his own sermons (Acts 2:14-39Acts 3:11-26Acts 4:8-12Acts 5:29-32), we too should know how to defend the historical truth of the gospel.

We should know our Bibles, and take every opportunity to discuss why we believe in Christ and what Christ has done in our lives. We should have a winsome manner while we go about it. After all, how can someone place their trust in Jesus unless they hear the gospel clearly explained? I’m all for giving good reasons for the Christian faith.

But there’s a danger in using this verse in isolation without looking at what comes before and after it. It can lead us to elevate a silver tongue and persuasive skills above a godly life. Or to idolize a preacher or teacher who impresses his audience with clever words and appealing stories, even if he is nothing like the ‘shepherd’ leader Peter describes in 1 Peter 5:2-4: A leader who eagerly serves God’s flock under his care and is not greedy for money. A godly shepherd who sees his work as a trust from the Lord, and whose life is an example to the flock.

A righteous life.

In fact, Peter’s first letter is mostly about living the Christian faith in every position we find ourselves, humbly, quietly and consistently:

As God’s holy people (1 Peter 1:15-161 Peter 4:3).

As godly citizens (1 Peter 2:13).

As godly servants (1 Peter 2:18).

As godly husbands and wives (1 Peter 3:17).

As godly church leaders (1 Peter 5:14).

As young people towards elders (1 Peter 5:5).

In our everyday lives (1 Peter 3:8-12).

Whatever their position in life, Peter urges his readers to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). According to Peter, godly behaviour and godly character speak volumes. It is our lives that glorify or disgrace Christ and his gospel message.

Let’s get a taste of what Peter says about righteous living in chapter 3:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct…

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 

10 For “Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,

Now here we come to verse 15:

15 but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”

Suffering for doing good.

In fact, for Peter’s original readers, their most persuasive witness to the world was the way  they would bear up under suffering and continue to live godly lives wherever they found themselves. It’s the same for us (1 Peter 2:12). And Peter gives us many practical details of what this godliness looks like:

Our harmony, humility and practical love for one another as a Christian community is a powerful witness in our divided society (1 Peter 3:8). Our ability to forgive one another and pursue peace when wronged, rather than retaliate, is as radically counter-cultural today as it was in Peter’s day (1 Peter 3:9). Truth speakers are a breath of fresh air in a deceitful culture (1 Peter 3:10Ps 34:12-16). Our habit of confessing and turning from sin to do good is proof that Jesus is changing us into his likeness (1 Peter 3:11). A clear conscience is our defense against those who speak slander and malice against us (1 Peter 3:16). Our fear of God rather than man, is a powerful witness to the watching world. It comes from knowing that the Lord sees and cares for his children, who have been made righteous by Jesus’s blood (1 Peter 3:122:1923). His eyes are on the righteous.

Setting apart Christ as Lord in our hearts.

But what does Peter mean, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord”? (1 Peter 3:15a) This seems to be the crux of everything he says before and after it.

Albert Barnes unpacks the first part of 1 Peter 3:15“to act toward Christ as holy: that is, to obey his laws, and acquiesce in all his requirements, as if they were just and good….to flee to him in trouble, in contradistinction from withholding our hearts from him, and flying to other sources of consolation and support.”

When we set apart Jesus as Lord in our hearts, we are obedient to Christ as Lord of all, and we trust in him alone. We know that one day each one of us “will give account to him who is appointed to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5). This is the bedrock on which we can speak about the gospel and “give a reason for the hope that we have in Christ”.

Only one Lord.

So, there is room in the Christian’s heart for only one Lord, and that is Christ. Not the lord of opinion; not the lord of personal ambition, money, sex and power; not the lord of worldly wisdom or approval (1 Peter 3:14-16). These are all false lords that we must banish from our hearts, as if our lives depend on it.

Actually, our lives do depend on it, as the recent exposure of Ravi Zacharias has shown us (Read here and here).  1 Peter 3:15 was a verse often quoted by the world famous apologist before he died last year, and it always reminds me of him. But now I am amongst many Christians who are shocked and saddened by the overwhelming evidence of Mr Zacharias’s persistent sin, deceit, abuse of power, abuse of ministry funds, and his calculated and deliberate abuse of multiple women over many years. It all started by exaggerating his credentials, by lying and deceiving to impress the world (Read here).

