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Trust in the Lord
One of the biggest obstacles to faith is the suffering of the innocent. It is usually one of the first questions raised in an Alpha small group: ‘If there is a God who loves us, how come there is so much suffering in the world? How come there is such injustice and oppression? Why are there so many disasters and such turmoil in the world? Why is there so much evil?’
There are no easy answers. However, these are not new questions. Faith involves trusting in the Lord. The people of God in the Bible looked out on a world of suffering. But they trusted in the Lord despite what they saw. The passages for today teach us something about trusting in the Lord in spite of these circumstances.
1. Trust in the Lord in the midst of injustice and oppressionPsalm 82:1-8
How do we respond to all the injustice in the world? The psalmist trusts that ultimately God will put things right: ‘You’ve got the whole world in your hands!’ (v.8b, MSG).
It is a great blessing to live under a good system of justice. It is a terrible curse to live under corrupt and incompetent judges. But ultimately, God will call them to account.
The psalm starts with the affirmation that ‘God presides’ over all other expressions of power (‘gods’) (v.1). The psalmist trusted that God is ‘president’ – he is in ultimate control.
As The Message puts it: ‘God calls the judges into his courtroom, he puts all the judges in the dock. “Enough! You’ve corrupted justice long enough ... Ignorant judges! Head-in-the-sand judges! ... You’ve betrayed your commission and now you’re stripped of your rank, busted’ (v.1–2,5a,7, MSG).
But faith in God’s ‘presidency’ should never lead to complacency or passivity. The psalmist sees that all is not as it should be; that those in power have allowed the unjust to thrive (v.2). He is passionate to see the world changed.
The psalmist understands that the favouring of injustice is not what God desires. In the psalm it is God who addresses all in power saying, ‘Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked’ (vv.3–4).
The psalmist longs for God’s judgment, a time when things will be put right; injustice will be removed and there will be deliverance from, for example, corrupt governments. He prays: ‘Rise up, O God, judge the earth’ (v.8a).
While we too hope in God’s final judgment, we anticipate that justice by acting now on behalf of the poor and oppressed. We should raise the same challenge to those with power, ‘How long will you defend the cause of the unjust?’
Lord, thank you that you preside over this world. Thank you that one day, justice will reign. You will put things right. In the meantime, help us to act with the same compassion that you have, to defend the cause of the weak and fatherless and maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Help us to rescue the weak and the needy.
2. Trust in the Lord in the midst of disaster and turmoilActs 27:13-44
If everything is going well in our lives, it is relatively easy to trust in the Lord. However, there are times when we face major challenges to our faith. Amongst his many challenges, trials and sufferings, Paul was shipwrecked three times (2 Corinthians 11:23b–25).
In today’s passage, we read of one of these times. At first it looked as if Paul had been wrong in predicting disaster as the weather was perfect for the journey (Acts 27:13) but then a hurricane began (v.14). It must have been a terrifying experience, leading to a point when, Luke writes, ‘[they] finally gave up all hope of being saved’ (v.20).
Yet, Paul kept on trusting in the Lord, telling those on board, ‘Last night God’s angel stood at my side, an angel of this God I serve, saying to me, “Don’t give up, Paul. You’re going to stand before Caesar yet – and everyone sailing with you is also going to make it.” So, dear friends, take heart. I believe God will do exactly what he told me’ (vv.23–25, MSG).
It took this disaster for them to listen to Paul. Extraordinarily, Paul the prisoner appears to be in complete charge. He tells them, ‘you really should have listened to me back in Crete’ (v.21, MSG). He is the one who stops the sailors jumping ship (v.30). He calls everyone together and proposes breakfast (v.33). ‘He broke the bread, gave thanks to God, passed it around, and they all ate heartily’ (v.35, MSG).
This is a great example of leadership without position. The best leaders are able to lead by influence and persuasion.
The turmoil gave him an opportunity to speak about his faith. He takes the opportunity although he must have been suffering greatly from hunger and the effects of the storm.
Paul saw himself as belonging to God (‘the God whose I am’) and being his servant (‘whom I serve’). But God was not only his owner and master: Paul trusted God and had a deep assurance of his love. He knew that God wanted the very best for him, as he does for us today.
Paul assured them, ‘Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head’ (v.34). And, ‘after he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat’ (v.35).
In spite of disaster striking, God was in ultimate control: ‘The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan’ (vv.42–43a).
God gave Paul favour in the eyes of people as well as in God’s own eyes. The centurion ‘ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety’ (vv.43b–44).
Nothing could stop God from saving Paul and using him to work out his purposes and save lives.
Lord, thank you that you preside over history and over the elements. Thank you that you can protect us even when disaster strikes. When things go wrong, help us not to be afraid but rather to keep up our courage and to have faith in God.
3. Trust in the Lord in the midst of evil and distress2 Kings 18:1-19:13
It is such a relief to read, at last, about Hezekiah who ‘put his whole trust in the God of Israel. There was no king quite like him, either before or after. He held fast to God – never loosened his grip – and obeyed to the letter everything God had commanded Moses. And God, for his part, held fast to him through all his adventures’ (18:5–6, MSG).
When Hezekiah became king, one of his first actions was to destroy all the things that prevented the people from obeying God (vv.1–4). Perhaps there are things in your life which are a barrier to you obeying God. Although they may seem vital, there is nothing as vital as obedience to God. God wants to help us to obey him, just ask him and he will honour you as he honoured Hezekiah. ‘And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook’ (v.7).
In 701 BC Hezekiah faced a very powerful enemy in the form of the king of Assyria who mocked and ridiculed him. We read about these historical events not only in the Bible but also in other ancient accounts. In Sennacherib’s account of these events he writes, ‘As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke.’ He speaks arrogantly about Hezekiah being overwhelmed by ‘the terror inspiring splendour of my lordship.’
Sennacherib scorned Hezekiah’s dependence on the Lord (vv.20,22). The people are urged by the Assyrian, ‘Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, “The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” ’ (v.30). They are told, ‘Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, “The Lord will deliver us.” ’ (v.32).
Somehow Hezekiah must have won the respect of his people because they followed his instructions: ‘But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, “Do not answer him.” ’ (v.36).
In the face of his powerful enemy, Hezekiah prayed. ‘When Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord’ (19:1). A delegation went to the prophet Isaiah and told him, ‘This is what Hezekiah says: This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace … pray for the remnant that still survives’ (vv.3–4).
Isaiah’s response was, ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard’ (v.6). Not only did Hezekiah himself trust in the Lord, but he also persuaded the people to trust in the Lord.
Over the years, I have written beside this passage a list of the challenges we have faced. It is amazing to look back over the years and see the way in which God has delivered us in so many areas. Each year I try to write by this passage the challenges of the year ahead where we need to trust in the Lord.
Lord, thank you that you even preside over our enemies. Thank you that we can trust in you in all circumstances. Thank you that in the day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, however powerful our enemies are, we can trust in you.
Lord, thank you so much for the way in which you do deliver us and rescue us. As we go forward, we trust in you, we depend upon you as we face new challenges. Help us to cling to you, lean on you and never cease to follow and obey you.
Trust in God when things don’t look good:
2 Kings 18