Day 306

Fix Your Thoughts

Wisdom Psalm 119:137-144
New Testament Hebrews 3:1-19
Old Testament Joel 1:1-2:17

Introduction

When the British people are asked who the greatest Briton of all time was, Sir Winston Churchill usually tops the poll. If you were to ask an American who the greatest American was, they might reply George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. If you asked a Jew at the start of the first century AD who the greatest Jew was, without a doubt they would have said ‘Moses’. Moses was the supreme figure of their history. He had rescued them from slavery and given them the Law.

The writer of Hebrews describes to Jewish Christians how Jesus is greater than Moses. His argument is that, in spite of the greatness of Moses, Jesus is in a completely different league. Jesus is the ‘centrepiece of everything we believe’ (Hebrews 3:1, MSG); ‘he has been found worthy of honour greater than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honour than the house itself’ (v.3). ‘Moses was faithful as a servant’ (v.5); ‘Christ is faithful as a Son over God’s house’ (v.6).

The themes for today’s passages are trouble and distress, testing times, and trials and tribulations. However, you can see in these same scriptures that the secret to dealing with these is to ‘fix your thoughts on Jesus’ (v.1).

Wisdom

Psalm 119:137-144

צ Tsadhe

137 You are righteous, Lord,
  and your laws are right.
138 The statutes you have laid down are righteous;
  they are fully trustworthy.
139 My zeal wears me out,
  for my enemies ignore your words.
140 Your promises have been thoroughly tested,
  and your servant loves them.
141 Though I am lowly and despised,
  I do not forget your precepts.
142 Your righteousness is everlasting
  and your law is true.
143 Trouble and distress have come upon me,
  but your commands give me delight.
144 Your statutes are always righteous;
  give me understanding that I may live.

Commentary

Trouble and distress

At any given point in our life there is usually some area that causes us trouble and distress. It may be something you yourself are going through, or a family member, or a close friend, or something to do with your work or ministry.

I remember hearing the American pastor, Rick Warren, say how he used to think that life was a series of battles, followed by times of blessing. Now, he thinks of life as being on two tracks – one track is blessing, the other is battle. They run concurrently.

The psalmist certainly went through times of battle: ‘Trouble and distress have come upon me’ (v.143a).

How do we respond? The psalmist’s answer is to keep trusting in the Lord. He keeps on believing that God’s words are ‘fully trustworthy (v.138): ‘your servant loves them… your commands are my delight’ (vv.140,143).

He fixes his thoughts upon the Lord: ‘Righteous are you, O Lord’ (v.137a). The great revelation of the New Testament is that ‘Jesus is the Lord’ (Romans 10:9). He is the one on whom you are to fix your thoughts.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that in times of trouble and distress I can fix my thoughts on you and trust in your promises.

New Testament

Hebrews 3:1-19

Jesus Greater Than Moses

3 Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. 2 He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3 Jesus has been found worthy of greater honour than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honour than the house itself. 4 For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 5 “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. 6 But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.

Warning Against Unbelief

7 So, as the Holy Spirit says:

  “Today, if you hear his voice,
   8 do not harden your hearts
  as you did in the rebellion,
   during the time of testing in the wilderness,
  9 where your ancestors tested and tried me,
   though for forty years they saw what I did.
  10 That is why I was angry with that generation;
   I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
   and they have not known my ways.’
  11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
   ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”

12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said:

  “Today, if you hear his voice,
   do not harden your hearts
   as you did in the rebellion.”

16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

Commentary

Times of testing

A faith that has not been tested cannot be trusted. Sooner or later all of us go through times of testing. In these times, the challenge is to stay faithful to God – not to harden our hearts but to keep them soft and tender towards God – to keep on trusting in spite of all the difficulties and challenges to our faith.

During these times of testing, every time you feel like doing the wrong thing but choose to do right, you grow in spiritual maturity, wisdom, character and faithfulness.

‘Moses was faithful’ (v.2). But Jesus, of course, is our supreme example of faithfulness. He went through years of training and times of powerful temptation. Yet he was ‘faithful in everything God gave him to do’ (v.2, MSG).

This letter was written to a group of people who were going through a time of testing and persecution. It was written to encourage them to hold on to their ‘courage’ and ‘hope’ (v.6), inspired by Jesus: ‘Fix your thoughts on Jesus’ (v.1).

In this passage, the writer quotes Psalm 95:7–11 (Hebrews 3:7–11). Interestingly, he does not write, ‘as the Holy Spirit said’ but, ‘as the Holy Spirit says’ (v.7). He clearly believes that the Holy Spirit continues to speak through the Scriptures in a contemporary way to the readers. As you read the Bible, expect the Holy Spirit to speak to you today.

