PERSONAL TESTIMONY

“Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me”.

Ps 66:16 NIV

Time and time again in Christian communities the personal testimony of one person has had a powerful effect on the whole community. Someone tells of a prayer being answered. Someone else tells of a healing miracle they never expected. Someone else tells of employment obtained, or of a family rift healed, or the resolution of a difficult problem, or a strained relationship restored. People who hear the story find their spirits lifted, their faith deepened, and the sense of community beefed up. They think, “God is really at work here, Hallelujah”.

The early verses of Psalm 66 represent the call on the whole community to praise and thank God in corporate acts of worship. Now the writer turns and tells the community, “Let me tell you what God has done in my life”. This is far more powerful and effective than recalling the age-old stories of what God had done centuries before with their forefathers.

In the corporate worship of your Christian community, allow for and make use of people’s personal experiences of how God has acted in their lives. Such a telling often enables the Spirit to move in the body and prompts others to open themselves to what God seeks to do. One heart on fire for Christ can often set others on fire as well. And a skilled worship leader will be able to relate the theme of the worship service to the personal story of the worshippers. He, or she, will be able to integrate people’s personal stories into prayers, and Christ will be present to speak to people’s inner hearts.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, speak to others through the personal experiences of one or more of your disciples.

REMEMBERING THE VALLEYS

“I will bring burnt-offerings to your house; I will offer you what I promised. I will give you what I said I would when I was in trouble”.

Ps 66:13, 14 GNB

Mature people soon discover that life is not one long ball. There are mountain tops and what joyous times they can be. They interpret the whole of life and we see things in large perspective when we are in the middle of an “up”. But there are lows as well and wise is the person who quickly learns that the ups and downs usually alternate, or at least balance each other. The clouds may be threatening now, but in a few months’ time they will have disappeared, and the sun will come peeping through. Then once more life will seem to be worthwhile.

The psalmist had been in a bad situation some time earlier. We do not know what form that bad patch took. Obviously in his trouble he turned and prayed to God for help and rescue. It sounds as if he tried “bargaining” with God. “Lord, if you will get this demon off my back, I will come and bring sacrifices to you, and serve you evermore”. Many people do this kind of thing. Some fulfil their promises. Plenty don’t. Some spiritual guides advise that it is not a good thing to do. But God has many ways of working and he doesn’t necessarily work in exactly the same way with everybody.

The psalmist however was true to his word. When he was again on a mountain-top he remembered the commitment he had made when he had been in the valley. Don’t be thrown by the bad times and don’t stay in the valleys. Be ready to glorify God for the whole of life.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord be with me in the highs and in the lows.

A PLACE OF ABUNDANCE

“You brought us to a place of abundance”.

Ps 66:12 NIV

Most of us are great grumblers. We complain about big things and about trivialities. And some people who appear to have “everything” can still, it seems, find grouses to outdo those of others. Often it is simply a matter of perceptions. A recent survey indicated that the perceptions of their country by people living in South Africa were hugely negative – more so than those of people in other countries of their own lands.

In this phrase the psalmist, reflecting back on the conditions their ancestors had endured in Egypt, acknowledges that, by comparison, the home they now had in Israel was a place of plenty. It is salutary. There is a phrase we sometimes use, “Be grateful for small mercies”. Indeed, and we should be even more grateful for big ones.

The apostle Paul traipsed through Syria, Turkey and Greece, bringing the gospel of Jesus and finished in prison. He wrote a number of letters from prison, one of them being what we know as his letter to the Philippians. Writing from prison he thanked the Christians there for gifts they had sent him, adding, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil 4:11,12 NIV).

The spiritual truth is that if you are grateful to God and as a Christian disciple you should be, then you will be grateful for any and every way in which God provides for you. Be grateful for your daily needs, for your health, your loved ones, your assets, your income, your church community – for everything.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for my place of abundance.

THE LONG DISTANT VIEW

“You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance”.

Ps 66:11, 12 NIV

One of the frustrations and irritations of life as a human being is that we can seldom see far ahead. Because of this we muddle along, fumbling and bumbling our way through. We wonder if we will ever get anywhere worthwhile. But we can look back and see where we have come from. And sometimes that exercise is helpful and constructive for us.

