What's your five year plan?
Do you know what is going to happen today, tomorrow, next week, next year? We might know what we expect to be doing. But that’s the problem. Things don’t always go as we expect.
Jesus told a story about a man who had his future mapped out. He looked forward to making a lot of money and then enjoying many years of leisure. His plans were to “eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). That’s where this popular phrase comes from!
Then came the punchline: that man was going to die that night. Jesus wanted people to understand that there is more to life than possessions.
Jesus knew his own future. He would die young in terrible circumstances. He had read Bible prophecies about what would happen to him. You’d think that would make him avoid the events that led up to his death. Instead, he tried to prepare his disciples for what lay ahead. “…we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spat upon. And after flogging him they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise”. (Luke 18:31-33). But they didn’t understand. They blocked it out and behaved as if he would always be there beside them.
We can try and hide from the future by keeping our heads down and occupying ourselves with everyday things. But if we care to look further at what Jesus taught, the rewards are amazing. We don’t need a five-year-plan to look forward to the Kingdom of God on earth.
All quotes from the ESV Bible
I'm sure you've caught yourself saying 'I need more time' or 'time is of the essence'. When the clocks change at the end of October, we 'gain' a whole hour! How do we spend that extra time gained - doing all those jobs we don't normally have time for? An extra hour in bed perhaps? Do you feel you've made the most of the extra hour?
We know from the global pandemic that we don't know what the future holds, not even tomorrow. The Bible agrees with this concept of taking one day at a time also. Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”
What will happen in the next hour? Day? Week? Month? Or even year? These thoughts can sometimes turn into worries or concerns for us.
But if we turn to the Bible, we are told in Matthew 6:31 - 34, "Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and our heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
If we put God first, and follow his teachings in the Bible, then we should have confidence that God will provide for us in times of both need and anxiety. It can even give us a 'purpose' for that extra hour in October.
All quotes from the ESV Bible
Don't you see?
Different people learn in different ways. Many of us need something visual to help us understand.
There was once a particular group of people who struggled to get what the teacher was saying, but he was a patient man. He realised that they needed to be shown.
We forgot the bread!
The disciples of Jesus had not taken enough bread with them for their journey. This worried them, but Jesus was teaching them something. “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?”, he asked. (Mark 8:18). Sometimes they forgot the amazing things he had shown them. He had fed 4,000 people from an impossibly limited resource and they had enjoyed a free meal. For many, that was all. They hadn’t really listened to his teaching and now his own disciples were behaving like that too. Jesus simply wanted them to focus on his message.
Do you see anything?
They reached a village and a blind man was brought to Jesus. He led him out of the village, spat on his eyes and laid his hands on him. “Do you see anything?”, he asked. “I can see a bit”, was the response. The figures he could see walking around looked more like trees than people. Jesus laid his hands on him again, and he could see clearly.
Why did Jesus do it like that? He could easily have healed him with one word or touch. “Having eyes do you not see…?” He was showing his disciples that it can take time to see clearly.
Don’t give up!
Jesus never gave up on his disciples when they were slow to learn, and he won’t give up on us either. Don’t be put off if the Bible seems complex. Like the disciples, we can learn if we persevere. It is the message God wants us to read, so that we can be ready for the things He has planned for the earth. Now that will be worth seeing!
All quotes from the ESV Bible
Can faith make you well?
The man was desperate. His only child lay dying. Hearing that a man who was able to heal all sorts of diseases was in town, he ran out of the house to find him. It wasn’t difficult – he was the one surrounded by crowds of people. Pushing his way to the centre, he begged him to help.
They were heading for his house when Jesus stopped. “Who touched me?”, he asked. His friends were amazed that he would ask that, when so many people were pushing to get close to him! Perhaps the sick child’s father felt even more anxious, “Hurry, hurry!” But Jesus was determined to identify the person who had touched him. Suddenly a woman stumbled out of the crowd, falling down on the ground in front of them. She’d had an embarrassing complaint, loss of blood that had plagued her for twelve years, and now she was explaining how she had been healed by touching the hem of the Jesus’ robe. Maybe the anxious father was desperate to get Jesus to his house, but maybe hearing this woman’s story gave him courage.
Jesus spoke kindly to the woman, “Your faith has made you well!”. Now they could continue on their way.
Luke chapter 8:40 – 56 tells us what happened. The child had actually died when Jesus got there, but he could still heal her. Soon the thankful parents were rejoicing to see their daughter alive and well.
No wonder the man, Jairus, was anxious. We don’t expect anyone to recover from death!
Jesus himself was betrayed and executed as a criminal. It broke the hearts of those who were close to him. They had seen him raise people from the dead, but now he had gone.
Yet he had told them this would happen. They hadn’t wanted to believe it. He had also told them that after 3 days he would rise from the dead – and it happened! Jairus’ daughter didn’t live forever after she was healed, but Jesus would not die again.
Jesus wasn’t just a healer. He taught people how they should live, and he promised that death would not be the end for those who lived by the word he spoke. There were those before the time of Jesus who understood that God was going to send a Saviour to the earth. Some of them are mentioned in the book of Hebrews. “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised…” (Hebrews 11:13). The return of Jesus could happen at any time, but it won’t matter if we die first. Dying in faith means that God will remember us and we can be confident that Jesus will raise us from death when he comes. Our faith can make us well!
All quotes from the ESV Bible
Is Life Unfair?
