Day 162

Troubles Do Not Have the Last Word

Wisdom Psalm 71:19-23
New Testament Acts 6:8-15,7:1-10
Old Testament 2 Samuel 15:13-30,16:5-14

Introduction

George Matheson was born in Glasgow, the eldest of eight children. He had only partial vision as a boy. By the age of twenty he was completely blind. When his fiancée learnt he was going blind and that there was nothing the doctors could do, she told him she could not go through life with a blind man. He never married.

He was helped by a devoted sister throughout his ministry. She learnt Greek, Latin and Hebrew in order to aid him in his studies. Despite his blindness, Matheson had a brilliant career at the Glasgow Academy, University of Glasgow and the Church of Scotland Seminary.

When he was forty years old, something bittersweet happened. His sister married. Not only did this mean that he lost her companionship, it also brought a fresh reminder of his own heartbreak. In the midst of this intense sadness, on the eve of his sister’s marriage, he wrote one of the most popular and best loved hymns of the Christian church – ‘O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go’. He completed the whole work in five minutes and never edited, corrected or retouched it. ‘This came,’ he wrote, ‘like a dayspring from on high.’

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

Troubles are part of life. Jesus faced trouble and so did the apostles, David and all the people of God. However, as Matheson’s hymn beautifully articulates, troubles do not have the last word.

Wisdom

Psalm 71:19-23

19 Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens,
   you who have done great things.
   Who is like you, God?
20 Though you have made me see troubles,
   many and bitter,
   you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
   you will again bring me up.
21 You will increase my honour
   and comfort me once more.
22 I will praise you with the harp
   for your faithfulness, my God;
I will sing praise to you with the lyre,
   Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips will shout for joy
   when I sing praise to you –
   I whom you have delivered.

Commentary

Restored after many troubles

God does not promise you an easy path. Life can be extremely hard. The psalmist has seen ‘troubles, many and bitter’ (v.20). His troubles, pressures and worries were not occasional or trivial. They were numerous and serious. He gives you a model of how to respond in these circumstances.

1. Keep trusting

It is easy to trust God when things are going well. The challenge is to keep trusting in the midst of troubles. Do not stop believing in the goodness of God: ‘Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things. Who, O God, is like you?’ (v.19).

2. Keep hoping

Your troubles will not last forever. In the midst of troubles, there is hope: ‘You will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honour and comfort me once more’ (vv.20b–21). God will use your troubles for good. He will shape your character through them. As a result, he will increase your honour. He will comfort you through them so that you can comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:4).

3. Keep worshipping

Keep on praising God in spite of the troubles: ‘I will praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praise to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel. My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you – I, whom you have redeemed’ (Psalm 71:22–23). The presence of God in worship brings us peace and solace, especially in difficult times.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that though I may see troubles many and bitter, you promise to restore my life again. I praise you for your faithfulness.’

New Testament

Acts 6:8-15,7:1-10

8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)… who began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.’

15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

7 Then the high priest asked Stephen, ‘Are these charges true?’

2 To this he replied: ‘Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. 3 “Leave your country and your people,” God said, “and go to the land I will show you.”

8 Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him eight days after his birth. Later Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs.

9 ‘Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him 10 and rescued him from all his troubles.’

Commentary

Rescued from all his troubles

There is sometimes a temptation to idealise the life of the early church – as if they were the perfect church and had no problems at all. We need to read the idyllic picture of the church in Acts 2 alongside the events of Acts 6 and, of course, not forget all the troubles of Paul in his letters. The early church had plenty of troubles. Do not be surprised by any of the following in the church today:

  1. Complaining

    Good leaders pick their battles carefully. They do not get involved in everything, but they do take responsibility for everything. The apostles faced a justified complaint that ‘widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food’ (Acts 6:1). Yet they needed to concentrate on their main task: ‘prayer and the ministry of the word’ (v.4). The solution lay (as it does so often) in effective delegation.

    The apostles dealt with the issue by setting aside a group of people who would ‘wait on tables’ (v.2). They chose people ‘full of the Spirit and wisdom’ (v.3). As a result, they kept their focus and ‘the word of God spread’, and the number of disciples increased dramatically (v.7). Good leaders delegate and release others into their God-given gifts and ministries.

