A Word of Hope
A word of Hope
Psalm 51, Jeremiah 31:31-34
We have two wonderful pieces of scripture today from the Old Testament.
And based on what they say, I want to do three things this morning.
•First to give you something of the story behind each one
•Second, to focus on what they say about how God speaks to us today – and specifically speaks to you and to me.
•Third, to talk about how we, here in this church, want to support everyone - through the Prayer Ministry team - to hear God.
Starting with Psalm 51. The book of psalms is rather like an ancient hymn book, many of the words have been put to music, in whole in part, over the centuries, and continue to be re-worked today.
The collection is believed to have been assembled under David, who we also think contributed to or wrote many of them.
This David is the same young boy who killed the giant warrior Goliath with a slingshot and helped save his country from being over-run. He was made king of Israel at a very young age. All this happened in around 1000BC.
Psalm 51 is one of my favourite psalms, because it reveals so much about the closeness David felt to the Father God, and the honesty with which he was able to approach Him. It also has a wonderful rhythm to it.
The story that lies behind this psalm it is the story of David and Bathsheba, told in the book of 2 Samuel, Chapters 11 and 12.
In Chapter 11, this young king is out on the roof of the palace and spots a beautiful woman bathing.
I can only assume that with the vantage point he had, he was able to see where and what no one expected him to see.
David had this beautiful woman, who happened to be married to one of his senior army officers, brought to the palace.
The two of them became intimate and she fell pregnant.
We have no idea if that was a one night stand or something more involved than that, but it happened.
In Chapter 12, we read that the "Lord sent Nathan [the prophet] to David”. Nathan was very well known and respected by David.
Much earlier, in Chapter 7, Nathan had come to David with many words from God about the great future of his family [his line] and a reminder of how the Lord had plucked David from tending sheep to the role of King. Last time we saw Nathan, it was when he bore great news and spoke great blessing into David’s life as a young king.
This time, Nathan had come with a very harsh word from the Lord. He made it clear that God knew of his infidelity. In speaking to David through a parable, a picture, of a similar breach of trust, which David was outraged by, Nathan then held up the mirror to David himself and his actions.
Nathan spoke of calamity that would fall on him, of struggles within the family, and of the death of the child that Bathsheba was now carrying.
David had fallen away of God’s blessing and protection.
So what was the point of God speaking to David through Nathan if just calamity was to follow?
The fact is that when God says to someone that because of so and so, there are going to be consequences, God’s clear hope is that his intervention is sought, that a turn-around is made, and that the path to destruction is avoided.
Psalm 51 is David’s response. He gets on his knees.
What would your response have been, in David’s shoes? Send Nathan away? Tell him he’s got the wrong man? Tell him it’s all sorted. Tell him you don’t care?
It takes a lot of courage for us to face the light, to be willing to be criticized, to go and say sorry. It takes a lot of courage for people near to us to tell us what we need to hear.
The spotlight came on David’s behaviour. David acknowledged the reprimand from someone he trusted. He got down on his knees and cried out Psalm 51. He asked for forgiveness and he asked for restoration.
Many of David’s actions still drove consequences, but in the end, he married Bathsheba he had another child with her, and it was that child, amongst quite a number that he had fathered, who became the next king. King Solomon. One of the greatest and wisest that ever lived.
David heard God’s voice through the prophet Nathan, and because he responded, because he repented, the path of destruction was mitigated. All could not be fixed, but amends could be made. And David was able to step back into God’s anointing.
In the Jeremiah passage, the prophet foretells a time when God’s people will really know God. "From the least of them to the greatest”. He says He will make a new covenant. It is a time we are in now.
Jeremiah lived and spoke in a time when pretty much the entire people of Israel has rejected God. The nation has been overrun by successive neighbouring kingdoms, including that of Nebuchadnezzar, when this was spoken.
Jeremiah’s words were for a time, long in the future, and prophesied of the time of a transformation in the nature of man’s relationship with God under and new covenant, when Jesus has opened the heavens.
In David’s time, the people rarely heard from God directly. The priests and the prophets were the ones that did.
It was only after Jesus came that the relationship changed, that we became able to approach him directly with the expectation that he might answer us, through his Holy Spirit.
And with the arrival of the Holy Spirit, came gifts of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12 - "And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues”.
We still have prophets, those that have a very special gift, but we have the everyday miraculous too, and the day to day wisdom of God there for the asking.
I am 100% sure that if we’re willing to listen, God has something to say to every one of us individually today; something too to say to us as a church, as a community, and as a nation.
God delights when we ask him to speak. When we reach out. When we seek his advice. When we seek his direction.
He does not play games with us when we are honest with him and ourselves. He is the best parent one could ever have.
So I have a question for you today. If I told you there was a prophet in the church this morning, a Jeremiah, or a Miriam, would you want to hear from them?
Are you open to hear his chastisement as well as his promise?
We fear chastisement don’t we? And we often shy from it despite the liberty that might come from its exposure.
Behind both of the passages today is brokenness. There is often brokenness before hope. In Jeremiah’s case, a nation had been generationally rejecting God and his laws. God allowed his people to be over-run. But in their brokenness he offered hope and told them that he would rebuild the nation.
