DOES GOD KEEP A SCORESHEET?

“Keep a record of all their sins; don’t let them have any part in your salvation”.

Ps 69:27 GNB

There was, and there is, an idea that God somehow keeps a scoresheet of all our wrongdoings. Against this, so the theory goes, he checks on our good deeds as well. When he tots things up, it all depends whether the balance sheet is positive or negative, in our favour or against us.

The unhappy man who wrote Psalm 69 lamented his lot in life and boiled with anger against his enemies and those who would do him harm. It is a useful exercise for Christian believers to read this unhappy psalm because it shows them just how impossible it can become to keep a calm, unruffled demeanour when facing intense provocation from people of ill-will. In his despair and depression, anger and resentment, the psalmist called on God to deal out retribution on his enemies. God was to make sure that he noted all the sins of the enemies and that he dealt out the psalmist’s idea of justice upon them.

We do not know if God works in such ways. Certainly, the New Testament does not give us any evidence that God keeps such a “scoresheet”. It would rather encourage us to seek reconciliation or understanding in some measure towards those who wrong us. It would encourage us to see in all such situations opportunities to learn and to grow. It would direct us to treat such people with love and hope that we could become friends with them. Big demands are made of Christian believers, particularly in their personal relationships. Ask, “What is the best possible outcome that we can get to in this situation?”.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to cope creatively with opposition and enmity.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, help the family members of those people addicted to alcohol. Give them deep understanding and patience. Restrain them from “preaching” to their loved one. Help them to be ready in support of steps they may take towards recovery. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

1 Peter 5:1–13

VENGEANCE

“May their banquets cause their ruin; may their sacred feasts cause their downfall”.

Ps 69:22 GNB

Anger is an emotion common to the whole of humanity. Young and old get angry. Men and women do. So do rich and poor, clever and slow. Some people appear to be quiet and self-controlled but when riled can give vent to outbursts of anger that surprise their admirers. Others only seem to quieten down for short periods but then explode at the drop of a hat. We generally assume that being able to keep calm is a sign of maturity – and it is.

The psalmist here expresses his anger at the enemies who were causing him so much distress and making him miserable. Anger, suppressed and unexpressed, can cause deep depression and it is clear that the poet was very depressed. He was, in fact overflowing with anger at the trouble other people were causing him. The variety of complaints the psalmist whinges about is a sure sign of deep depression and the anger that is usually behind any sign of depression.

Christian believers will want to avoid giving vent to any and every provocation. When they feel angry, they will be careful to examine themselves and their motives in the situation. They will confront a person who wrongs them and ask that person to moderate their behaviour. They will also ask Christ for his help in coping with the negative emotions they are experiencing. Do not allow angry feelings to fester and do not, under any circumstances, go around sounding off and bad-mouthing the person who is the cause of the anger. Be ready to forgive when there is any sign of remorse. Adopt the spirit of Jesus.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to control my anger in all situations.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord bless those people who are battling with the problem of alcohol addiction. Cause them to know that coming to accept the “twelve steps” advocated by Alcoholics Anonymous is a good way forward. Help them to rely on you to solve their problem. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

1 Peter 4:12–19

LOOKING FOR COMFORT

“I looked in vain for one friendly face. Not one. I couldn’t find one shoulder to cry on”.

Ps 69:20 EHP

Most people go through bad times. For some people it is so bad that it seems to be most of the time. When you asked one person, in the morning, “How are you?” he would reply, “Well, how much time have you got?” It was all a joke but yes, some people seem to have a sad tale to tell – always. The only thing that varies is the circumstance. You wonder if it’s genuine, or if they’re sucking it out of their thumb just to get sympathy. But life is almost never easy, and some people come a cropper – more than once. Their problems and sadness colour their whole existence. And sometimes sheer bad luck bedevils them. Whilst some people claim that “You make your own luck” and there is some truth in that, it is not always the case. Life is not fair, and some people seem to cop more than their fair share of misfortune. But it is also true that the real challenge of life is not what comes to you, but what you make of what comes to you.

