Bible in One Year

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February 24 Day 55

What You Give to God, He Multiplies

Hattie May Wiatt, a six-year-old girl, lived near Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia, USA. The Sunday school was very crowded. Russell H. Conwell, the minister, told her that one day they would have buildings big enough to allow everyone to attend. She said, ‘I hope you will. It is so crowded I am afraid to go there alone.’ He replied, ‘When we get the money we will construct one large enough to get all the children in.’

Two years later, in 1886, Hattie May died. After the funeral Hattie’s mother gave the minister a little bag they had found under their daughter’s pillow containing 57 cents in change that she had saved up. Alongside it was a note in her handwriting: ‘To help build bigger so that more children can go to Sunday school.’

The minister changed all the money into pennies and offered each one for sale. He received $250 – and 54 of the cents were given back. The $250 was itself changed into pennies and sold by the newly formed ‘Wiatt Mite Society’. In this way, her 57 cents kept on multiplying.

Twenty-six years later, in a talk entitled, ‘The history of the 57 cents’, the minister explained the results of her 57-cent donation: a church with a membership of over 5,600 people, a hospital where tens of thousands of people had been treated, 80,000 young people going through university, 2,000 people going out to preach the gospel – all this happened ‘because Hattie May Wiatt invested her 57 cents’.

The theme of multiplication runs throughout the Bible. What cannot be achieved by addition, God does by multiplication. You reap what you sow, only many times more. What you give to the Lord, he multiplies.

February 23 Day 54

How to Hear God

When I saw him coming down the street I would cross the road in order to avoid him. I had met him in my first week at university. He had a shiny, smiley face. I had also met one or two others like him who had that same look on their face. It made me very suspicious!

A few months later, I encountered Jesus and discovered that these people’s faces were shining because they had been spending time with Jesus, hearing God speak. Like Moses, when he came down from the mountain after hearing God speak to him, their faces were radiant.

Jesus said that ‘people do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4). Just as we need physical food, so we also need spiritual food. Spiritual food comes from hearing the words of God.

February 22 Day 53

How to Spend Time with Jesus

I first encountered Jesus in February 1974. I am so grateful to those who taught me, right from the start, the importance of what they called ‘the quiet time’.

The old-fashioned expression ‘the quiet time’ (meaning time set aside to read the Bible and pray) probably has its origin in the words of Jesus in today’s New Testament passage, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place’ (Mark 6:31). Practically every morning since I was eighteen years of age, I have begun the day in this way. I try to spend time with Jesus, by myself, in a quiet place. Sometimes it is very brief, sometimes it is longer. But just as I do not like beginning the day without breakfast, I cannot imagine beginning the day without spiritual food.

Nearly always, I start by reading the Bible, as I believe it’s more important that Jesus speaks to me than I speak to him. My thoughts from each day are now the basis of these notes that accompany the Bible in One Year.

February 21 Day 52

Better Together

I have never been very good at using visual aids. I am not a very practical person. On the other hand, my great friend, Nicky Lee (who, together with his wife Sila, has pioneered The Marriage Course and other courses for couples and parents), is extremely practical and often uses visual aids.

When he is speaking at weddings he sometimes uses a visual aid to illustrate the passage in Ecclesiastes 4, where the writer says, ‘Two are better than one… A cord of three strands is not quickly broken’ (vv.9,12).

As a picture of marriage, Nicky Lee takes two strands of different coloured wool and weaves them together. Together they are stronger and yet they can quite easily be broken. Then he takes a third strand of nearly invisible fishing line. With this third strand, it is almost impossible to break the two pieces of wool. (I did try to use this illustration once but, for reasons I cannot remember, it went horribly wrong!)

The point that he makes so well, and that comes out of the passage in Ecclesiastes, is that while friendships and marriages are wonderful gifts, having God at the centre of a friendship or marriage provides an invisible thread of enormous strength.

In today’s passages, we see how two are stronger than one in marriage, mission and ministry.

February 20 Day 51

How to Meet with God

In 1949, one of the greatest revivals in the history of the United Kingdom took place in the Hebrides. Duncan Campbell, the preacher at the centre of the revival, later described how it began.

Seven men and two women had decided to pray earnestly for revival. One night, at a prayer meeting held in a barn, a young man took his Bible and read from Psalm 24 (the psalm for today): ‘Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart’ (vv.3–4a).

He shut his Bible and said: ‘It seems to me just so much sentimental humbug to be praying as we are praying, to be waiting as we are waiting here, if we ourselves are not rightly related to God.’ He asked God to reveal if his own hands were clean and his own heart was pure.

That night God met with them in a powerful way. As they waited on God ‘his awesome presence swept the barn’. They came to understand that revival is always related to holiness. A power was let loose that shook the parish from centre to circumference.

‘Three men were lying on the straw having fallen under the power of God. They were lifted out of the ordinary into the extraordinary. They knew that God had visited them and neither they nor their parish could ever be the same again.’