In spite of the great high moment of deliverance from Egypt, the people of God had fallen away in a time of testing in the desert (v.17). This is a warning for us: ‘See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily… so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness’ (vv.12–13).

One of the remedies to unbelief that the writer highlights here is community. He tells them to ‘encourage one another daily’ (v.13). This is why it is so important to be part of Christian community, spending time with other Christians, encouraging one another and building up your faith.

‘Sin’s deceitfulness’ is an interesting expression. Sin is deceptive. If it were not, we would not sin. Sin is usually accompanied with a deceptive label: ‘This isn’t really sin, and it won’t do you any harm anyway.’ But, when we enter in to sin, bad patterns form, our conscience is seared and our hearts become hardened.

At the heart of sin is unbelief. Ever since the Garden of Eden, the deceitfulness of sin has caused us to doubt God’s goodness, his love for us and his word – ‘Did God really say?’ (Genesis 3:1), ‘You will not surely die’ (3:4). You always swallow a lie about God before you swallow forbidden fruit. For us today, it is still the same. If we really believed God’s love for us, his goodness and his word, then we would not fall for sin’s deceitfulness.

Because the people of God kept on complaining, they never entered God’s rest – which was the one thing they wanted. They did not trust God to provide. They were ‘unbelieving’ (Hebrews 3:12). They were not able to enter God’s rest ‘because of their unbelief’ (v.19). When we do not trust God, we lose the peace of God. Find peace by fixing your thoughts on Jesus, trusting him and listening to him as he continues to speak to you through the Scriptures.

Prayer

Lord, help me today to fix my thoughts on Jesus. Help me not to live in fear and unbelief but in trust and peace.

Old Testament

Joel 1:1-2:17

1 The word of the Lord that came to Joel son of Pethuel.

An Invasion of Locusts

  2 Hear this, you elders;
   listen, all who live in the land.
  Has anything like this ever happened in your days
   or in the days of your ancestors?
  3 Tell it to your children,
   and let your children tell it to their children,
   and their children to the next generation.
  4 What the locust swarm has left
   the great locusts have eaten;
  what the great locusts have left
   the young locusts have eaten;
  what the young locusts have left
   other locusts have eaten.

  5 Wake up, you drunkards, and weep!
   Wail, all you drinkers of wine;
  wail because of the new wine,
   for it has been snatched from your lips.
  6 A nation has invaded my land,
   a mighty army without number;
  it has the teeth of a lion,
   the fangs of a lioness.
  7 It has laid waste my vines
   and ruined my fig trees.
  It has stripped off their bark
   and thrown it away,
   leaving their branches white.

  8 Mourn like a virgin in sackcloth
   grieving for the betrothed of her youth.
  9 Grain offerings and drink offerings
   are cut off from the house of the Lord.
  The priests are in mourning,
   those who minister before the Lord.
  10 The fields are ruined,
   the ground is dried up;
  the grain is destroyed,
   the new wine is dried up,
   the olive oil fails.

  11 Despair, you farmers,
   wail, you vine growers;
  grieve for the wheat and the barley,
   because the harvest of the field is destroyed.
  12 The vine is dried up
   and the fig tree is withered;
  the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree—
   all the trees of the field—are dried up.
  Surely the people’s joy
   is withered away.

A Call to Lamentation

  13 Put on sackcloth, you priests, and mourn;
   wail, you who minister before the altar.
  Come, spend the night in sackcloth,
   you who minister before my God;
  for the grain offerings and drink offerings
   are withheld from the house of your God.
  14 Declare a holy fast;
   call a sacred assembly.
  Summon the elders
   and all who live in the land
  to the house of the Lord your God,
   and cry out to the Lord.

  15 Alas for that day!
   For the day of the Lord is near;
   it will come like destruction from the Almighty.

  16 Has not the food been cut off
   before our very eyes—
  joy and gladness
   from the house of our God?
  17 The seeds are shriveled
   beneath the clods.
  The storehouses are in ruins,
   the granaries have been broken down,
   for the grain has dried up.
  18 How the cattle moan!
   The herds mill about
  because they have no pasture;
   even the flocks of sheep are suffering.

  19 To you, Lord, I call,
   for fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness
   and flames have burned up all the trees of the field.
  20 Even the wild animals pant for you;
   the streams of water have dried up
   and fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness.

An Army of Locusts

  2 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
   sound the alarm on my holy hill.

  Let all who live in the land tremble,
   for the day of the Lord is coming.
  It is close at hand —
   2 a day of darkness and gloom,
   a day of clouds and blackness.
  Like dawn spreading across the mountains
   a large and mighty army comes,
  such as never was in ancient times
   nor ever will be in ages to come.

