Bible in One Year

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October 23 Day 296

Twenty-Five Ways to Be Useful to God

He is one of my great heroes of faith. He was a model of godliness, faith and humility. God used him greatly. When he died in 1982, his executors were unable to trace a single member of his family still living. No one came forward claiming to be even a distant relation.

Yet, The Times obituary about him rightly noted that his influence within the Church of England during the previous fifty years was probably greater than any of his contemporaries. John Stott, who was one of the numerous influential Christian leaders whom he led to faith in Christ, said of him: ‘Those who knew him well and those who worked with him never expect to see his like again; for rarely can anyone have meant so much to so many as this quietly spoken, modest and deeply spiritual man.’

Why was this man – the Reverend E.J.H. Nash – so useful to God? How can you be useful to God?

St Paul writes, ‘Become the kind of container God can use to present any and every kind of gift to his guests for their blessing’ (2 Timothy 2:20–21, MSG).

John Stott writes, ‘No higher honour could be imagined than to be an instrument in the hand of Jesus Christ, to be at his disposal for the furtherance of his purposes, to be available whenever wanted for his service.’ Being ‘useful to the Master’ and ‘instruments for noble purposes’ (v.21) starts with dedicating your life to him and re-dedicating it regularly to his service.

October 22 Day 295

Your Most Important Task

‘Great leaders all have one thing in common. They know that acquiring and keeping good people is a leader’s most important task,’ writes John Maxwell in his book, Developing the Leaders Around You. He urges his readers, ‘Find the best people you can, then develop them into the best leaders they can be.’

Paul is condemned and in a dark, dank dungeon with just a hole in the ceiling for light and air. He is in ‘chains’ (2 Timothy 1:16), ‘like a criminal’ (2:9). He is lonely, bored and cold (4:9–13). Death is inevitable. According to tradition, he was condemned to die by beheading under Nero’s persecution.

This is probably his last letter. Paul chose to write to an individual rather than to a church. Timothy was a leader whom Paul had found, trained and developed. Paul was probably in his sixties and Timothy in his early thirties.

As Paul becomes aware that he is handing on the gospel to the next generation, his greatest concern is that Timothy should guard it (1:11–14). The older I get, the more I appreciate the wisdom of the generations before me and the more I realise the responsibility we all have to pass the baton on to the next generation. 

October 21 Day 294

Living Content

Her hands were full of rings, bracelets, necklaces, chains and other treasures. Torrents of lava were erupting and pouring down from Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. As she fled, this woman was not prepared to leave behind her valuable jewels. Encumbered by her treasures, she was overwhelmed by the rain of ashes from the volcano and was buried under it.

During the course of modern building operations, her petrified body was found outside the area of the buried city of Pompeii, an ancient Roman port. Her body was unearthed in a sea of jewels. She lost her life in an attempt to save her treasures.

Jesus warned us that ultimately you have to choose between money and God (Matthew 6:24). In the New Testament, there is no ban on private property or making money, or even enjoying the good things in life. The command to the rich, however, is that they do not ‘put their hope in wealth’ (1 Timothy 6:17). A selfish accumulation of wealth and an unhealthy obsession with material things leads us away from God. What promises security leads to perpetual insecurity.

Ultimately, contentment only comes from putting your hope in God: ‘godliness with contentment is great gain’. The promise of God’s word is that those who ‘put their hope in God’ (v.17) find ‘a firm foundation’ and ‘take hold of the life that is truly life’ (v.19).

October 20 Day 293

Hard Times

Smith Wigglesworth was born on 8 June 1859 to an impoverished family in Yorkshire. As a small child he worked in the fields pulling turnips alongside his mother. He was illiterate until, at the age of twenty-three, he married Polly, who taught him to read. He often said that the Bible was the only book he ever read.

He was a plumber by trade but had to abandon it after he became too busy with an amazing ministry of preaching and healing. There are even accounts of people being raised from the dead through his ministry. Yet, he said on one occasion that he would rather see one person saved through his preaching than 10,000 healed.

Life was not always easy for Smith Wigglesworth. He went through some very hard times. He wrote, ‘Great faith is a product of great fights. Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests. Great triumphs can only come out of great trials.’

The Bible is very realistic. We live in a fallen world. Everyone goes through hard times and some people find themselves in circumstances that make life hard all of the time. 

October 19 Day 292

Words, the Word of God and 'words'

Actor David Suchet, well known for his title role in Poirot, tells how a few years ago he was lying in his bath in a hotel in America, when he had a sudden and impulsive desire to read the Bible. He managed to find a Gideon Bible and started to read the New Testament. As he read, he encountered Jesus Christ. He said:

‘From somewhere I got this desire to read the Bible again. That’s the most important part of my conversion. I started with the Acts of the Apostles and then moved to Paul’s Letters – Romans and Corinthians. And it was only after that I came to the Gospels. In the New Testament I suddenly discovered the way that life should be followed.’

The most powerful words ever written are in the Bible. Words are an important theme in it, and the word ‘word’ is used in different senses in today’s passages.

  • First, it is used in the sense of our words. The things we say can be good or bad (Proverbs 25:11–20).
  • Second, it is also used in the sense of the Word of God. This is supremely Jesus Christ (John 1:1; Hebrews 1:2), but also refers to the Word of God in the Scriptures and in preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 4:1–16).
  • Third, the Bible also uses the phrase ‘word of the Lord’ in the sense of prophecy (Jeremiah 42:7). God continues to speak to the church through prophetic messages (1 Timothy 4:14). Of course we need to distinguish the Old Testament prophets, whose ‘words’ were definitely ‘the word of the Lord’ and are now part of Scripture, from prophetic ‘words’ today, which need testing against Scripture.

