Dr Patrick Sookhdeo
International Director, Barnabas Fund
At the beginning of 2021, we look back on a tumultuous year like no other, in which a global pandemic spread right around the planet. Praise God that vaccination seems set to bring an end to the chaos and suffering, yet vaccines will not change the history of 2020 and the damage done by a tiny virus.
Only God knows whether 2021 will be an annus mirabilis or another annus horriblis. But, whatever the circumstances, we must guard our relationship with the Lord during the coming year; we must build ourselves up in our faith (Jude 20). For there is spiritual danger both in times of ease and plenty, and in times of hardship and danger. Agur prayed:
… give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.
The same principle applies when a solution appears to a deadly disease whose containment has brought catastrophic social consequences. On one side lie the dangers for some of despair, anger towards God, loss of faith and the temptation to use sinful methods for personal survival. On the other side lie the dangers for some of arrogance, spiritual complacency and the temptation to put our trust in material things and human power instead of in our God. How then should we live? 1
1. Make God a priority
Whatever happens in 2021, we must make God a priority. We must trust Him every day and all day long. Many of us spend a little time with God in the early morning, but then we put Him aside to continue our day. How can we learn to trust Him moment by moment?
a. Live a life of desire towards God (Psalm 42:1, Psalm 27:4). Our souls must thirst and pant for Him, as we long to behold His beauty and taste His goodness. There is nothing we desire in heaven or earth more than Him, and we yearn to know Him better, love Him better, and be more conformed to His will and likeness.
Not only must we pray for this first thing in the morning but also the burning desire must remain with us throughout the day, guiding our every thought, word and action. Our desire must be like the fire that was always kept burning on the Old Testament altar (Leviticus 6:12), ready at any time for sacrifices to be offered. This is one of the main ways in which we can fulfil the Biblical command to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
b. Live a life of delight in God (Psalm 37:4, Isaiah 61:10). While we desire more and more of God and long to see Him face to face, at the same time we can already delight in Him and be satisfied with Him, finding rest in Him as our thoughts dwell on Him. We can delight in His character, His creation, His covenant, His promises, His salvation.
We should have greater pleasure in thinking about our God than a lover has in thinking about their human beloved, or a miser has in thinking about their store of gold. Turning our thoughts to God should be an antidote to any sorrow, worry or disappointment.
c. Live a life of dependence on God (Psalm 62:5-8). Waiting on God means that we look to Him for provision of all good that comes to us and for protection from all evil that threatens us. Guided and grounded in the promises given to us within His Word, we can be humbly confident, with full assurance of faith.
But what about the times when “the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food … there are no sheep in the sheepfold and no cattle in the stalls (Habakkuk 3:17) or when Covid-19 lockdown reduces our income to zero? This is when a “holy habit” of trusting God yields its most precious fruit. For it enables us to keep trusting, even in the most desperate situations, and to affirm with Job, “though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15 KJV).
d. Live a life of devotedness to God worshipping day and night with intense devotedness (Acts 26:7, Weymouth). This is the life of the devoted servant, ready at every moment to do the master’s will, or to work to advance his cause and his honour. It is “waiting on God” in the way that, many centuries ago, a lady-in-waiting would wait on the Queen she served, remaining always close at hand to her mistress, poised and ready to act. This kind of devotedness lays aside our own will and says always “Thy will be done.” We make His will our rule.
Matthew Henry wrote:
It is the character of the redeemed of the Lord, that they follow the Lamb wheresoever he goes, with an implicit faith and obedience. As the eyes of a servant are to the hand of his master, and the eyes of a maiden to the hand of her mistress, so must our eyes wait on the Lord, to what he appoints us, to take what he allots us … 2
It is the character of the redeemed of the Lord, that they follow the Lamb wheresoever he goes, with an implicit faith and obedience. As the eyes of a servant are to the hand of his master, and the eyes of a maiden to the hand of her mistress, so must our eyes wait on the Lord, to what he appoints us, to take what he allots us …
2. Accept God’s providence
We must bear whatever afflictions come our way with a trustful spirit. The deep and mysterious truth that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, KJV) is something that we must embrace with our whole being, rather than simply acknowledge with our minds.
Let us learn from Christian brothers and sisters who live with poverty and persecution how to respond to tribulations in a properly Christian way, that is, a way in which our trust in our heavenly Father remains unshaken despite our troubles.
The German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) wrote from prison in Nazi Germany, shortly before his execution:
And when the cup you give is filled
With bitter suffering, hard to understand,
We take it gladly, trusting though with trembling,
Out of so good and so beloved a hand.3
Amy Carmichael (1867-1951), a missionary from County Down (now in Northern Ireland) to India, wrote a poem about how someone might react in various ways to try to deal with a great sorrow that had come upon them, but only one way was effective – to accept the inexplicable suffering from God:
She said, “I will accept the breaking sorrow
Which God to-morrow
Will to His son explain.”
Then did the turmoil deep within him cease.