Ravi did impress the Christian world with his sharp mind and ability to reach atheists and intellectuals. He charmed us with his gracious manner and convinced many people of the truth of Christianity. But he used his position and his platform as a cover-up for evil, which has left a trail of traumatized victims in its wake, including his family. He was not a faithful husband to his wife, and spiritually manipulated the vulnerable women whose lives he destroyed. As effective as he was at reaching people for Christ, he lived a double life, much like Judas did. Instead of repenting when confronted, he spun a web of lies, then bullied and smeared the reputations of his accusers. His ungodly legacy is painful to process, not least because his ministry and the broader Church initially discredited his accusers, instead of investigating the evidence against him carefully.

You may choose not to read Miller and Miller’s disturbing report, but for anyone willing to look at the evidence, there are warnings and lessons to learn there for our personal lives, ministries and churches. And Ravi’s victims deserve to be vindicated and freed from the shame of secrecy.

Giftedness does not equate with godliness.

You see, there’s nothing pie-in-the-sky about Peter’s teachings on godly Christian living. It’s a sobering yardstick for Christians. However gifted or influential a leader, helper, teacher or preacher, any one of us can be derailed by pride, sin and secrecy. We mustn’t think we are too important, as God will accomplish His purposes, with or without us. We will each give account to God for our lives. So, before we tend to anyone else’s spiritual life, we need first to attend to our own, because God requires a godly life before our service. It is impossible to separate a person’s message from their life.

Peter’s letter is a sober reminder that we must live before the face of the Lord, not for the eyes and ears of man (1 Peter 3:12). We must recognize that Satan is crouching at the door of our hearts too, seeking to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). We must turn time and time again to Christ who died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18). And instead of idolising Christian leaders, writers, and speakers, we must set apart Christ as Lord of our hearts. Of course let’s use the gifts God has given us to serve (1 Peter 4:10-11), but being gifted is no substitute for being godly.

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Father, we want to live for your eyes and to be honest about our sin. Give us open, humble, repentant hearts that we may come to Jesus to be made clean and whole and righteous. Thank you for the lives you have entrusted to us, to live for your glory. Help us to live godly and obedient lives in whatever position you have placed us, by the power of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Living as strangers in the world

Series: 1&2 Peter, by Rosie Moore

This is the first in a series of devotions in 1 and 2 Peter.

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:11-12).

As Christians, we are the most privileged people on the planet. Lest we forget, the Apostle Peter reminds us that we have been chosen by God and our salvation and security rest in the free and merciful choice of God (1 Peter 1:1-3). Nothing can take away our “living hope” in the resurrected Jesus (1 Peter 1:3). Unlike everything else in this flimsy world, our heavenly inheritance is permanent and indestructible—it can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:4). And through faith in the Lord Jesus, God will shield us and keep us true to our faith until we see our Saviour face to face, to live with him in his perfect home, forever and ever (1 Peter 1:5). What’s more, as the Lord’s chosen people (1 Peter 1:9-10), we have a secure identity in Christ. And as the family of God, we have a million reasons to praise God with the Apostle Peter: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Peter 1:3).

But as privileged as we are, we are also strangers in this world (1 Peter 1:1). This is something we should never forget or underplay, even for the purpose of growing God’s kingdom in the world.

First century strangers.

In fact, the lived reality of Peter’s original readers– Christians scattered across the Roman empire due to persecution– is a picture of Christians in every era, who in a sense are called to be strangers, exiles and pilgrims in the world. It is a picture of us, until we reach our permanent home in heaven.

This is how Peter addresses his original readers:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia”. He calls them exiles of the Dispersion, because that is literally what they were. They were scatterlings of Christ in far flung places, away from the comfort, security and community of home.

Let’s walk for a moment in the shoes of these exiled believers who, despite their genuine suffering and grief in “all sorts of trials”, were being urged to “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:68). What exactly was the source of these trials? And how were they to find joy in the midst of them?

Cultural traitors.

History tells us that these Christians had been banished from their homes in Jerusalem and Rome, branded as traitors by their Jewish communities and declared enemies of Rome. This violent dispersion is described in Acts 8:1-4.