In Psalm 66 the psalmist was doing just that. The Israelites in Egypt (after Joseph had been sold into slavery) had “gone through the mill”. In their journey through the desert towards Israel they had suffered in different ways with extreme hunger and thirst. They often wondered how much more they could endure, and would they ever get to the promised land? It took them forty long, dreary and sometimes painful years. Finally, they crossed the River Jordan from the east and settled in Israel (which at the time was known as Canaan). The psalmist is saying that God foresaw that destiny for them and led them through that whole saga in their history. Whilst they often didn’t know what was happening, God was guiding them, preserving them, and leading them to a land that was pleasant and fruitful.

God can see the long distant view for us as well. He knows the way he is taking. He knows how he is going to get us to where he wants us to be. He can be trusted to sustain us, to keep us and to bring us in the end to our journey’s end.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you that you have a long-term view for me.

GOD’S TESTING

“You, God, tested us; you refined us like silver”.

Ps 66:10 NIV

A person once met a man who lived in the mountains going to cut some wood with which to repair his wagon. “I need the toughest I can get” he said, “and that kind always grows on the top of the mountain where the storms hit the hardest” (Soldier’s Armoury 1981, p75). Many people encounter hardship, suffering or deprivation and such adversity can break them. But many others find that God strengthens them and that their faith ripens when the winds of adversity blow strongly. They emerge more mature, more compassionate, and more sensitive to other people’s suffering. Some even find that their suffering becomes a gateway to achiev- ing greatness. Nelson Mandela would be many people’s example of refinement under adversity.

The psalmist saw their time in slavery in Egypt as the suffering of his fellow Israelites. Their long and difficult journey through the wilderness afterwards was as well. Taking the analogy of a metal being refined by fire, he sees the strengthening of the people emerging as a result. “A metal can be refined only if it goes through the furnace, be melted, and then be re-created in a new form. Before it entered the flames, it was, of course, a precious commodity, even though it was still mixed with dross. Yet the dross in it simply must be burned away” (G.A.F. Knight, The Psalms Vol 1, p299).

God does not call his people to a bed of roses. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Christian leader in World War II said, “When Christ calls a person, he bids him come and die” (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p7). As a Christian disciple, expect to be refined in the fires of affliction .

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to endure whatever testing you may call me to.

PRESERVATION

“Praise our God, all peoples, … he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping”.

Ps 66:8, 9 NIV

We do many things to preserve our lives. We try to eat healthy food and do sensible things. We exercise to keep fit, invest in medical aid insurance to pay for medical bills, and dress warmly in winter. We go on holidays for the sake of having a break and we keep proper hours for sleeping.

The Israelites’ story began with the call of Abraham. God said he would make them a great nation. He did. And down all the centuries he acted to preserve them both as a people and as individuals. The long 400-year enslavement in Egypt is hardly ever mentioned, but God was preserving them, and keeping alive his plan of salvation that was for them to be, eventually, a light to the Gentiles and to bearers of his truth to the world. God not only kept them alive – he kept alive their calling to be his people.

That role is still the calling of the people of God, now the Christian church. Our mission is not to look after ourselves and preserve the church. It is to spend and be spent in getting the message and mission of Christ heard and understood in all the world. We live for other people – those not part of the church. In all the ups and downs, twists and turns of the church’s two-thousand-year-long pilgrimage God has somehow recalled us to the basic task again and again when we have gone off the track. Behind all this has been God’s preserving love and kindly tolerance.

He will go on preserving until the end of time.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, keep us, as your people, within your renewing love.

SPIRITUAL WARFARE

“Let no rebels rise against him”.

Ps 66:7 GNB

One way to make sense of the chaos in the world is to recognise that there are different forces at work. This is easy to see in times of war but is probably not so obvious the rest of the time. The story of creation in Genesis chapter one of the Bible tells of how God imposed order on the primeval chaos – represented by the description of the earth being “formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep” (Gen 1:2 NIV). From that point on there is spiritual warfare through till the Book of Revelation. It is God against the forces of evil – sometimes Satan, sometimes chaos, sometimes the enemies of God, and sometimes, as in the gospels, the demons that caused illness and mental derangement. After Pentecost there were human forces ranged against the church – seeking to spread false teaching, divide the church and eventually to persecute the church. The story of Jesus stilling the storm is an instance of God again imposing order on the chaos in the world.

“In the Old Testament those nations that opposed the Israelites were the enemies of God. So were those Israelites who defiantly worshipped other gods and those who disobeyed the Ten Commandments. The words of the psalmist sound out the threat to God and to law and order of those who rebel against him.