Not vain the word, not vain;
For in Acceptance lieth peace.4
When Job had lost his ten children and his vast wealth, and was covered with sores from head to foot, he refused his wife’s suggestion of cursing God, but declared, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)
As we look for the work of providence in the world around us, let us not be too preoccupied with ourselves but look outward to those around us, all of whom are created and loved by Him.
And when the cup you give is filled to brimming with bitter suffering, hard to understand, we take it gladly, trusting though with trembling, out of so good and so beloved a hand
3. Live in God’s presence
If we long to trust God fully, all day, every day, desiring Him, delighting in Him, depending on Him and devoted to Him, how can we learn to do this? How can we learn to accept both our comforts and our crosses from His hand, with an unwavering trust?
Perhaps these thoughts can help us.
a. We must trust God seven days a week. On Sundays it is easier to spend time with God, as we worship Him with others, and especially if we are able to rest from our daily work. But the spiritual resources with which we strengthen ourselves on a Sunday must help us through the next six days to continue trusting God. (2 Corinthians 3:18) In the words of Matthew Henry, “We must be so in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day as to walk in the Spirit all the week.”5
b. Whether busy or relaxing, we must remember the Lord. Even on days of frantic busyness, when our hands and minds may be fully occupied, our hearts can still be focused on Him, through a habitual concern for His glory and a habitual recognition of His providential hand at work. (Romans 12:1- 2) We must also take care, when we are relaxing, that we do not forget the Lord. (Psalm 63:6) So-called “me-time” should be “Him-time” just as much as any other time is.
c. In prosperity and in adversity alike, we trust God (Job 1:21; Philippians 4:12). When the world smiles on us, we must thank the One who has provided, and continually ask His blessing and favour, as well as His guidance, wisdom and grace to use for His glory and purposes what He has entrusted to us. When the world frowns on us, we must not fret or fear but continue to trust. We must bring our afflictions to the throne of God, asking that He will use the experience to help us mature in faith and grow in Christlikeness.
d. We must trust God in youth and in old age. No one is too young to serve the Lord. The story of attentive little Samuel, who heard the Lord’s call, is well known (Samuel 3). But elsewhere, too, the Bible commends those who are mindful of their Creator and remember Him despite the distractions of youth (Ecclesiastes 12:1). Some societies discard the elderly as useless, but in God’s economy they are as valued as ever.
When through the infirmities of age they can no longer be working servants in God’s family, they may be waiting servants … Those who have done the will of God, and their doing work is at an end, have need of patience to enable them to wait till they inherit the promise; and the nearer the happiness is which they are waiting for, the dearer should the God be they are waiting on, and hope shortly to be with, to be with eternally.6
Indeed, long years of practice should make older believers the best guides for the rest of us regarding how to wait trustingly on God. The prophetess Anna was one example (Luke 2:36) and we probably all know others. Let us ask them to teach us what they have learned.
e. We must cast our daily cares on God so that they do not distract us from trusting Him. For some of us this process will have to be repeated numerous times through the day, whether it is the same worry that comes creeping back again and again to nag away at our minds, or a plethora of fresh problems descending on us. (1 Peter 5:7)
f. We must manage our daily business for Him. Whatever our task, whoever our earthly employer, ultimately we are working for God. Remembering this moment by moment will sanctify the most ordinary actions, as we do everything as if for the Lord Jesus and in His Name. (Colossians 3:17,23). We must do everything in the strength of the Lord (Philippians 4:13).
g. We must resist our daily temptations by His grace. As long as we live on earth, sin is crouching at the door and longs to master us. The evil one will seek many times a day to trip us and trap us and we must turn every time to the Lord for His strength to resist. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
h. We must bear our daily afflictions with submission to His will. Troubles and grief are to be expected, for Jesus said that His followers must take up their cross daily (Luke 9:23), and warned that in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33), most likely including persecution (John 15:18-20). We must accept these afflictions as the will of God, and as a means to grow in grace and holiness. Perhaps we will have to remind ourselves of this truth many times a day, particularly if we wrestle with physical pain or sickness.
i. We must trust in the Lord as we consider daily news, and seek to discern His will and purposes. We must ask for His wisdom to see events in the world around us and in our own personal lives from an eternal perspective (Psalm 33:9-11). Trusting in God will mean that if our hopes are fulfilled, they will not distract us from Him. Equally, trusting Him will mean that if our hopes are deferred they will not make our hearts sick.
We must remind ourselves continually that our God is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving. Although we often do not understand His ways, we can always trust Him.
- I am greatly indebted to Matthew Henry, the Welsh Presbyterian minister and Bible scholar (1662-1714), for some of the following ideas, which are to be found in “How to spend every day with God” in The Miscellaneous Writings of the Revd. Matthew Henry, London, John McGowan, 1838, pp.155-159.
- “How to spend every day with God” in The Miscellaneous Writings of the Revd. Matthew Henry, London, John McGowan, 1838, p.155.
- From the hymn By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered translated by Fred Pratt and Keith Clements
- Amy Carmichael, Toward Jerusalem: Poems of Faith, London, SPCK, 1936, Triangle edition, 1987, pp.40-41.
- Matthew Henry, “How to spend every day with God” p.156.
- Matthew Henry, “How to spend every day with God” p.157.