  3 Before them fire devours,
   behind them a flame blazes.
  Before them the land is like the garden of Eden,
   behind them, a desert waste —
   nothing escapes them.
  4 They have the appearance of horses;
   they gallop along like cavalry.
  5 With a noise like that of chariots
   they leap over the mountaintops,
  like a crackling fire consuming stubble,
   like a mighty army drawn up for battle.

  6 At the sight of them, nations are in anguish;
   every face turns pale.
  7 They charge like warriors;
   they scale walls like soldiers.
  They all march in line,
   not swerving from their course.
  8 They do not jostle each other;
   each marches straight ahead.
  They plunge through defenses
   without breaking ranks.
  9 They rush upon the city;
   they run along the wall.
  They climb into the houses;
   like thieves they enter through the windows.

  10 Before them the earth shakes,
   the heavens tremble,
  the sun and moon are darkened,
   and the stars no longer shine.
  11 The Lord thunders
   at the head of his army;
  his forces are beyond number,
   and mighty is the army that obeys his command.
  The day of the Lord is great;
   it is dreadful.
   Who can endure it?

Rend Your Heart

  12 “Even now,” declares the Lord,
   “return to me with all your heart,
   with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

  13 Rend your heart
   and not your garments.
  Return to the Lord your God,
   for he is gracious and compassionate,
  slow to anger and abounding in love,
   and he relents from sending calamity.
  14 Who knows? He may turn and relent
   and leave behind a blessing —
  grain offerings and drink offerings
   for the Lord your God.

  15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,
   declare a holy fast,
   call a sacred assembly.
  16 Gather the people,
   consecrate the assembly;
  bring together the elders,
   gather the children,
   those nursing at the breast.
  Let the bridegroom leave his room
   and the bride her chamber.
  17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord,
   weep between the portico and the altar.
  Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord.
   Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
   a byword among the nations.
  Why should they say among the peoples,
   ‘Where is their God? ’”

Commentary

When disaster strikes

‘When disaster strikes, understanding of God is at risk’, writes Eugene Peterson. There are times when we face unexpected illness or death of someone we love, national catastrophe, social disruption, personal loss, economic uncertainty, pandemics or the devastation of natural disasters. Peterson continues: ‘It is the task of the prophet to stand up at such moments of catastrophe and clarify who God is and how he acts.’

The prophet Joel describes a time when disaster struck – the great devastation caused by a plague of locusts. This may have been a real event or a vision. There was a plague of locusts that hit Jerusalem in 915 BC. The devastation they caused was extraordinary.

The army of locusts is (without insecticide) unswerving, unstoppable and invincible. It ruins the vineyards, strips the orchards and, as a result, all the crops fail. The livestock then has nothing to eat. The locusts are like a tornado that moves through the land.

‘What a day! Doomsday! God’s Judgment Day has come’ (1:15, MSG). This image of the locusts is picked up in the book of Revelation and used as a description of the tribulations of the final judgment (Revelation 9:7–11).

Jesus himself used the language from Joel 2, ‘The sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine’ (Joel 2:10; see also Matthew 24:29), in his description of the coming judgment.

What should our response to all this be? None of us like half-hearted apologies – nor does God. He seeks for genuine repentance:

‘It’s not too late –
  God’s personal message! –
“Come back to me and really mean it!
  Come fasting and weeping, sorry for your sins!”
Change your life, not just your clothes.
  Come back to God, your God.
And here’s why: God is kind and merciful.
  He takes a deep breath, puts up with a lot,
This most patient god, extravagant in love’ (Joel 2:12–13, MSG).

In the midst of these prophecies of judgment, there is hope. When you turn to God and seek his forgiveness, you no longer have to fear this final judgment. Joel uses the image of a trumpet being blown to herald this day of judgment (v.1).

In the New Testament though, Paul uses this same image to describe how Jesus has conquered death, and made forgiveness and salvation possible – ‘In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable and we will all be changed… Death has been swallowed up in victory… Thanks be to God! He gives the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:52–57).

Prayer

Father, thank you that you are gracious and compassionate, kind and merciful. Help me, as I await with confidence the day of his return, to fix my thoughts on Jesus.

Pippa adds

Hebrews 3:1 says, ‘… fix your thoughts on Jesus…’

Fixing my thoughts is often like herding cats. My mind tends to be all over the place. Keeping my thoughts ‘fixed’ requires consciously putting aside the ‘to do’ list and then trying to tune in to that ‘still small voice’ of God.

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References

Eugene Peterson, The Message, 'Introduction to Joel', (NavPress, 1993), p.1225.

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

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

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel

  • INTRODUCTION
  • WISDOM BIBLE
  • WISDOM COMMENTARY
  • NEW TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • OLD TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • OLD TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • PIPPA ADDS

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