Day 359

Faith Looks Up

Wisdom Psalm 147:1-11
New Testament Revelation 16:1-21
Old Testament Nehemiah 1:1-2:20


In A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, the central character, Ebenezer Scrooge, was a miserable, mean, miserly old businessman who is shown his past, present and future. He eventually repents and starts to give generously.

Dickens captures the transformation in his character: ‘He went to church, and walked about the streets… and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk – that any thing – could give him so much happiness.’

‘Repentance’ is a very positive word in the Bible. The Greek word ‘metanoia’ means ‘change of mind’. That means, first, turning away from the bad stuff. This is the stuff that spoils your life and breaks your relationship with God. Repentance means to be sorry enough to quit. Getting rid of the bad stuff only enhances your life. But, that is only the first part.

The change of heart and mind means not only turning away from the bad things, but also turning towards God and good. The word ‘repent’ rarely appears on its own in the Bible. Genuine repentance is shown by its fruit. Remorse is not enough. A change of mind, heart and life is required. It is nearly always, ‘repent and…’. Repent and believe. Repent and put your faith in Jesus Christ. It is not just a case of looking back, but also looking up. Faith looks up.


Psalm 147:1-11

Psalm 147

  1 Praise the Lord.

  How good it is to sing praises to our God,
   how pleasant and fitting to praise him!

  2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
   he gathers the exiles of Israel.
  3 He heals the brokenhearted
   and binds up their wounds.
  4 He determines the number of the stars
   and calls them each by name.
  5 Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
   his understanding has no limit.
  6 The Lord sustains the humble
   but casts the wicked to the ground.

  7 Sing to the Lord with grateful praise;
   make music to our God on the harp.

  8 He covers the sky with clouds;
   he supplies the earth with rain
   and makes grass grow on the hills.
  9 He provides food for the cattle
   and for the young ravens when they call.

  10 His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
   nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;
  11 the Lord delights in those who fear him,
   who put their hope in his unfailing love.


Repent and rejoice

The context of this psalm may well be the rebuilding of Jerusalem under Nehemiah: ‘God’s the one who rebuilds Jerusalem, who re-gathers Israel’s scattered exiles’ (v.2, MSG). This started (as we see today in Nehemiah 1–2) with a genuine repentance by Nehemiah on behalf of himself and all the people.

Genuine repentance starts with being ‘broken-hearted’ (Psalm 147:3). The wonderful news is that God heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds (v.3; see also Isaiah 61:1).

‘Repentance’ involves humbling yourself before God. Whereas he ‘casts the wicked to the ground’ (Psalm 147:6b), ‘the Lord sustains the humble’ (v.6a). But God does not leave you there. He wants you not only to look back with repentance, but also to look up with rejoicing.

God’s ‘delight’ is not in ‘the legs of a man’ (v.10). He is not reliant on (or impressed by) physical strength: ‘He’s not impressed with horsepower; the size of our muscles means little to him’ (v.10, MSG). Instead, ‘the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love’ (v.11).

This whole psalm is about rejoicing in the Lord. It starts with a call to ‘Praise the Lord’, and a reminder of how ‘good… pleasant and fitting’ (v.1) it is to do so. Worship brings joy and pleasure, and it is an appropriate response to such an amazing God.


Lord, today I want not only to repent, but also to rejoice in you. Thank you that you promise that if I fear you, I need not fear anything else.

New Testament

Revelation 16:1-21

The Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath

16 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.”

2 The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly, festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.

3 The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died.

4 The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. 5 Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say:

  “You are just in these judgments, O Holy One,
   you who are and who were;
  6 for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets,
   and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.”

7 And I heard the altar respond:

  “Yes, Lord God Almighty,
   true and just are your judgments.”

8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.

10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony 11 and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.

12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. 13 Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.

  15 “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.”

16 Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since mankind has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. 19 The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. 21 From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about forty kilograms, fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.


Repent and respond

This must be one of the most terrifying chapters in the entire Bible. It describes God’s final judgment. These are the seven last plagues (see Exodus 7–10). It all ends in ‘Armageddon’. In the midst of the awful judgment, there are four things that should bring you comfort:

  1. Jesus is coming back

    ‘Keep watch! I come unannounced, like a thief. You’re blessed if, awake and dressed, you’re ready for me’ (Revelation 16:15, MSG). Later on in Revelation, we will see all the blessings that the second coming of Jesus will bring to you and to the whole creation.

  2. Jesus took your judgment

    The words, ‘It is done!’ (v.17) tell us that once this final judgment has taken place, ‘It is finished’ – echoing the last words of Jesus on the cross (John 19:30). They remind us of what Jesus achieved on the cross for you. God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son to die for you so that you might not come under God’s final judgment, but rather receive all the blessings of eternal life (see John 3:16–17).

