WHAT MUST I DO?

“Good Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?”

Mk 10:17 GNB

We all assume that we have to do something in relation to God. We think we must pray and talk a lot. We think we need to do some heroic act that will make God take notice. We think we must give a lot of money – if only we had it in the first place to give! Maybe if we left our native country and went out to preach the gospel in some far-off remote place?

The man who came running up to Jesus was rich. Maybe it was significant that a rich man wanted to do something? Maybe he was accustomed to impressing people. Maybe that horn-shaped drum at the temple that rattled when the rich people put coins in it would clatter and clang a lot if he threw plenty of money into it? That was what it was for – to advertise a person’s generosity. But what Jesus was offering wasn’t to be bought. It was God’s own Kingdom, his kind of life, the deep rich quality of life that Jesus called “eternal life” and had the quality of eternity. And it was precious – more precious than anything that could be valued in monetary terms. The real answer the man needed was to be told, “No, it isn’t like that at all. It’s about submitting to God and to his kingly rule in your life. It’s about letting Christ, his love and his compassion, in and letting them flood everything in your existence.

That’s what you have to do too. You have to let Christ in, his love, the people he wants you to love – the last, the lost and the least – until there’s no room left for yourself.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, come in and fill my life with your love.

GOOD TEACHER

“As Jesus was starting on his way again, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?”

Mk 10:17 GNB

The Hebrew background of the whole Bible points again and again to the nature of God as a talking, speaking, teaching person. At the beginning of Genesis, in his first act of creation, God ‘speaks’. Later, in giving the law on Mount Sinai, the Ten Commandments are referred to as the “Ten Words”, and “the law” as “the Torah” which is Hebrew for “Teaching”. And one of Jesus’ main roles is that of teacher. There were many teachers.

The rabbis were the great teachers of the Israelite people. And the priests’ original task was that of speaking out the words that came from God. In the days of Jesus, he was one of many who went around teaching. But he was different. He spoke with authority, or, as we would say, “When he spoke you listened because you could tell that he knew what he was talking about”. The man addressed him as “Good Teacher” because he was a good teacher. He addressed him as “Good” because he was a good man who taught. And what he taught about was good, too.

Still we need to hear his teaching. In a world of confusion, doubt, scepticism and cynicism, much nonsense passes as wisdom and truth is scarce. So is plain, common sense. Look for the teaching of the truth – sheer, solid, gospel truth. Get it from teachers who know what they are talking about. Test what poses as the truth against the meat of the gospel. Does it square up to the Bible? Will it still be worth believing in fifty years down the line?

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to hear and understand good teaching.

GENTLE JESUS

“Then he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on each of them, and blessed them”

Mk 10:16 GNB

The Bible offers us many verbal “snapshots” of God. It is a collection of many writings penned by a wide variety of authors over a period of at least a thousand years. Moreover, it contains the sacred books of two faiths – Judaism and Christianity.

In the early pages it depicts God as the great creator, bringing the world into being and filling it with plants, creatures, and people. Later this God is the great guide, showing Abraham a way through the desert. Then he is the great liberator of his people when they fall into slavery in Egypt. Sometimes he is the shepherd, sometimes the great ruler or king. At times he is a warrior, at others a judge, and at yet others he is a father.

Sometimes he is called a rock, sometimes a deliverer, a husband, and eventually as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. All of these word-pictures enable us to build up a composite picture of a complex being. And here a new aspect of God’s nature is revealed by Jesus – he is the friend of little children. Unlike many adults he does not shoo them away. He welcomes them, takes them in his arms and deals with them tenderly and gently. Has any other faith such a picture of its God?

“Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” is perhaps the most beautiful of all the pictures the Bible gives us of God. In a world that is rough, cruel, hard and harsh, unkind, tough and often punishing, Christian believers cherish this image of God – and they remember that it was given to us by Jesus himself.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help us in all circumstances to cherish little children.

RECEIVE IT

“I assure you that whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it”.

Mk 10:15 GNB

Sometimes people get inspired and set out to “build the Kingdom of God”. It is done with acts of kindness, works of mercy, innovations and programmes of evangelism. Noble thoughts, challenges, visions and sometimes sacrifice are thought to be the material out of which the Kingdom is made. Missionary endeavour is another component that is sometimes needed to build this mythical Kingdom. It is sometimes spoken of as if Jesus came to build the Kingdom – and then left it to his human followers to finish the task. Many wonderful ideas are framed and so are plenty of programmes.

