In the Day of Trouble
In the Day of Trouble
Ajay Gohil was brought up as a Hindu and worked for the family business in a newsagent in North London. At the age of twenty-one he contracted erythrodermic psoriasis, a chronic skin disease. His weight dropped from 11.5 stone (73kg) to 7.5 stone (47.6kg). The disease was all over his body from head to toe. He lost all his friends. His wife and son left him. He wanted to die.
As Ajay lay dying in hospital he cried out to God. He looked in his locker and found a Bible there. He opened it at Psalm 38 – the psalm for today. Each and every verse seemed relevant to him. He prayed for God to heal him. He fell into a deep sleep. By the next morning he was totally healed. His skin was new like a baby’s and his life was turned around. He was reunited with his son. I interviewed him in one of the services at HTB. He said, ‘Every day I live for Jesus.’
Life is not all plain sailing. We will all face troubles. Whatever you are facing today, God is able to rescue you. In the passages for today we see examples of troubles – traps, tests and temptations – and how to handle them.
David knew what it was like to experience ill-health: ‘my back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body’ (v.7). These are some of the words that struck a chord with Ajay as he read this psalm on his hospital bed.
David also knew what it was like to fail. God convinced him of his sin: ‘Your hand has come down on me… because of my sin. My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear… because of my sinful folly… the light has gone from my eyes’ (vv.2–5,8,10).
On top of all this, David had to cope with opposition. He was surrounded by people who wanted to see his downfall. He wrote, ‘Those who want to kill me set their traps, those who would harm me talk of my ruin; all day long they scheme and lie’ (v.12).
Yet, in the midst of these traps and his own failings and difficulties, David cried out to God. He knew that God was able to forgive him, rescue him, and heal him. Whatever your failings or whatever difficulties you may face, you too can bring them to God in prayer.
Lord, I cry to you today – forgive my sin, heal my body and rescue me from the traps set for me.
Each person you meet and every situation that confronts you is, in a sense, a test. How are you going to respond to the needs of the people around you, and the situations you find yourself in?
- Needs of others
I took the funeral of a young man who died of cancer aged thirty. I saw his mother (a friend of ours for over thirty years) standing by the coffin of her only son. I understand how, when Jesus saw the woman in today’s passage in a similar situation, ‘his heart went out to her’ (v.13).
Jesus had the power and authority to raise her son from the dead, but he still had to have the courage to step out in faith and do it.
We all have to operate within the limits of our own faith. Responding to this kind of situation can be really testing. To get it wrong would be pastorally disastrous. Certainly, I do not recommend doing what Jesus did unless you have his authority, power, faith and a direct instruction from God. But we must seek the right words and the right responses to all those in need. Whatever we do must be motivated by ‘compassion’ (v.13, AMP).
Jesus is able to say, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor’ (v.22). You may not be able to say all these things, but you can pray for the sick and you can certainly proclaim good news to the poor.
In spite of the fact that Jesus was doing so much that was extraordinary, wonderful and life-changing, he was not universally accepted. The religious leaders of the time ‘rejected God’s purpose for themselves’ (v.30) and brought false accusations against John the Baptist and Jesus.
How you respond to criticism is another test. Jesus said, ‘For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, “He has a demon.” The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’”’ (vv.33–34).
Jesus is saying it is almost impossible to avoid criticism. As Aristotle said, ‘The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, say nothing and be nothing.’ Whatever you do, some people will find fault, but Jesus was not put off by criticism. He says, ‘But wisdom is proved right by all her children’ (v.35). Perhaps he means that, in the end, wisdom (and Jesus’ actions) will be proved by the results, or as we would say, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ (v.35, MSG). Jesus and John the Baptist were very different but they were both ‘wisdom’s children’.
Lord, help me today, with every person I encounter, to have the right words, to bring good news, to have a heart of compassion and to seek to minister to others, as Jesus did.
The events we read about today are ‘a warning sign’ (26:10). As we have seen, when Paul writes about temptations (1 Corinthians 10) he refers back to this section in the book of Numbers and says that what is written here stands as a ‘warning’.
‘These are all warning markers – DANGER! – in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes... we are just as capable of messing it up as they were... You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence’ (1 Corinthians 10:11–12, MSG).
What are we being warned about? What are these temptations?
‘Sorcery’ (sometimes translated divination) means turning to supernatural, magical powers, which do not come from God, to find out something, or to make something happen. Today, we see the use of horoscopes, tarot cards, fortune tellers, Ouija boards, palm reading, and so on. People want to know what is going to happen. Especially in times of trouble, they sometimes turn to these wrong methods.
Balaam’s life was a curious mixture. At times he was capable of acting under the inspiration of the ‘Spirit of God’ (Numbers 24:2). He uttered one of the great messianic prophecies: ‘A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel… A ruler will come out of Jacob’ (vv.17–19; see also Matthew 2:1–10). Jesus describes himself as ‘the bright Morning Star’ (Revelation 22:16).
Yet, Balaam is condemned in the New Testament. We see the reason here. He was a sorcerer. He would normally have received a ‘fee for divination’ (Numbers 22:7) and been rewarded handsomely for his sorcery (24:11). The moments when he operated under the Spirit of God were exceptions. There were occasions when, ‘he did not resort to sorcery as at other times’ (v.1).
The people fell into sexual immorality: ‘the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women (25:1). They were all deceived (v.18). God’s judgment came on them and especially on one of their leaders, Zimri, ‘the leader of a Simeonite family’ (v.14). Sexual immorality is not a temptation from which the leaders of the church are exempt. If leaders fail it is even more serious and damaging, partly because of their influence.
The people were unfaithful to God. They worshipped and bowed down to other gods. They ‘joined in worshipping the Baal of Peor’ (vv.3,5). Idols are far broader than statues to other gods. Idols are God-substitutes. They are created things that we are serving as number one in our lives rather than serving the creator (see Romans 1:25).
The apostle Paul warns us of the dangers of falling into the same temptations but ends with these encouraging words:
‘No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. … God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it’ (1 Corinthians 10:13, MSG).
Father, help me to stand against the temptations of the enemy. May I never do anything that brings dishonour to the name of Jesus. May your name be glorified in everything I do.
Here we see Jesus’ extraordinary compassion and power. This mother, whose son had just died, was also a widow. She would already have experienced deep sorrow at the loss of her husband. She would probably have become destitute too, since there would be no one to provide for her or her family. There was no welfare state.
What overwhelming joy there must have been when Jesus healed her son and gave him back to her.
Verse of the Day
‘When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her…’ (Luke 7:13).
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 quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.