The psalmist who wrote Psalm 69 was one of the people who had a disproportionate amount of adversity. It had the effect of cutting him off from those who might help, support and counsel him. And he wallowed in his misfortune and misery – which made it worse.

If you have an abnormal run of adversity, take courage from the awareness that God does love you and will bring you through. Repeat to yourself those marvellous words of Christ, “I will be with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20, GNB).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, strengthen and help me through the tough times.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord I pray for the world as it wrestles with its problem of climate change. Help those who can make decisions to understand the causes and the nature of the problem. Prompt the people of the world to work together to reduce the bad effects for all. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

1 Peter 4:1–11

DESPAIR

“Insults have broken my heart, and I am in despair”.

Ps 69:20 GNB

Despair is a very common attitude. Some fifty years ago the great German theologian, Jurgen Moltmann said, “Despair is the sin of our age”. Nothing much has happened since to change that prevailing mood. Martin Luther King said, “In a generation of so many colossal disappointments, people have lost faith in God, faith in humanity and faith in the future. Many feel, as did William Wilberforce, who in 1801 said, ‘I dare not marry – the future is so unsettled’ or as William Pitt, who in 1806 said, ‘There is scarcely anything round us but ruin and despair’” (M.L. King, Strength to Love, p59).

It is all too easy to give way to despair. The psalmist, some five hundred years before Christ, was overwhelmed by all the problems he faced to the extent that he saw darkness as the prevailing mood encircling him. So many enemies were threatening him in many ways, that he wondered if he would ever see the daylight. He felt he was a broken man and that there was little or no hope for him.

We too can see difficulty, danger and devastation all around us. “John Dean, an Australian Salvation Army officer, was a dynamic leader, a man of outstanding spiritual power; yet his diary reveals that he was sometimes almost overwhelmed by despair. ‘I sought God and I could not find him. I read the Bible without finding comfort. I prayed and the heavens were as brass’, he confided on one page. But he went on to record that when in his need he cried, ‘O God where are you?’ God answered ‘Lo, I am with you always’” (The Soldier’s Armoury, 1973, p50).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, give me hope in Jesus and in life.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, bless those families who are experiencing grief at the loss of a loved one. Remind them that when Lazarus died in Bethany Jesus wept and it is right and good for them to mourn as well. Show them how to support each other. Give them courage. I ask it in Christ’s name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

1 Peter 3:8–22

COME TO ME

“Come to me and save me; rescue me from my enemies”.

Ps 69:18 GNB

Life is difficult. It is also unfair. We have to learn some hard lessons in life before we recognize how true those two sentences are. If, after reaching years of adulthood, we don’t see the truth in them, then we are living in a fool’s paradise. And plenty of people go out of their way to make life difficult and unfair for others. Many take advantage of other people, especially the poor, the uneducated and the weak. And some who are not among the smart of this world get taken for a ride many times over.

We don’t know whether the psalmist’s enemies were personal rivals, political opponents, people who had swindled him, or those who wanted rid of him. But take note that he asked God to come to him. Usually when people are in a mess, we advise them to go to God. We tell them to pray, to wait on God, to worship him or serve him. If we suspect that they have brought the trouble on themselves we may suggest that they humble themselves before God, examine their ways, and generally portray the situation as the person in trouble needing to do things to get God’s favour. The psalmist doesn’t. He asks God to come to him. Throughout the Bible this is what happened. God came to Abraham, to Moses, to the disciples, to Matthew, to Paul. He is portrayed as a God who “breaks in” to people’s everyday lives and he comes in grace to help, to heal, to redeem and to save.