Four miles away, two sisters aged eighty-two and eighty-four had a vision of God. They saw the churches crowded and the youth and the community flocking into the churches. They had ‘a glorious assurance that God was coming in revival power’.

Duncan Campbell was invited to come and speak to them. When he arrived in the parish church it was packed out, with hundreds waiting outside. No one could explain where they had come from. Within ten minutes of the service starting, men and woman were crying out to God. They were meeting with God in all his holiness.

There was such a sense of the presence of God on the island that a businessman visiting said, ‘The moment I stepped ashore I was suddenly conscious of the presence of God.’ God was meeting with his people.

How do you and I meet with God?

February 19 Day 50

God Loves Me

High on the moors in the Welsh highlands, two ministers met a young shepherd boy who had impaired hearing and was illiterate. They explained that Jesus wanted to be his shepherd, who would always look after him as he, the boy, looked after his sheep. They taught him to repeat the words, ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ (Psalm 23:1), using the fingers and thumb of his right hand to help him remember, starting with his thumb and then a finger for each word. They told him to pause at the fourth word ‘my’, and remember, ‘this psalm was meant for me’.

Some years later, one of them was passing through that same village and asked after the shepherd boy. The previous winter there had been terrible storms and the boy had died on the hills, buried in a snowdrift. The villager who was telling the story said, ‘There was one thing, however, that we didn’t understand. When his body was discovered he was holding the fourth finger of his right hand.’

The story illustrates the nature of God’s personal love for each one of us.

Many people today think of God as some great impersonal force. However, the God of the Bible is very different. His relationship with us is personal. St Paul wrote, ‘The Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20). He is ‘My God’ (Philippians 4:19). God loves me.

February 18 Day 49

Your Love Letter

Thankfully, there have been very few times since our relationship began that I have been apart from my wife Pippa. However, before we were married, there was a period of three weeks when I was away. In those days, without email or mobile phones, our only way of communication was by letter.

I wrote every day. She wrote every day. I remember so well the feeling of intense excitement and joy when I saw the handwriting on the envelope and knew that a letter from Pippa was inside.

I would quickly take the letter and go off to a quiet place by myself to study it! The actual letter wasn’t valuable, but the fact that it was written by the person I love made it so precious to me.

The Bible is a love letter from God to you. What makes the Bible so exciting is not the book itself, but the fact that through it we encounter the person we love. The whole Bible is about Jesus. The New Testament is obviously about Jesus. However, Jesus said of the Scriptures that he had in his lifetime (that is, the Old Testament): ‘These are the very Scriptures that testify about me’ (John 5:39).

February 17 Day 48

Sharpen Your Conscience

Jesus asks the question in today’s passage, ‘Which is lawful… to do good or to do evil...?’ (Mark 3:4).

I used to be an atheist. I believed that our bodies and minds and the circumstances into which we were born determined all our actions. Logically, it seemed to me, if there is no God there is no absolute basis for morality. Therefore, following this logic, there is no absolute ‘good’ or ‘evil’.

Yet, deep down, I knew that there was such a thing as ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Even though I did not believe in God, I used those words. However, it was not until I encountered Jesus that I understood that there is a God who has created a moral universe. In the Scriptures, and in particular in the person of Jesus Christ, the nature of good and evil are revealed.

God has given us a conscience so that we know that some things are ‘good’ and others are ‘evil’. But our consciences can be dulled and they need to be sharpened by objective truth.

February 16 Day 47

Put First Things First

Shortly after we were married, Pippa and I went on a weekend about marriage. During the weekend there was a session about priorities. We were given five cards – each with a word on it: ‘work’, ‘God’, ‘ministry’, ‘husband/wife’ and ‘children’. We were asked to rank these in order of priority. With hindsight, I can see I got them in completely the wrong order.

I put ‘God’ first (at least I got that one right – but it was fairly obvious!), followed by ministry, wife, work, and, finally, children (we didn’t have any children at that stage so they didn’t seem very important!).

As the leaders of the weekend took us through these priorities, it became clear to me that my order should be: first of all, God, then my wife (my primary calling), our children, my job (my primary ministry), and finally my ministry – which, though obviously very important, should not be allowed to displace the primary responsibilities of my life. As the philosopher Goethe put it, ‘Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.’

Put first things first. The things which matter most to God should take first place in our lives.

February 15 Day 46

The Highs and Lows of Life

As I look back on the past forty years as a Christian, there have been times of great spiritual highs – experiences of the Holy Spirit, God’s love, the joy of seeing people encounter Jesus for the first time, amazing answers to prayer and seeing the kingdom of God advancing. On the other hand, there have also been spiritual lows – desert experiences, bereavements, disappointments, failures, temptations, opposition, health issues and exhaustion. In the passages for today we see how spiritual highs and lows are closely connected.