  2. Stirring

    A group of opponents of the church ‘stirred up the people’ (v.12) and ‘produced false witnesses’ (v.13). They twisted Stephen’s words and said, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law’ (v.13).

  3. Fear of change

    Some of the opposition came from a fear of change. They said, ‘We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us’ (v.14).

    They found they could not keep their eyes off Stephen, whose ‘face was like the face of an angel’ (v.15). He gave his defence. He recited the history of the people of God and cited the parts of history that were particularly relevant to his own situation. He said of Joseph, ‘God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom…’ (7:9–10), just as God was clearly giving Stephen wisdom (see 6:10).

    Stephen’s own rescue came only in martyrdom. He ‘saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God’ (7:55), and Stephen was rescued for all eternity.

Prayer

Lord, help me not to be put off by troubles but rather, like Stephen, to be full of faith and the Holy Spirit. May we see the word of God spread and the numbers of your followers increase more and more each day.

Old Testament

2 Samuel 15:13-30,16:5-14

13 A messenger came and told David, ‘The hearts of the people of Israel are with Absalom.’

14 Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, ‘Come! We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom.’

23 The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed by.

30 But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up.

16
5 As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the same clan as Saul’s family came out from there. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and he cursed as he came out. 6 He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones,

9 Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, ‘Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head.’

11 David then said to Abishai and all his officials, ‘My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjaminite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. 12 It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.’

13 So David and his men continued along the road while Shimei was going along the hillside opposite him, cursing as he went and throwing stones at him and showering him with dirt. 14 The king and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted. And there he refreshed himself.

Commentary

Refreshed in the midst of troubles

David’s own son Absalom has turned against him and David is told that the ‘hearts of the people of Israel are with Absalom’ (15:13). This must have been devastating news. David, a great man of God, a king for God’s people and a ‘type’ of Christ (indeed, an ancestor of Christ), faced many troubles in his life. If you face these kinds of troubles in your life, do not be surprised by them or think that you have done something wrong. Sometimes troubles come simply because you are doing something right.

1. Tears

We see just how upset David was. He ‘continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot’ (v.30). All the people were also ‘weeping as they went up’ (v.30). Indeed, ‘the whole countryside wept aloud’ (v.23).

2. Disappointment

Not only did David’s own son turn against him but Mephibosheth was also disloyal to him even though David had gone out of his way to help him. He stayed in Jerusalem because he thought, ‘Today the house of Israel will give me back my grandfather’s kingdom’ (16:3). Disloyalty from those we love is especially disappointing.

3. Criticism

Shimei shouted insults, threw rocks and cursed David. David does not seek revenge. Rather, he chooses to leave the matter in God’s hands (vv.11–12).

4. Exhaustion

David ‘and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted’ (v.14). When we read of what David went through it is not surprising that he was genuinely ‘exhausted’.

The Christian life is never without troubles, tears, sadness and disappointments. However, what distinguishes the people of God is their relationship with God.

In the midst of all his troubles, David prays, ‘O Lord, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness’ (15:31). His prayer is answered – but not in the way he expects. Ahithophel gives good advice, but it is rejected. So God answered the spirit of the prayer (see 17:14).

In the midst of his exhaustion, David ‘refreshed himself’ (16:14). ‘They rested and were revived’ (v.14, MSG). Sometimes you just need to take a break and rest to be revived and refreshed physically, spiritually and emotionally. We are not told how David did this exactly. However, if the Psalms are anything to go by, we know it was through his close relationship with God that he found refreshment.

Also, no doubt David was emotionally refreshed by the loyalty of his friends Zadok (15:24 onwards), Hushai (v.37), Ziba (16:1–4) and Ittai, who said to him, ‘Wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be’ (15:21).

Prayer

Lord, thank you that there is no trouble that this life can bring from which you do not rescue me, ultimately with eternal life in your presence. Thank you that, in the middle of my troubles, I can pray to you and be refreshed by the presence of God (Act 3:19).

Pippa adds

In Psalm 71:24 it says,

‘My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long.’

I find it much easier to get caught up with all the troubles of the world rather than remembering everything Jesus has done. But when I do spend time remembering, my perspective changes and God seems greater and my problems smaller.

Thought for the Day

In the midst of troubles keep trusting God.

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References

George Matheson (1882).

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 One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers used by permission”

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel

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