Do the same. Ask Jesus Christ to come to you whatever your dilemma might be. Trust him. Thousands do it every day.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, come to me in my distress and lift me by your grace.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, bless those families who are watching an aging relative who is approaching death. Give them understanding and patience. Prepare them for the crisis that lies ahead. Help them to be kind and supportive to each other and to trust in your mercy. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

1 Peter 2:13 – 3:7

THE GOD WHO HIDES

“Don’t hide yourself from your servant; I am in great trouble – answer me now!”

Ps 69:17 GNB

It often seems as if God IS hiding himself. When a great earthquake strikes and hundreds of lives are lost we all ask, “Where was God when this disaster happened?” When a small child gets killed by a drunk driver we again cry out “Where was God? Why isn’t he here to prevent this sort of thing?” When a person gets cancer and their life is threatened, we again wonder what has happened to this God who is supposed to do great and wonderful things. When friction in the home leads to conflict and estrangement we again feel that this is something God should sort out – but it seems as if he has left us to work it out as best we can. When a company crashes and hundreds of employees are put out of work, we feel that God has hidden himself away and left us to it.

When Jesus hung on the cross, he too felt abandoned by his Father, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” was his appeal. That incident tells us that to feel God is hiding is a common experience with which many people can identify. If you feel like this, cry out to God as well and invite him to visit you in your sense of emptiness and abandonment. Pray for him to comfort you and to set you right. Seek the companionship of Jesus himself. Try to do something that will help other people and draw you to them. Think of blessings for which to thank God and of times of joy in days gone by.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, when I feel you are hiding make your presence felt.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, another week has begun. Help me to face it with zest and enthusiasm. Fill me with energy so that I can face this week confidently and positively. Let me look for opportunities to do good and to speak words of approval and kindness to others. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

1 Peter 1:22 – 2:10

RELYING ON GOD’S LOVE

“Answer me, Lord, in the goodness of your constant love; in your great compassion turn to me”.

Ps 69:16 GNB

We live in a rough, tough world. Evil abounds and multiplies. Greed rules the financial world. The instruments of war are poised to be unleashed at a moment’s notice. Leading politicians are quietly “pulling fast ones” on unsuspecting populations. Cruelty to and abuse of children are reported on a frequent basis. Corruption abounds involving vast sums of money. And all manner of craft are whirling about in outer space. The world’s minerals are being used up at a frightening pace. Pollution is threatening health and life. Climate change is happening. Will we ever survive?

The psalmist who wrote Psalm 69 was frightened and threatened. But he knew that God was a God of love – long before Jesus came and lived out a life of love for all humanity to see.

Many people in the world today have abandoned faith in God. They assume that science is now so advanced that it can solve all problems. It is a foolish belief. Science is neutral and human beings are still sinful. A second world war and the discovery of nuclear power that can be used in weapons of mass destruction should disabuse people of any tendency to be smug in today’s world. The God of love whom the psalmist worshipped and whose protection he sought is still here, trying to keep the people of the world from destroying it.

The whole life of Jesus, his teaching, miracles, death, resurrection and ascension spell out that love today as much as at any time in the history of the world. Put your trust in the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now and always!

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, let me hold on to your love and your glory.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord enable those who are conducting Christian worship today to make it impact on people’s conscious needs. Fill them with joy. Make them overflow with hope and reach out in love to those round about them. May today’s worship give you glory. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

1 Peter 1:1–16

THE NEED TO BE SAVED

“Save me from sinking in the mud; keep me safe from my enemies ”.

Ps 69:14 GNB

We are constantly needing to be saved from some danger. Nowadays one of the major problems is the hazard of having your bank account raided by some unknown person and the discovery that the bank isn’t nearly as safe as you thought. The presence all round suburbs of high fences, brick walls and electrically wired protection is a scary warning of the possibility of robbery at your home. Rumours of terrorist attacks in other countries says that “It happens everywhere. It could happen here”. The news that huge companies are suffering scams tells you that investments are unpredictable. Political upheavals are common. And somewhere someone has his finger on a button that could blow the world to pieces.

The psalmist experienced threats to his life. We think things have improved but new dangers have developed that he never dreamt of. And there are diseases, dangerous religious trends, and appalling carnage on the roads.