The same spiritual warfare is present today. God is battling it out against all that is opposed to his truth, his kingly rule, his righteousness (i.e. goodness), peace, love, justice, good health and prosperity. It is there in crime, poverty, disease, bad governance, sin against God’s laws, war and irreligion. Make sure you are on his side.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, I will be on your side in the spiritual warfare of today.

HE RULES

“He rules for ever by his power, his eyes watch the nations”.

Ps 66:7 NIV

It appears to the cynically-minded that world affairs are in a state of chaos. Democratic constitutions are throwing up leaders with bizarre ideas and apparently low levels of competence. One country is accusing another of influencing the first one’s election by manipulating the social media. Millions of people in one part of the world are risking death to force themselves upon the people of other countries. Millions are starving. Others are dying from diseases caused by over-eating. Groups of countries combine together to promote their own wealth or to protect themselves from attack by others. Terrorist groups are threatening the security of just about every country in the world. Nations are erecting all manner of documentary barriers to prevent people from “abroad” getting into and settling in their countries. Nothing seems certain. Nothing seems stable. Many nations “balance their books” by incurring mind-boggling levels of debt .

To the writer of Psalm 66 the world of two-and a half thousand years ago was a dangerous place. But it was far less dangerous than it would otherwise have been because he knew that God ruled it. Somewhere in the chaos he saw the hope of order, peace, and justice. Dangerous it might have been, but it was not out of control. Here and there, edging nations, kings and emperors to good decisions, was the sovereign Lord God Almighty. Quietly watching the nations in their inter-national pushing and shoving was a God who was holy, righteous, powerful and loving.

Do not despair at the current mess. The same God is still here. There is hope. There is progress. From time to time peace breaks out. But you need faith. Masses of it. Like the psalmist.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, exert your truth and power in today’s world.

MIRACLE AT THE SEA

“He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot – come let us rejoice in him”.

Ps 66:6 NIV

Most countries have historical events upon which they look back and regard them as significant events which were turning points in their development. The French refer back to the storming of the Bastille on the 14th July 1789, the high point of the revolution, as their great day. The Americans regard the War of Independence as important. Some South Africans look back to the Great Trek in 1838 as their “beginning of a new dawn”, whilst others regard the first democratic election on 27th April 1994 as the great day.

For the Israelites, the exodus at the Red Sea was a miracle of God and the act of deliverance as something that began their life as a nation. For many centuries they looked back with joy, pride and gratitude to God. They still regard that event as worthy of commemoration. It not only set them free. It revealed their God to them as a miracle-working God who then journeyed with them through the wilderness and down all their subsequent history. Psalm 66 may have been written between nine hundred and a thousand years later – but it is still an event about which to rejoice. It also pointed to a God who was a God in whom they could always rejoice.

As Christians we rejoice in the birth of Jesus at Christmas and in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ as the events to celebrate. They are the foundation moments of our salvation – they bring us to the Lord who is our God and Father as well.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help us always to rejoice in you and the salvation you brought.

THE GOD WHO DOES THINGS

“Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind!”

Ps 66:5 NIV

To understand the greatness of God, Christian believers need to be aware of what other religions were about in Biblical times. Most of them created gods with mythical stories about their doings. They used images carved from wood so that the devotees could see what the god looked like. Some of the worshippers used features of nature such as the sun or a river or an animal to depict their god. Some of the images were carved from stone, others were shaped from some metal. But they were all created by human beings. They were static. They did nothing. They were just there. People prayed to them and brought sacrifices to them. But they never heard the prayers of the people.

The Israelites’ God was different. He acted. His great interven- tion at the exodus in Egypt proved he was a God who acts – for all time. They never forgot this unique fact about their God – he did things, he was a living God, a creator, a re-creator, a guide and a provider. And he loved and showed his love in the care he exercised for his people.

Christians know that his greatest act for all mankind was in sending Jesus Christ. And Jesus did things – healing people, teaching them, gathering them into a community, redeeming them and dying for them on Calvary. When he rose from the dead it was yet another mighty deed for all mankind.

He still does things – working renewal, maturity and growth in people’s lives. He brings hope where once there was despair, light to replace darkness, joy to replace sadness and sorrow and love to replace alienation.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, make me increasingly aware of your deeds.