Over the past few weeks we have thought about two themes that keep coming through in the Scriptures "Don't worry" and "Don't be afraid". With both worry and fear, it is not simply a question of what our circumstances happen to be (or might be) but how we react to our circumstances.
There are some groups that consciously cultivate an attitude of denial or pretence - the reality of the situation is not actually faced. But this is not the Christian position. Sometimes the cause of our worry or fear is quite imaginary.
I recall an R.E. class a number of years ago in which an upper primary school child said to me, "Mr Blackburn, the Earth is bit by bit moving away from the Sun. The time will come when that will stop moving away and begin coming closer, and in about 500,000 years' time it will fly apart in a big explosion... I'm scared!" That scientific speculation has been made more vivid by some of the science fiction films. Long before these modem ideas the Bible has in fact predicted a somewhat similar end for planet Earth but according to the will and act of God himself I don't expect to be about in 500,000 years myself, but I believe that what is critical for all of us is how we respond to God who is continually offering us his love, his forgiveness and his help. What is the ultimate worth of a clever society that thinks it can live independently of him?
Many times the basis of our fears is quite real, but it is always partial if it fails to take account of the presence and grace of God. "Don't be afraid, for I am with you!" is the way the Lord speaks to us again and again.
In every circumstance we can experience the reality of the presence and love and grace of God. Paul lists a good variety of circumstances trouble, hardship, persecution, hunger, poverty, danger, death... (Rom. 8.35). He says that none of these things is able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord (v. 39).
I suppose in our congregation this morning there are people who may have, in some way, faced one or other of these circumstances. How have you found it? At the time, did you know the support and comfort of the presence and love of God through your situation? or did you feel bitter and alienated and deserted? Nothing can separate us from God's love, though there are times when we have not been open to him.
Last Sunday the opportunity was given for the ministry of prayer for those who desired it. Two of those who were ministering were locals - Daphne Jarratt and Jenny Loats. The third was a visitor - Chris Robbins from PaImwoods. The three had all been involved in last month's Healing and Wholeness Workshop.
At 10 o'clock on Tuesday night, we received a phone call from Jean Robbins to let us know that Chris was one of the firefighters caught in the fireball and that he had sustained serious burns to his arms, legs, back and buttocks. The request was for prayer for him and for the others, and especially for one of the men who was in a critical condition.
On Thursday I went to the Royal Brisbane burns unit to see him. He and the man next to him were still at the stage of going over all that happened - the change of wind that caught them, the training that insisted on rolling up their fire hoses when provision of an axe to cut off the hose would have been more practical, the rubber plugs in the Landrover that melted and let the fire through the floor, their final "Mayday! Mayday! We're burning to death! God help us!", the realisation that the flameproof clothing was alight, watching as blisters came up on his arms, the rescue by a man who burnt both his arms to get the door open, the explosion of the Landrover whose fuel tank is located under the seat...
And there was Chris - ears and nose badly burnt, beard still intact, just the tips of his fingers showing and bandages down to his ankles. The boots had protected his feet. "Look!" he said, "I can wriggle my fingers!" He had been allowed up for a walk and had gone across to another bed to see Terry who had been alongside him in the Landrover. Terry was in a lot of pain and was more seriously injured. "I laid hands on him and prayed for him," Chris said. "Isn't that what we were taught we should do at the Workshop?" I looked at the bandages and at one big red blister that looked as if it was the full length of one finger. Lay hands? But, of course! Lay hands?
I thought of the hands of Jesus nailed to the cross. They say it would have been through the wrist, but what does that matter? The hands of Jesus dying for us! The hands of the risen Lord Jesus, the scars still real and visible for Thomas to see and to put his finger in, if he will! Through his wounds there is healing and blessing available for all who will receive him.
Paul had been through it. He wasn't writing empty words when he said, "We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose" (v. 28).
By "all things" he meant just that. He was quite convinced that, no matter what our circumstance, God was at work for good. And that is why he writes to the Thessalonian Christians, "Be joyful always, pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5.16-18).
Never look at any circumstance without reference to the presence and love and grace of God. Not everything that happens to us is good. This is a lot of evil in the world - a lot of it still clinging onto us! There is a lot of brokenness and suffering and hurt. Not everything that happens to us is good, but God is present and at work for good in every situation.
What are your circumstances? In many ways each person's situation is unique. Alison quotes a family saying, "Grandma was always very brave for Grandpa's asthma!" Your situation is unique. Even though others may have passed through that same experience, they know and yet do not know how you feel.
We are called to stand alongside one another, not with presumption, but with sympathetic encouragement - prayerfully helping to support that trust in the God who is present and who is able to work for good in your situation. If he could do it with the death of his own Son, he can do it for you. He can take a hand and a body and a heart and a mind that have been hurt by life and circumstance and use us for the blessing and healing of others.
So don't stay locked up in your own set of circumstances! Open your life to Jesus and begin to let him work it all for good!
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