Jesus said that it is not built by human endeavour. If it were to be, it would mean that it was a man-made achievement. We could be proud of it, “put our backs into it”, claim the credit for it, and criticise it. Jesus said, “Receive it” “As Mark refers it to disciples, they cannot earn it, or deserve it or make it, but only accept it thankfully as God’s gift. This is why group after group have so far in the story failed to enter in. They have all brought their own agenda – religious leaders, family, crowd. Only those helplessly needing to be healed, and occasionally the disciples, have burst through into the world of self-abandoning trust, like that of a small child. It is they who receive the blessing” (D. English, The Message of Mark, p176).

So be humble. Strong, bold and competent that you are, bristling with ambition to lead and leave your mark – accept that the Kingdom is God’s. It is his self-giving to you. Receive it (and him) with joy.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to receive you and your Kingdom.

COMPLETE TRUST

“Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these”.

Mk 10:14 GNB

We sometimes admire the charm and winsomeness of small children – when we are not getting annoyed by the noise they are making, or the mess!

But Jesus saw in a small child the model of faith he wanted his disciples and other followers to copy. If a parent says to a child, “I will bring you a lollipop when I come home from the shops”, the child doesn’t argue or query. He knows that, come wind or weather, the lollipop will be forthcoming. The child doesn’t earn or deserve the gift. It’s a parent’s promise. Some of the people whom Jesus met in the gospel stories were working their way to the kingdom – or were trying to. They assumed that the blessings God could give came as a reward for the correct behaviour they were expected to observe. They knew too, of all manner of wrong things that they were supposed to avoid. Jesus wanted them to get ideas like that right out of their heads. Jesus wanted his disciples to exhibit complete and utter childlike trust in the mighty love, care and grace of the Father.

This is still the heart of the gospel message. Amid the rush and swirl of modern life, the contradictions of living and the problems of faith in a scientific age, the Father still says, “Trust me as implicitly as a child trusts his parent”. Stop trying to do God’s job for him. Stop trying to impress God – and your family and fellow believers. Learn to accept what God offers thankfully – you can’t make it or earn it. Enjoy his love – and bask in it.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to trust you like a child.

PEACE TO ALL

“I offer peace to all, both near and far! I will heal my people”.

Isa 57:19 GNB

All wars are vicious, though some are more vicious than others. The end of a war is a time for relief, celebration and mourning. Some wartimes are so bitter and the terms of peace so appalling that it seems only God can bring any meaningful conclusion to all the conflict with its aftermath of grief and suffering.

Sensitive to God’s presence, nature and activity, Isaiah carried God’s call and message to the people of Israel. This now included plenty of foreigners who had moved in to the half-empty country during the absence of many Israelites due to their exile in Babylon. Peace might come about by the agreement of the parties to the war. But Isaiah knew that for it to be a good and lasting peace God had to have a part in it, and they had to recognize his active presence all the way through. By offering peace to those “both near and far” it signified that the conflict was not totally over. Many Israelites still remained in Babylon even after the main bulk had returned. They were part of the tail end of the war – calling their ongoing exile part of the war that would only finally cease when they were all back in Israel.

God still seeks to offer peace to all – in an even wider sense than Isaiah thought of it. Where there is war, he wants peace. Where there is conflict, strife, and bitterness, God wants true and full peace. It is up to those participants to “tighten up the nuts and bolts” and ensure harmony and unity for all.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to be a peacemaker, like Jesus.

THE GOD OF COMFORT

“I will comfort those who mourn”.

Isa 57:18 GNB

Humanity seems unable to avoid war. There are small wars, big wars, local wars, regional wars, general wars, civil wars and world wars. All of them cost lives. Some only rage for a few weeks or months. Others last for years.

Israel had its share of wars, and the conquest of Israel by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. led to massive loss of life. The process of carrying the exiles off to Babylon led to more deaths along the way. When Isaiah wrote there were plenty of bereaved people mourning the death of loved ones. Their lives were shattered, their hearts were broken, their families distraught. For many people the grief after a loved one is taken away goes on for years. Some people never fully “recover”. And grief arouses many negative emotions. Even when it appears to be over any small negative event – such as the death of a pet – can trigger off the grief again. One of the promises God made to his Israelite children was that he would comfort them. They needed all the comfort God could give them both by direct spiritual means and through the support and help of other religious leaders, priests and pastors.