In David’s case, God’s words exposed terrible sin. David had taken another man’s wife, pushed the husband into grave danger and destruction, and all for self-gratification. He was the King. Thankfully, David responded to the call to repentance.
We can ask God to speak to us directly, and he will.
So how does he speak?
- he speaks through conviction – we just get a very strong sense and to what we should or should not do. Sometimes this is just our own good sense speaking to us, but sometimes there is a spiritual conviction that we might not be able to explain with just logic or "common sense”
- he speaks through things we read, we see, conversations we have
- he also speaks through other people
What does he say?
He says all sorts of things
- sometimes we can sense very specific guidance
- sometimes we can be overcome with emotion on something
- sometimes we can hear a word, or a phrase
- sometimes a passage of scripture will come directly to mind
- sometimes he says nothing because actually, we should be making our own mind up over something
And we should want to develop the ability - both individually and as a whole church - to hear God.
Today, in our main service, we are going to be commissioning a new prayer ministry team. The team has been through a formal training programme all about listening to God, coming alongside people, and how to pray with and for people in a way helps people receive from him.
After every 10:45 service at St Mary’s we have at least two people who are ready to sit, talk, and pray for or with anyone that would welcome that. It’s something that we have been doing for more than a year now. For us as a leadership team, we want to make sure anything that we do is done to the best of our ability, and the training is part of that.
Sometimes you may want to sit and talk to someone because you need to talk.
Sometimes you will want to invite God into a situation.
Sometimes you will want to hear from God on a particular issue.
We have sought to put in place a structure where those that you go to can be trusted and can support you.
Much of the focus of the course that we, the ministry team, have been on has been about learning how to listen to God.
Learning to converse with God the father has similarities to any other conversation we might have.
When we have a conversation with someone next to us, when we say something, we look at the expressions on their face, we sense their breathing, their reaction, and depending on our state of mind, we really listen to what they have to say… or we get distracted. It’s much the same with Jesus, but we have to learn how to converse, because he is not quite with us in the same way as someone sitting next to us might be.
But when you really sit quietly, and speak to him, you are very likely to hear something back, and if not then, then in the moments or hours that follow you committing something to him.
Sometimes you will detect your own mind arguing with yourself, but you will learn to hear his voice and sense what he is saying to you.
Sometimes, a thought will totally grip you. There will be a conviction that you cannot shake off. Ask God to reassure you that this is him and not your own response, and he will.
Sometimes, you might feel really uncomfortable as you chew over something, and it may be that God is highlighting something that you need to deal with. To confess or address.
In this day and age, it is so difficult to be quiet. To not look at messages on an email or a phone. To not look at images or read news. But try, try to find moments of quiet.
A month or so ago, we had a time of reflection organized in the church following the death of a young man, Sam West.
Phones were off. People stopped. We all called out to God. And I do believe God met all of us there in our grief. In the silence, he touched with his healing balm and he gave comfort.
It seems to take a dramatic event these days for us to stop and for us to pause. We need to do it more. We need to hear what he has to say.
Psalm 51 is a calling out of someone who is in sin, who felt wretched for what he had done. But there are other psalms that we can pick up and meditate on when we have our own feelings of despair, or of thankfulness. I urge you to make time to sit with them, try and find times when you can sit with your Maker and know his presence and his love for you.
We are approaching Easter. The challenge of Easter is of honesty. We need to honestly measure ourselves against God’s standard. We all fall short. We all need to recognize that. We all need to confess it.
But in that confession we need to receive forgiveness and we need to walk out with the hope of David, that we are re-united with his Spirit, and we have his presence with us again. With reconciliation we can walk out in freedom and new life. Not all will be fixed but renewal, hope and love can grow.
If it is helpful, then there are people willing to sit with you after the service in the Bedgebury Chapel. They are there to help you listen for God’s voice. They are practiced in listening to you, and to the Lord, and they may find that as they pray for you, something is put on their heart or mind to give to you.If they do, and they are sure it is right, they will share this. It may be that you hear directly from God, in one of the ways that I mentioned – through impression, through picture, through specific word, through conviction. If that happens, hold onto it and weigh it.
God speaks today to you and to me. Be ready to hear, be ready to receive, we have a Father who wants to give and give generously, who is wise and has our best at heart.
Going deeper as a group
How do you feel about the suggestion that 'God has something to say to you today'?
What is your experience of hearing God's voice?
Read Psalm 51. Knowing the context, what strikes you about the Psalm? Where is God speaking to you through its words?
How do you feel about the possibility that God might speak a word of chastisement to you sometimes? If you have ever had that experience? How did you respond? If not, how might you respond?'
How could you listen more carefully for God's voice in your own life?
Going deeper as an individual
Read Psalm 51. Dwell on it. Acknowledge where you have fallen short, where you have done things that were wrong and perhaps where you have just failed to do the right things. Ask God to forgive you for that, and to renew your spirit.
It is not always easy to recognise God’s voice. It happens to the best of his people. Read 1 Samuel 3. Ask God to speak to you and pray with the young boy Samuel - 'Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.' Listen for God's word to you.