读经：诗103:1-12 林后1:1-11 代下26:1-28:27
God’s Benefit Package
I recently rediscovered one of my prayer diaries, in which I recorded some of my early experiences of answered prayer.
On 26 September 1976 I wrote about a prayer for my mother: ‘Prayed for the Lord to heal her insomnia.’ (I did not tell her I was praying for her.) Exactly three months later, on 26 December 1976, I wrote that my mother ‘says she has slept better in the last few weeks than for four years and it is no longer a problem’.
Of course, it is not possible to prove Christianity on the basis of answers to prayer, because cynics can always explain them away as coincidence. But as former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple said, ‘When I pray coincidences happen, when I don’t they don’t.’ The cumulative effect of answered prayer is to reinforce our faith in God.
For the last twenty years, I have written by the New Testament passage for today some of my prayers for the year ahead. It is amazing to think back and remember the ways in which God has answered so many of these prayers. I find it so easy to forget all the answers to prayer. It is so easy to forget blessings.
David reminds himself in the psalm for today not to forget ‘all his benefits’ (Psalm 103:2). Many are conscious of the ‘benefits’ they can receive associated with their employment even from the state. But what about the ‘benefits’ that we receive from our loving heavenly Father?
1. Remember and thank God for all his benefits
Psalm 103:1-12There is so much to praise God for. David appears almost to be speaking to himself and urging himself on: ‘O my soul, bless God, from head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name! O my soul, bless God, don’t forget a single blessing!’ (vv.1–2, MSG).
David had clearly faced many troubles in his life: sin, disease and ‘the pit’ (vv.3–4). Yet he, like the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 1:3), begins with praise for some of God’s benefits.
God forgives all your sins (v.3): ‘he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities’ (v.10); ‘as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (v.12).
God ‘heals all your diseases’. One day we will be completely healed. In the meantime, God has put in our bodies the immune system, the phenomenon of antibodies and the mending process. In addition, he sometimes heals us directly and supernaturally.
God ‘redeems your life from the pit’ (v.4). There is no pit so deep that God’s redemption cannot reach.
He crowns you with love and compassion (v.4b): ‘for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him’ (v.11).
He ‘satisfies your desires with good things’ (v.5a).
I praise you, Lord, for all your benefits… ‘Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name’ (v.1).
2. See his benefits even in the midst of suffering
2 Corinthians 1:1-11Have you suffered loss or bereavement? Are you facing some health issue? Are you under great pressure in your finances or some other area of your life? Are you being opposed or criticised? Are you in a time of difficulty, disappointment or hardships?
Paul was the founding pastor of the Corinthian church. In this, his most personal letter, he reveals the heart of a leader. He reveals his feelings as a man of flesh and blood who knows what it is to go through trouble (v.4), sufferings (vv.5–8), distress (v.6), hardship (v.8), pressure (v.8) – the word Paul used means to be pushed down under great weight.
He had been in despair (v.8), he had felt ‘the sentence of death’ (v.9), he had faced ‘deadly peril’ (v.10). As well as physical persecution, he had faced criticism, ridicule, sickness, depression, bereavement, injustice, disappointments, temptations and difficult personal relationships.
Sir Winston Churchill said, ‘The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.’ By this definition Paul was definitely an optimist!
He starts the letter with praise – not for the problems but for the positive benefits that have come through them. What are these benefits? How can you and I see the benefits in every difficulty?
- You will be comforted
‘The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles’ (vv.3–4). The word for comfort means to encourage, cheer and come alongside. He is the ‘Father of compassion’ (v.3). He is not aloof from suffering. He comes alongside us and suffers with us. His Holy Spirit is ‘the Comforter’ (John 14:26, AMP).
- You will be a help to others
If you are in a time of suffering right now it may not seem much comfort – but one day you will bring great comfort to other people: ‘He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us’ (2 Corinthians 1:4, MSG). Those who have faced difficulty in life make the most effective ministers.
- You will be changed
Hardship ‘produces in you patient endurance’ (v.6). Like gold refined by fire or a vine pruned to produce more fruit, difficulties lead to patience, endurance, steadfastness and perseverance. They lead to character transformation.
- You will not be alone
Paul writes, ‘Just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort’ (v.7). The word he uses for ‘share’ comes from the Greek word koinonia, which is the word used to describe the closest possible relationship. In times of difficulty we should experience an extraordinary closeness of relationship as we comfort and encourage one another, ‘Your hard times are also our hard times’ (v.7, MSG).
- You will learn to trust God
When things go well it is easy to become self-reliant. But when everything goes wrong and we reach the end of our tether, we are forced to trust God. As Paul puts it, ‘Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally’ (v.9, MSG).
As Oswald Chambers wrote, ‘God expects His children to be so confident in Him that in any crisis they are the ones who are reliable.’
- You will be rescued
Paul writes, ‘He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us’ (v.10). As we look back and see that God has delivered us in the past, we can be confident he will deliver us in the future.
- Your prayers will help others
Prayer is powerful. God really does answer prayer. One of the best ways we can help other people is by praying for them: ‘As you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many’ (v.11). When your prayers are answered God will be glorified.
Lord, thank you that there is a reason that you allow us to go through trials and troubles. Help us to see the benefits in every difficulty. May we experience your comfort and learn to rely not on ourselves but on you. Lord, I cry out to you for help…
3. Don’t let his benefits make you proud
2 Chronicles 26:1-28:27Times when things are going well can be as much a test upon our faith as the times when they are not going well. Abraham Lincoln, who as President of the USA knew all about power, said, ‘Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.’
Uzziah started so well. He became king aged only sixteen (v.1). ‘He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord’ (v.4). He ‘was a loyal seeker after God’ (v.5a, MSG). ‘As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success’ (v.5b). ‘God helped him’ (v.7). He became famous and he became quite powerful (v.8). ‘Everything seemed to go his way’ (v.15, MSG).
While he was seeking God, God was answering his prayers, helping him and giving him success.
However, it all went horribly wrong when ‘he became powerful’ (v.15c). Fame, success and power are intoxicating. They carry with them the dangers of pride and arrogance.
This is a warning. If things go well, do not become proud. Keep trusting and obeying God.
Lord, help me to keep praising you, relying on you and seeking you all my life.
2 Corinthians 1:3–4
‘The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.’
Sadly we are not spared troubles in this life, but we do have a compassionate Father who is the God of all comfort, not just some comfort, who will comfort us in every single trouble that we face.