Faith Looks Up
Faith Looks Up
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.
Repent and rejoicePsalm 147:1–11
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.
Repent and respondRevelation 16:1–21
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Repent and rebuildNehemiah 1:1–2:20
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.
‘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.’
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.
Verse of the Day
‘He heals the broken-hearted
and binds up their wounds’ (Psalm 147:3).
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.