Their suffering took many forms (1 Peter 1:6): On account of the Lord’s supper, the Christians were falsely accused of ‘secret’ immoral worship practices, cannibalism and incest. They were caricatured as haters of humanity and scorned for their irrational beliefs. Two years after Peter’s second letter, Christianity was banned in the Roman empire (64AD), so things were getting worse, not better.

But ironically, far from being rebels, these Christians were living out their faith in selfless service to each other and submission to authorities. Their problem was that they did not blend in with their culture. They refused to conform to the world around them, but aspired to God’s standards of holiness instead (1 Peter 1:14-16).

In spite of their quiet, good lives, they committed the ultimate ‘crimes’ of their day: They would not affirm or participate in the sins of their culture and insisted that Jesus was the only way to know God. They didn’t support the Roman ideals of self, of power and of conquest. And worst of all, they would not bow to Caesar or the Roman gods. So, their crime was not that they were evil, but that they were cultural traitors and non- conformists. This was deeply offensive to their society, and ultimately became a crime worthy of death. That’s why they were scattered all over the Roman empire, living as strangers in the world.

Peter drives home their refugee status several times in his letter (1 Peter 1:172:11). But, as strangers, he doesn’t give them false comfort. He doesn’t promise them prosperity, protection or popularity. And he doesn’t urge them to appease or agree or conform with their culture in an attempt to grow God’s kingdom.

Instead, Peter instructs them plainly to “abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul, to live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:11-12). He reminds them that God the Father judges each man’s work impartially, so they are to “live as strangers here in reverent fear” (1 Peter 1:11). They are to be self-controlled and obedient, holy and distinct from their culture, “for as it is written: Be holy because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:13-16).

The miracle of Christ’s mustard-seed kingdom is that the more Christians were dragged from their homes and persecuted, the more they scattered like seeds, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to the whole Roman empire and beyond. Little churches were planted throughout the empire and gatherings of believers blossomed, even in Africa, until there were more than 40 000 Christians by AD 150.

So what do Peter’s instructions mean for Christians living in the world today?

Strangers today.

Peter’s letter is definitely for us today! Although we naturally crave approval and hope to woo the world with the gospel, Peter reminds us that our ‘narrow’ worldview will always be deeply offensive to those who oppose Christ. Jesus reminded us of this reality too: “If the world hates you, bear in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).  And James is unequivocal about this too: “Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?” (James 4:4) Friendship with the world is a dangerous thing for our souls and it doesn’t help the gospel cause either. God always expects personal holiness from his people. We are to be different.

At the same time, Peter is clear that we should never set out to be offensive, odd or unloving. We must never use our freedom as an excuse for evil but must show proper respect to everyone (1 Peter 2:16-17). We are first servants of Christ, so we must fear God and honour authorities (1 Peter 2:17).

But when we don’t conform; when we seek to obey God’s Word instead of bowing down to the high priests of academia; when we demolish ideas that set themselves against Christ; when we choose a distinct and holy lifestyle, we will automatically be ostracised. We will be ridiculed and caricatured when we expose our culture’s sin, rather than affirm and accept it. And if the prophets, Jesus, and Peter’s readers are our examples, then we too will be offensive to the world. It’s an inevitable byproduct of living as foreigners here.

Timothy Keller explains one area this may apply to Christians in contemporary culture:

“The earliest church was seen as too exclusive and a threat to the social order because it would not honor all deities. Today Christians are again being seen exclusive and a threat to the social order because we will not honor all identities.

But we remember that Christ, who is the “stone the builders rejected…the stone that causes men to stumble” (1 Peter 2:7-8) is a precious Rock to build our lives on, because “the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:6). That’s why, like Peter’s original readers, “you can greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6). Let’s ask the Lord Jesus to help us to be true to him, always loving God and his Word, rather than the world and its ways.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

My times are in his hands

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come” (Prov 31:25).

Proverbs 31:25 paints the picture of a woman who lives out of the security that the Lord is in control of the time to come, that he cares for her and the people she loves. “She laughs at the time to come” is not frivolous laughter borne out of a trouble-free life. No, this woman fears the Lord (Prov 31:30), and so she views the world through a grid of hope rather than dread or cynicism. Because of her relationship with God, she is able to face the future with a confident assurance. She has a certain strength, dignity and joy about her.