  3. Judgment is delayed

    The judgment only falls on those who ‘refused to repent and glorify him’ (Revelation 16:9). God gives them, like Pharaoh, so many opportunities to repent, ‘but they refused to repent of what they had done’ (v.11). God’s desire is that everyone should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). He gives many, many opportunities. It is only those who absolutely refuse to repent that come under his judgment.

  4. Judgment will be totally just

    Many people worry, understandably, about passages like this in the Bible. However, God’s judgments are going to be absolutely ‘true’ and ‘just’ (Revelation 16:7). As the former vicar of HTB, John Collins, always says, ‘We will all say on that day, “That is absolutely right.”’

Look up as you wait for Jesus’ return. Get your life sorted out now. Make sure there is no refusal to repent in your own heart. Respond in the right way to these warnings and help everyone else to do the same. As the Arsenal football academy encourages its young players: be in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.


Lord, thank you that on the cross you bore my sins for me so that I need never face the judgment described here. Thank you that you are coming back and that you will put everything right. In everything I do, may I glorify you.

Old Testament

Nehemiah 1:1-2:20

Nehemiah’s Prayer

1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:

In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.

3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire. ”

4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. 5 Then I said:

“Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

8 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’

10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man.”

I was cupbearer to the king.

Artaxerxes Sends Nehemiah to Jerusalem

2 In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, 2 so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”

I was very much afraid, 3 but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire? ”

4 The king said to me, “What is it you want?”

Then I prayed to the God of heaven, 5 and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favour in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”

6 Then the king , with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.

7 I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? 8 And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests. 9 So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.

10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.

Nehemiah Inspects Jerusalem’s Walls

11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.

13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; 15 so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. 16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.

17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace. ” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.

They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.

19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?”

20 I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”


Repent and rebuild

Nehemiah’s situation was not dissimilar to our own. The church in many parts of the world is in great ‘trouble and disgrace’ (1:3). It seems to have been devastated, and is regarded either as irrelevant or as an object of scorn.

In 445 BC, Nehemiah was also devastated by the fact that God’s name was not being honoured. God’s people were in ‘bad shape. Conditions were appalling’ (v.3, MSG): ‘The wall of Jerusalem is still rubble; the city gates are still cinders’ (v.3, MSG).

Nehemiah was a government worker who had risen to high office in the Persian administration. He was cupbearer to the king (v.11b). This was an important office involving responsibility for tasting the king’s wine and for guarding the royal apartment.

Nehemiah’s response is a great model for us to follow. He was a man of action, but he began by looking up in prayer. His response was to weep, mourn, fast and pray (v.4). His prayer begins with reminding God of his love (v.5). He goes on to repent of his sins and the sins of the people: ‘I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly towards you’ (v.6b).

He ends the prayer by asking God to give him success (v.11). As so often happens, the answer to his prayer involved something he himself was going to do. He saw the problem and he acted. He gave up a brilliant career for a life of danger, struggle and self-sacrifice. In doing so, he became the answer to his own prayer.

Artaxerxes noticed his ‘sadness of heart’ (2:2). When he asked, ‘What is it you want?’ (v.4), again Nehemiah’s ‘arrow’ prayer (‘praying under my breath’, v.4, MSG) is a good example to follow. In any situation you find yourself in, where you only have a split second to decide what to do, pray: ‘Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king’ (vv.4–5). He had already done the serious length of prayer. Now he only had time to glance upwards before he had to give an answer.

The moment that he looked up, his request was granted and he was allowed to go to Jerusalem to rebuild (v.8). After inspecting the walls in secret (wisely keeping his plans confidential while he assessed the situation), he gathered the people and announced his plans (vv.11–18). He followed up his prayer with action.

Throughout the whole process, he retained his focus on God and, again and again, acknowledged that it is God who had inspired and enabled him to do this – ‘Because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests’ (v.8; see also vv.12,18). It can be so easy to pray about something, but then forget to acknowledge God when things start to go well. However, Nehemiah was always conscious of his reliance on God, and quick to attribute his success to God.

Trust in God that he will give you the confidence to continue with his plans, even when you encounter opposition. In good times and hard times, Nehemiah looked up to God: ‘The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding’ (v.20). Don’t allow opposition to deflect you from your God-given task – trust God and get on with the job. Look up and trust God to give you success.


Lord, your church lies in ruins. The walls are broken down. You call us to rebuild. As we look up to you and start rebuilding, may the God of heaven give us success.

Pippa adds

Nehemiah 2:2

‘So the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid.’

When given the opportunity Nehemiah took it, despite being afraid. Speaking up for what is right requires courage. It wasn’t that Nehemiah felt no fear at that moment; it was that, despite his fear, he spoke up.



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Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Books (Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 88.

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.

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