October 18 Day 291

The Life of a Leader

British Former Prime Minister, David Cameron, said, ‘In these difficult times, it is leadership we need.’ Good leadership is vital at all times, in all places and in all areas of life. But what is good leadership?

‘Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.’ These are the words of General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the coalition forces in the Gulf War of 1991. Character is what really matters. It is the only thing that counts in the end.

We make a distinction in our church between those ‘on their way in’ and those in positions of leadership. The church is not a museum displaying perfect people. It is a hospital in the traditional sense of the word – a place of hospitality and restoration. It is a place where the wounded, hurt, broken and injured find healing. It is a community of sinners. We welcome everyone regardless of their lifestyle. We have a big front door. Everyone is welcome.

On the other hand, we do not put people in positions of leadership if their lifestyle is in direct contrast to the New Testament. Leadership is not only functional, but also involves a responsibility to live as an example to others. Leaders are models for the rest of the congregation. Of course, no one is perfect. You do not have to be perfect to be an example. However, we need to ensure that the lifestyle and character of our leaders is in line with the New Testament.

October 17 Day 290

How to Pray

Prayer is the most important activity of your life. It is the main way in which you develop a relationship with your Father in heaven. If you love someone, naturally you will want to spend time in their presence communicating with them. Like any relationship, communication can take many different forms. Lancelot Andrewes (1555–1626), one of the great theologians and preachers of his day, wrote two lists in his Private Devotions:

First, he wrote a list of times of prayer in the Bible:
Without ceasing...
At all times...
Three times a day...
Evening, and morning, and at noon...
Seven times a day...
In the morning, a great while before day...
At daybreak...
The third hour of the day...
About the sixth hour...
The hour of prayer, the ninth...
The evening...
By night...
At midnight...’

Next, he wrote a list of places of prayer in the Bible:
‘In the assembly... and in the congregation...
Your closet...
An upper room...
A housetop...
The temple...
On the shore...
A garden...
On their beds...
A desert place...
In every place...’

There is no limit to the times, places and different ways in which you can pray.

October 16 Day 289

The Biggest Decision of My Life

In early February 1974, I was facing the biggest decision of my life. I was convinced through reading the New Testament that Jesus really was the Son of God. But I did not want to be a Christian as I feared that I would lose my freedom. The last things that I associated with faith were love and freedom. I associated faith with losing my freedom. I thought that God would want me to stop doing all the things that were fun and that I enjoyed.

In fact, that initial act of faith, which was the biggest decision of my life, has led to a life of freedom and love. Love, faith and freedom are inextricably entwined.

October 15 Day 288

Do the Right Thing

Martin Luther King said, ‘On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question, “Is it right?”

‘The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of convenience, but where they stand in moments of challenge, moments of great crisis and controversy.’

Doing what is right in difficult situations in the workplace is a huge challenge. In his book, God at Work, Ken Costa writes, ‘There are right and wrong choices… all the invented terms such as “inappropriate” and “counterproductive” are efforts to avoid the simple ethical fact that there is a right and wrong course of action.’

When facing a difficult pastoral situation those of us in the leadership of the church need to remind ourselves that the first question we have to ask is, ‘What is the right thing to do?’ And only then move to the second question, ‘What is the most pastoral way to do it?’

Of course, none of us get it right all the time. We all make mistakes. As Ken Costa writes, ‘We only grow in wisdom if we learn from our mistakes. Siegmund Warburg [Ken’s first boss] said on this subject: “Some name it disappointment and become poorer, others name it experience and become richer.”’

In today’s New Testament passage, Paul writes to the Thessalonians, ‘Never tire of doing what is right’ (2 Thessalonians 3:13). Jesus did not go for the easy or popular solution, but he always did the right thing. This is an important principle that runs throughout the entire Bible.

October 14 Day 287

How to Avoid Backsliding

As a young man, Philip was kidnapped and held hostage in Greece. There he remained for several years. During this time he received a military education. Then he returned to his homeland, which had conceded many defeats and had lost much land. Within five years he had become king.

Philip II of Macedon desperately needed his army to stand firm. He is remembered for two major innovations. First is the sarissa, a very long spear. Second is the re-development of a rectangular military formation used by ancient armies (known as a phalanx). A core of highly-trained infantrymen, armed with Philip’s longer spears, stood shoulder to shoulder in files normally eight men deep.

As long as they stood firm and did not break rank they were virtually invincible and struck fear into the hearts of their enemies. Using this tactic, Philip united the city-states of Greece and took the city of Philippi (that is named after him) in 356 BC.

Sometimes, it seems that the Christian life is like facing a powerful enemy. It feels like an intense struggle in which another team is attempting to push us back and break down our ranks. If we don’t stand firm, we fall on our backs and slide in the mud in the wrong direction. We have seen how Jeremiah warned the people many times against backsliding (Jeremiah 2:19; 3:22; 5:6; 14:7; 15:6).

It is not a matter of us standing firm on our own. We are part of a community. In today’s New Testament passage, Paul invokes the image of the phalanx with which Philip II of Macedonia once conquered the city of Philippi (Philippians 1:27). Shoulder to shoulder, the church can stand firm. This is one of many occasions that Paul exhorts the church to ‘stand firm’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15).