I wonder if the trials and dangers the Proverbs 31 woman faced in 1000BC were so very different from ours?

“She laughs at the time to come?” That’s a tall order for 2021, given the blanket of doom that’s shrouded our world in the past nine months. If we’re honest, many of us are shaking in our shoes at the time to come! Behind our masks, we aren’t laughing nearly as often as we used to. And we’re not even sure how best to take care of each other when even a hug or a funeral is translated as an act of unkindness. Many are grieving and facing unspeakable losses.

Everyone is battling. Not only are we struggling to navigate the landmines of illness, debt, social isolation, life-and-death choices, depression and death, but many Christian parents are fearful of how our children will navigate a brave new world, which has untethered itself from God’s law and redefined good and evil for itself.

If we’re honest, it’s much easier to fall headlong into fear, than to forge ahead in hope.

Future hope.

But as God’s redeemed people, we dare not place our hope in our ability to perfectly navigate our fragile lives and our futures. We dare not place our hope in a vaccine, or a financial miracle, or a Government, or a strong immune system. Instead, if we have surrendered our lives to the Lord Jesus, we dare to put all our hope in him, who knows our limitations. Our weaknesses. Our fragility. We dare to proclaim him as the Saviour, who is redeeming many lost people through this pandemic and guiding everything toward his ultimate goal—the final judgment and the new heavens and new earth (2 Cor 5:102 Peter 3:13). We dare to seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness (Matt 6:33), knowing that God will work all things for good in order to make us more like Jesus (Rom 8:28-29).

Unlike the atheist Bertrand Russell, who built his life “on the firm foundation of unyielding despair”, a believer can live with confident assurance that our times are in the Lord’s hands (Ps 31:15).  God’s wise and sovereign providence gives Christians hope and purpose during every season of our lives and at every point in history.

My times are in his hands.

I love the way that Charles Spurgeon expresses this great truth from Psalm 31:15:

“All that concerns the believer is in the hands of the Almighty God. ‘My times’, these change and shift, but they change only in accordance with unchanging love, and they shift only according to the purpose of One with whom is no variableness nor shadow of a turning. ‘My times’, that is to say, my ups and downs, my health and my sickness, my poverty and my wealth—all those are in the hand of the Lord, who arranges and appoints according to his holy will the length of my days, and the darkness of my nights. Storms and calms vary the seasons at the divine appointment. Whether times are reviving or depressing remains with him who is Lord both of time and of eternity; and we are glad it is so…But David’s times were in God’s hand in another sense; namely that he had by faith committed them all to God. “Into thine hand I commit my spirit, thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.”

Living by divine providence

But, if the truth be told, I’m a very slow learner. It’s so easy to see God’s wise and purposeful sovereignty in characters like Joseph and Paul and Jesus, but I find it so hard to surrender to providence when it’s closer to home: This holiday, unbeknown to me, I was bitten by a tick. Soon my body was wracked with raging fever, headaches and muscle aches. Worst of all was the fear and guilt that set in. Fully convinced that I had COVID, I believed that I had already infected my entire family, including my elderly parents and other family members with immune problems. In my delirium, I had visions of an entire clan gasping for breath on a remote Eastern Cape farm. And I was the murderer of them all! I worried and fretted about every worst case scenario.

I’ve discovered that many people are currently living with this kind of guilt and fear of what may (or may not) happen in the future, but I’m so grateful that the Lord used my elderly parents and a local Christian doctor to remind me that our times are in the Lord’s hands (Ps 31:15). One of my children also brought this home when she read to me Jesus’s teaching about worry in Matthew 6. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt 6:34).

Jesus holds the keys.

When, as an old man exiled on the island of Patmos, the Apostle John saw a vision of Jesus, he was awestruck and fell at Christ’s feet like a dead man. Nothing could prepare him for Jesus in his heavenly glory. But this is the assurance that Jesus gives his beloved disciple as he lays his right hand of comfort on him:

“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (Rev 1:17-18).