The Christian church has a big role to play in comforting those who mourn. One way is by offering understanding of the grieving process. No two people grieve identically. Some give vent to anger. Some close in on themselves. Some blame themselves – and some blame the dead person. People grieve for vastly varying lengths of time. There is no “regulation” time. In it all, those who know they are held by Jesus have something strong to hold onto.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to comfort people I know who are mourning.

GOD THE LEADER

“I have seen how they acted, but I will heal them. I will lead them and help them”.

Isa 57:18 GNB

Effective leadership is essential for successful results and this need is seen in many spheres. Sports teams are often either made or marred by the quality of the coach or captain. Business enterprises are enhanced by strong leadership or ruined by poor managers. Military regiments are most successful when good generals or commanding officers know how to get the best out of their troops. Church communities too, thrive when their ministers are good leaders. Good leaders have vision, enthusiasm, a sense of purpose and can communicate with their followers. They do not fail to demand plenty of effort and sacrifice from those they lead.

Moses was a wonderful leader of the Israelites as they escaped from the Egyptians and wandered through the desert for forty years. David was their best military commander. Jesus was the leader of the band of disciples and then the church. God knew that the Israelites would only get back to Jerusalem if they had a strong and effective leader when they were released from captivity in Babylon. He would lead them. Without good leadership they would be a wandering, bickering rabble.

The church became the strong body it was after the ascension of Jesus because the apostles Paul and Peter were strong leaders. Paul had great intellectual powers and tremendous drive and energy. He sorted out problems quickly and thought his way through doctrinal difficulties. Peter was a strong character who was the leader under Jesus of the disciples from Galilee onwards.

Respect and admire good leadership in your church community. Support them and lead yourself where you can.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, lead me and help me to lead where you want me to.

THE HEALING GOD

“I have seen how they acted, but I will heal them”.

Isa 57:18 GNB

A man once cut his finger badly in his workshop. Half an hour later he realized that he needed to get it properly treated as the knife he had been using was dirty. He went off to his doctor who applied the necessary anti-tetanus injection and dressing. In a few weeks the finger healed up and the man soon forgot about it. Some months later he was back in the doctor’s surgery for other treatment. “How’s that finger?” asked the doctor. “I can’t believe it”, said the man, “I thought it was going to be a permanent disfigurement, but look. It’s formed a perfectly-shaped finger again”. The doctor smiled and said, “Yes, we see it every day. Nature’s perfect healing”. The Bible shows us a God who heals.

The Israelites had acted badly. Their misdeeds and breaking of God’s laws had shown how sick their society was. Their sins had meant that their land was destroyed, their families broken up and their society shattered by being carted off into exile in Babylon. But time had passed and now God was ready to heal them. His promise is one of the most beautiful in the Bible. It brought them hope and a future to look forward to positively.

When Jesus came as God’s only Son, his healing ministry was a demonstration of God’s love and care. It also showed his power to heal serious sickness. God’s will for humanity is fullness and wholeness of life. Illness mars that wholeness and spoils the perfect functioning of the body. It makes people miserable and causes them to ask, “What have I done to deserve this?” Healing is part of God’s mission in and through Christ.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, heal me in every way, in Christ’s name.

THE COMPASSIONATE GOD

“I gave my people life, and I will not continue to accuse them or be angry with them for ever”.

Isa 57:16 GNB

Human moods come and go. A small family once witnessed some naughty behaviour by the youngest family member whilst at the dinner table. The child was chastised and sent off to the bathroom in disgrace. She howled in anger at being sent away from the family circle, but soon quietened down. Seven or eight minutes passed, and the sound was heard of the bathroom door opening. Very quietly the child made her way back to the table and sat down. Everybody smiled at her and she smiled too. The family didn’t hold its disciplinary anger for ever! It is from human behaviour that we learn and reflect on the nature of God.

The exile in Babylon was experienced by the Israelites as God’s punishment for their sins, wickedness and disloyalty. When they really thought about it, they knew they “had it coming to them”. But that sense of estrangement and alienation didn’t last too long. And Isaiah brought God back to them by portraying him as a compassionate father-God who only let his displeasure last for a certain length of time. Then he called a halt to the alienation and began to point them forward, renewed, called and filled with hope for the future, full of God’s compassion and his re-creating power.

If you have fallen out of favour with God in any way – or feel as if you have – know full well that he does not cast you off in any permanent way. Look to him for healing, compassion and love – always.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, I come to you for hope, for healing and for wholeness.