1 Samuel

Religious superstition

How easy it is to fall into religious superstition! I mean thinking that God will bless us because of our religious activities. I’ve prayed, so everything will be fine now, because I’ve prayed. Not because of God’s intervention, but because of my prayers. I’ve had a bad day so far, but I’ll read my Bible now then the day will improve, not because I’ll be living life with a greater focus on God, but because I read my Bible. Having gone to church twice this Sunday, I think an easy week at work is pretty much guaranteed now. I can’t be bothered doing any work, but reading a book about theology is bound to solve that problem. I don’t suppose any Christians consciously and deliberately think like that, but I’m sure I can’t be the only one who catches myself sometimes. It’s tempting to put our faith not in God, but in our religious works.

We see this problem in the Bible too. This isn’t the only example, but the one which sprung to my mind occurs after a battle between Israel and Philistia recorded in 1 Samuel 4. It’s a disaster for the Israelites, and with 4,000 dead soldiers it’s time for a rethink. What solution do they come up with? They recognise God is in control of the battle, by asking “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines?” and they’re sure they know how to obtain His favour – “Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies.” Does it work? The Philistines are scared stiff, and decide the best defence is a good offence. “So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent. There was a very great slaughter, and there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. Also the ark of God was captured”. Hardly the desired effect.

Can we combat this malaise, or are we simply helpless in the hands of our sinful motives? We can do many things. We can examine our motives, repent when we find ourselves lacking, and rely more fully on God’s grace in Christ. It is all we can ever do to fight sin – flee to Christ.

But Tim strengthened himself in the Lord

Yesterday was a depressing day. I had hoped to spend about 5 hours spread throughout the day working on one assignment, a report into “the architectures of humanoid robot systems”. I didn’t spend all that time working, but I did use most of it. By the time I went to bed, however, I hadn’t made any significant progress towards writing the report. I was already behind my schedule for work on that assignment, and the situation certainly wasn’t improved by a few hours of apparently finding nothing useful in my research. My feelings were quite nicely summed up by what a friend posted on facebook that evening (albeit for very different reasons to me):

“I didn’t get anywhere near the amount of work done I wanted to do today and I really can’t be bothered to do anymore now!”

It felt so unjust that I should spend to much time working, yet produce no useful output. That single assignment has frustrated me incredibly, and it is set by a lecturer who set a piece of work last year that I was forced to accept a mark of zero for because I was completely unable to do it. I felt miserable and didn’t know where to turn for help.

This morning in my daily Bible reading I came across 1 Samuel 30:6. David, not yet king of Israel, had been away from home fighting and returned home to discover the whole town had been burnt down, and all the women and children had been taken captive. As his troops rounded on him and threatened to stone him, we read

“David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.”

Is this not an immense privilege that Christians have? Regardless of circumstances, we have a God who is the almighty Lord of everything! We come to Him united with Christ and can be sure He will never turn us away. An email I was sent within the last week contained Psalm 55:22, which reads

“Cast your burden on the LORD, and He shall sustain you;  He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.”

Once again I have the privilege of testifying this to be true, as the Lord did graciously strengthen me to renew my fellowship with Him. Why did I worry about my work? The Lord has control of all things, and I am His child.

Perhaps the Lord… He just did!

One month ago, to the day, I had a tedious job to do at work which required very little thought. I wanted to make good use of the time, so I listened to a talk by Richard Cunningham which I found through Bish’s blog. At the time I thought it was a good talk, and made a note to blog about it, but I never got round to writing that post. Yesterday I read the same passage in my quiet time. The passage is the first half of 1 Samuel 14 and in it Jonathan, the son of King Saul, attacks an army with only one ally and one weapon between them. They have faith in God, and decide to take a massive risk, aware that God is able to use even the smallest and weakest things to bring salvation, and they say “Perhaps the LORD will act” (NIV).

I was aware as I read the passage that there was an event put on by the CU small group at Bridges hall in the evening, aimed at international students, but it had been arranged within two days. I wasn’t hopeful of it being very good. The gospel content was supposed to be in a talk, but I didn’t think the event lent itself to having a talk. We couldn’t get any follow up forms for people to fill in. Only four Christians could be there. There was next to no advertising. It was shaping up to be an all time low in the history of CU small group events.

We went ahead, of course, hoping God would do something useful. It didn’t go too well. We had two people come and chat to us awkwardly, which was nice, but not brilliant. One left to go to her room when she was getting cold. We’d been there for quite a long time. Certainly it was over an hour, and our two contacts were polite enough and friendly enough, but neither seemed overly interested. Then two more people came. I’d been hoping to get away and go to bed by this point, but I had to stay and chat. Again it was awkward, with no natural conversationalists at the event and a language barrier to overcome. It was getting really late when another international student walked into the room and joined us.

We were all getting tired and it was time for us to go. We started packing away, and said goodbye to our contacts. Just the last student remained. I turned away from packing up food, and saw he was chatting to a group of Christians, including two from other small groups who had come to be supportive (thank you both!). I chatted to a guy who was on the Bridges JCR committee, but the conversation never really got onto spiritual matters. I played a game of pool with a friend. Still the conversation was ongoing. I thought it was reasonable for me to intrude so I stood in the circle and listened. The conversation was about spiritual matters, but not the gospel itself. It didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the gospel either. Eventually I asked the student about the reason behind his own moral beliefs. He thought it was good to do good things, but not because we want to get into heaven.

Brilliant!

What an opportunity to explain we’re not doing good things to get into heaven, but because we’re loved by God and already booked into heaven! That conversation lasted a long time, finishing at 1am, and having survived moving to a different room and numerous interruptions from uninterested parties. The JCR member I’d previously spoken to listened silently the whole time, offering no opinions but hearing the gospel explained in no uncertain times.

I got home at 1:40am, thankful to God for showing me once again that His strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). In no way could it be claimed that the small group members were responsible for a very successful event. The gospel was heard by at least half a dozen people. Free gospels were given away, along with invitations to further events. Several people gave us their contact details. We got permission for a further event in the hall, after some confusion over email resulting in us being denied permission. Greatest of all, of course, we got to share the gospel as clearly as it could be shared.

I had prayed beforehand that every Christian would get to explain the gospel to someone, so we could grow in our confidence and desire to evangelise. I hadn’t expected all of us to explain it to the same person, but we did, and even the most shy among us contributed. Let us be thankful to God as we end the work of telling the gospel (for one day), and begin the work of praying for the people we met. I certainly hope to meet them again and carry on the discussion.

In other news, we can be grateful for 29 freshers who have contacted RUCU in one way or another before freshers’ week even begins!