John didn’t need to be afraid because he was in the presence of Jesus who lives to never die again. His victory over sin and death was a permanent victory and he alone has the authority and power to determine life, death and eternity for us too. We can trust that he never lets the devil borrow the keys.

What an awesome picture of the Lord Jesus for us to keep at the forefront of our thoughts! It is our helmet of salvation to protect our minds. And it was this memory of the risen Christ that gave all his disciples the courage to keep seeking and serving God’s kingdom through one of the most oppressive periods of history. This is the vision that I would like to shape my own thoughts as I live out whatever days the Lord has given me on his earth: The Lord Jesus, who was there at the creation of the universe, still holds the keys to life, death and eternity, even during COVID. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:16-17) “For from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36). Even times of unemployment and disease, times of revival and restoration – All our times are in his hands.

There’s not a single day that slips through the net of his providence.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,when as yet there was none of them” (Ps 139:16).

Praying through pain

I am an introvert. My natural inclination when I experience pain is to be stoic and silent. I hardly uttered a sound in childbirth! The reality is that many people struggle to find words to express overwhelming feelings of distress and bottle them up instead. Many other people prefer to vent their pain outwardly.

Our culture encourages us to air our grievances; tell our stories and bare our brokenness and vulnerabilities to each other. Anything else is seen as unhealthy repression. But while there are therapeutic benefits to honest expression, as sinners we run the risk of seeking sympathy instead of healing. Sympathy will give us momentary comfort, but can also entrench distorted perceptions; excuse our sinful responses and stunt our ability to grow through adversity.

Trusting the Lord of our trials.

But, for Christians there is always a better way than following our natural inclinations or conforming to the patterns of this world. As Peter reminded first century Christians facing hideous suffering, “You have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials… so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7)

If we submit to Christ as Lord of our trials, the Bible shows us how to deal with our pain. It is simply not biblical to say, “My feelings are always right,” or “Always trust your feelings”, because our feelings can easily lose perspective of the truth. Our feelings can lie to us.

In Psalm 6, David gives Christians a godly template to work through our feelings of sorrow. Psalm 6 is the first of seven ‘penitential’ Psalms where the writer humbly describes his predicament (usually the result of his own sin), then expresses sorrow over it, and finally seeks God for the remedy and healing. We don’t know the exact source of David’s distress in this Psalm, but it is probably his sin with Bathsheba, as he begins his prayer with these words:

“O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger

or discipline me in your wrath

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled” (Ps 6:1-2).

David goes on to pray:

My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O Lord—how long?

Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who will give you praise?

I am weary with my moaning;every night I flood my bed with tears;I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes.

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.

  1. David confesses his sin. (Ps 6:1-2)

David is not stoical or self-pitying, but honest and humble in his prayer. He confesses that if God treated him as he deserved, with justice instead of mercy, he should be wiped out by God’s wrath. He asks God to correct him gently rather than in anger, just as Jeremiah asked, Discipline me, Lord, but only in due measure—not in your anger, or you will reduce me to nothing (Jer 10:24).

But you may ask—What if my distress is not caused by my sin, but by sickness, bereavement, depression, conflict, divorce, unemployment or someone else’s sin against me? Surely I can skip the confession and get straight to the deliverance I need?

Confession is a good place to begin, no matter what the source of our grief. Jesus taught us to say, “Forgive us our sins, just as we forgive those who sin against us,” because we are always in desperate need of God’s mercy and grace. The Apostle Peter realized this when he witnessed the miraculous catch of fish, fell at Jesus’ knees and confessed, “Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8).

Likewise, the prophet Isaiah, after seeing a vision of the Lord and listening to the praise of the angels, confessed, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isa 6:5). Neither Peter nor Isaiah had committed a great sin before they made these confessions, but both showed a proper fear of the Lord. They knew that they were sinners approaching a holy and powerful God, and this knowledge humbled them.

Confession is an acknowledgement of who God is, who we are, and our continuous need of his forgiveness and grace. We are weak and sinful by nature. Even our emotions are marred and misled by sin. Again, Peter describes this humble attitude in his instruction to suffering Christians: “Humble yourselves therefore under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).