The psalmist appealed to God. Do the same, not in the sense of getting panicky or neurotic, but in the sense of asking God to keep you calm and sensible and to show you how to protect yourself. What precautions do you need to take? How can you reduce the threats to yourself and your family? What kind of neighbourly contacts can you initiate that will keep you “in the loop” when others are experiencing dangers and attacks?

Above all be positive and confident. Do not expect a bogy man behind every door. Renew your trust in God through prayer and meditation and remind yourself constantly that God loves you and that Christ died to save you.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, save me from all perils. Keep me constantly in your love.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray today Lord for those people facing financial difficulties. Help them to find ways to cut out unnecessary expenditure. Show them how to increase their income in honest and creative ways. Help them to see money as an area of stewardship under you. I ask in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Song of Solomon 8

TRYING TO GET AN ANSWER

“As for me, I will pray to you, Lord; answer me, God, at a time you choose. Answer me because of your great love, because you keep your promise to save”.

Ps.69:13 GNB

One of the enduring problems in the Christian faith is prayer, and more specifically, getting answers to prayer. One person says, “My prayers are always answered”. Another says, “I’ve prayed about x or y or z for years and I have received no answer. I’ve given up trying”. Then someone else says, “There’s a way to pray in order to get them answered. If you don’t follow the right technique, God can’t answer your prayers”.

Some people have a formula that they say, “works all the time”. Others draw blanks. Failure to get the answer they desired has driven some believers to abandon their faith completely, and they spend the rest of their lives claiming that they have now become atheists and that Christianity “is a load of “hooey””. Others spend the rest of their lives blaming themselves for failing to say the right words to God and wondering what “the trick” is.

The psalmist affirms his belief in God’s great love and the way to approach prayer is to understand that God is like a father. He is delighted to hear his children’s prayers. One person, himself something of a master in prayer, said, “Pray as you can and not as you can’t”. When believers pray, they must do so knowing that God often keeps people waiting a long time for the answer. So the old reply to questions about prayer is simply true: “Sometimes God says” Yes”. Sometimes he says “No” and sometimes he says, “Wait a while”.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, teach me to pray.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray today for those involved in searching for lost children. Give them tenacity and perseverance. Enable the parents to be helpful and supportive and give the searchers useful clues to follow. Open doors and throw light into dark places. I ask it in Christ’s name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Song of Solomon 6:1–7; 7

DON’T BE A MOANER!

“I am like a stranger to my relatives, like a foreigner to my family”. Ps 69:8 GNB

Life is not only difficult. It can be wretched as well. It was for the psalmist who wrote Psalm 69. He was in trouble “up to his eyeballs”. He deserved some of the trouble, but not all of it. Along the way he had picked up some enemies. Lots of them. He committed some sins. He also did some foolish things and, in the process, became withdrawn and reclusive. He regretted many of the things he had done but thought he was being punished more than he deserved.

Illness and trouble can make a person feel unjustly hard done by.

They can also make a person miserable. They make you feel that life is unfair and that you are being picked on. People do not want to talk with you and do not want to hear your constant complaints or to agree with you that you are having a hard time. They think you deserve it and they opt rather to relate to people who are happier and more positive. The psalmist’s family were keeping him at arm’s length. They had better things to do than listen to his moans. He thought they should have been more sym- pathetic. His whole attitude – and theirs – set up barriers and they became alienated.

Christian believers, even under adverse circumstances, try to be cheerful. They always remember that Jesus suffered for them and seek to replicate his courage and positive attitude. They repeat Paul’s claim to the Christians at Philippi when he said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil 4:12 NIV) .

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, keep me from becoming a moaner.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray today Lord for members of the police force and especially for those who have to go into dangerous places. Protect and shield them and bring them safely home to their families. Give them courage and enable them to endure hardship. I ask it in the name of Jesus. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Song of Solomon 5