  1. David prays his pain (Ps 6:2-3)

David then pours out his heart to the Lord in tears:

  • “How long, O Lord, how long?” (Ps 6:3).
  • “I am faint…for my bones are in agony” (Ps 6:2)
  • “I am worn out from groaning” (Ps 6:6)
  • “All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears” (Ps 6:6)
  • “My soul is in anguish” (Ps 6:3)
  • “My eyes grown weak with sorrow” (Ps 6:7)

David tells God the physical symptoms of his sorrow. There is a desperation about his question, “How long, how long?”

Of course God knows our feelings before we say a word, but when we pray them to the Lord, we are relating to our Father as a child would relate to their parent (Matt 6:8). We are expressing trust in him as our loving Father (Matt 7:11). Prayer is all about relationship, not a shopping cart. God doesn’t want us to put on a brave face or to suffer in silence. Nor is he a cold impersonal force looking on from a distance, or a supplier in a business transaction. He is the Lord, Yahweh who makes a faithful, everlasting covenant with his people (Ps 6:5).

This side of the cross, we pray to God as our Father, Abba, who has adopted us into his family (Gal 4:6-7), our Father who cares deeply about our sleepless nights and our bloodshot eyes that can hardly open in the morning. As Father, he wants you to express your pain to him, to “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

  1. David asks God for help (Ps 6:2; 4)

David knows that the Lord, and only the Lord, is the remedy for every grief. He turns to God for his deliverance and healing, for that is what he needs most:

  • “O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony” (Ps 6:2).
  • “Turn, O Lord, and deliver me, save me because of your unfailing love” (Ps 6:4).

Like David, every believer can simply ask God for help on the basis of God’s unfailing love. The Bible never says that we need a specially ‘anointed’ man of God or pastor to declare healing or deliverance on us. We simply need to get on our knees and ask God for help.

James says, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray…The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:1316). Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us our daily bread…deliver us from evil.”

Prayer is sometimes the last thing we feel like doing when we’re in trouble. But that’s when we need to pray most. Phone a distressed friend today and offer to pray with them, even if it’s on Facetime or Zoom.

  1. David preaches to himself (Ps 6:8-10).

Like David, we need to preach the truth to ourselves, because we are prone to forget it when troubles rule our emotions.

After David prays for help, he believes God. He believes that the Lord has heard his prayer and then confidently verbalizes his trust in the Lord, as if preaching the truth to himself:

  • “For the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry to mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer” (Ps 6:8-9).

Athough there’s no resolution or evidence that the source of David’s anguish has vanished, he affirms in words that God cares for him and is acting on his behalf. Unexpectedly, his prayer ends on a note of victory:

  • “All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace” (Ps 6:10).

We don’t know whether David’s immediate circumstances changed after this prayer, and we know for sure that he suffered far-reaching consequences for his sin with Bathsheba. But regardless of what happened next, David’s attitude changed from being in anguish, to being quietly hopeful in the Lord. He experiences God’s peace that transcends understanding, as Paul describes when he instructs suffering first century believers to pray,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).

Find rest in Jesus.

“In Christ Jesus” is the key to our prayers. If you and I have put our faith in Christ Jesus, we have more available in our arsenal of truth than David in 1000BC. We know and are known by “the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” that the prophet Isaiah foretold (Isa 53:3). We have the cross to remind us that there is no anguish of body, mind or soul which Jesus did not experience on our behalf. And there is nothing in Psalm 6 that Christ did not pray to his Father (Matt 27:45-56Luke 22:42).

He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows; was afflicted by a terrible punishment he didn’t deserve; was crushed for our sins (Isa 53:4-5). He took the punishment that brought us peace with God, and by his wounds we are healed (Isa 53:3-5). And he too prayed for deliverance the night before he died, but for our sake, his Father did not grant his request… until the resurrection and ascension. In our own fears and anguish, we can trust Jesus who has given us “new birth into a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3).

That’s why King David’s prayer in Psalm 6 ended in hope. And there will come a day when that hope will be fully realized for every believer. Christ Jesus will return in victory to give us full healing and deliverance: new bodies and a new creation where pain, sorrow and death do not exist (Rev 21:4). “All our enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace” (Ps 6:10). Until then, let’s run to Christ, the Lord of our sorrows, and pour out our hearts in prayer.