There was a man who seemed to have everything. Then suddenly he lost it all. His wealth was taken from him, his children were killed in a freak accident and finally he was struck by a disfiguring skin disease. As he sat there, stunned and grief-stricken, his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” His reply was surprising: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”
The man was called Job and we can find his book in the middle of the Old Testament of the Bible. His suffering continued for most of the book, with three of his friends supposedly coming to comfort him, but instead trying to work out what terrible thing he had done to merit such punishment.
Job knew he wasn’t faultless, but he also knew that he had been doing his best to be upright and blameless before God. His friends tried to guess what terrible things he might have done, and became increasingly frustrated by Job’s insistence that he had never done any of them. To them, bad things only happened to people who deserved it.
In your experience, is this true?
People speak of “karma”, the idea that events in our lives are directly related to our actions. The Bible doesn’t teach this. Our lives have ups and downs and some people seem to have more “downs” than others. We might wonder why some people enjoy life while others suffer.
Jesus explained to his disciples that those who make an outward show of being good people are getting it wrong. If somebody is kind and giving in secret, God sees. Those who are ostentatious about their giving “have received their reward” (Matthew ch 6:2). They need not expect any more, because they have chosen to reward themselves instead of waiting for God to do it.
A greater reward
Jesus taught about a much greater reward than anything we will receive in this life. What happens to us now is temporary. When the Lord Jesus returns and raises the dead, he will reward people according to God’s view of them. Not only can He see what we do, but why we do it.
Job went through a terrible time, but ultimately God rewarded him for his steadfastness, and his friends realised they had been wrong. His story is there to show us that God is “compassionate and merciful” (James ch 5:11).
All quotes from ESV Bible
Being a leader isn’t easy. Just one wrong move and a lot of people are affected. Leading by example is fine if it’s a good example!
The Bible character David was a good leader. He wasn’t afraid to go against public opinion when it was the right thing to do. At one point he was living as an outlaw because King Saul wanted him dead. He and his men were hiding in a cave when Saul came in to relieve himself. It would have been so easy to finish him off right there… that’s what David’s men thought as they hid around the sides of the cave. They were amazed when David quietly cut off the edge of Saul’s robe, but that was all! (You can read the full story in 1 Samuel chapter 24).
God would deal with Saul when the time was right. Maybe David’s men thought he’d made a big mistake, but that didn’t make any difference.
In fact, God chooses who is to lead every nation on earth, and David understood that. Some leaders appear to be better than others, but they all have a role to play in God’s plan, or they wouldn’t be there. When their time is up, God removes them.
The leader the world needs is Jesus Christ. When the time is right, God will make it happen, just as he made David king when Saul’s reign came abruptly to an end in battle.
Daniel ch 4 v 25 puts it like this: “…The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”
All quotes from ESV Bible
Is it too late to save the world?
In February 2021, Sir David Attenborough told the UN Security Council, "There is no going back - no matter what we do now, it's too late to avoid climate change and the poorest, the most vulnerable, those with the least security, are now certain to suffer."
This makes the future seem very bleak. Whatever we think about climate change, there is no doubt that there are many problems that appear to have no solution. How do you deal with that?
Some people focus on keeping occupied so that things that are beyond their control are not allowed to take up space in their minds. Others feel so low that they have no motivation to do anything. Then there are those who put their energies into trying to improve the situation.
There is a fourth option. Sir David Attenborough is speaking from the viewpoint of someone who assumes the world will continue as it is now, albeit with some deterioration. The apostle Peter wrote about this idea, “… all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation”. (2 Peter 3 v4)
Does God care?
The fact is, things haven’t continued as they were from the beginning, and Peter points this out in the next verses. God is still very much involved with His creation. He has not abandoned it, and He has plans for the earth.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah put it like this: “For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the LORD, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45 v18)
The big picture
When we can’t see the big picture, it is easy to be shaken by the destruction we see in the earth. What we don’t see is God preparing for change. “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45 v 22)
The fourth option is to believe that God will not allow man to destroy the earth. He has promised: “...For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water” (Isaiah 35:6-7). There is no going back, but there is definitely a future.
All quotes from ESV Bible
Can the world be reset?
Have you ever wanted to just erase the past 24 hours? Perhaps you wish you could go back to the moment before you said or did something. We all feel like that sometimes.
Think back over the last 12 months. With hindsight, political leaders would probably have done things differently. None of us could have predicted how the COVID-19 crisis would unfold.
The fact is, we can’t erase the past. We can only try to do things better in the future. This is the thinking behind the World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset Initiative”. The idea is to have a more uniform approach to the pressures and uncertainties of life, building “a new social contract”.
Has this ever been tried before?
Actually, yes. The difference was that it was not a group of nations trying to work together. God reset the whole world, and the account is given to us right back in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6 v 5). The result was that the whole earth was flooded, and only 8 people, the man Noah and his family, were saved.
Jesus referred to this when telling his disciples about the future: “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark…” (Matthew 24: 37 & 38).
“You do not know on what day your Lord is coming”
Jesus said that we need to be looking for him now. In Matthew chapter 25, he gives various examples of people who are prepared … or not!
Jesus spoke of it being like a burglary. If the householder had known the burglar was coming, he would have been ready. Yet the return of Jesus to set up God’s Kingdom will be a good thing.
What will this “reset” be like?
The World Economic Forum wants to address the problems of “inconsistencies, inadequacies and contradictions of multiple systems”. Jesus will do this. Does that seem too good to be true? The Bible says it will be better than we can possibly imagine!
Photo by Evangeline Shaw on Unsplash
Can’t Someone Else Do It?
Can’t Someone Else Do It?
How often are you asked to do something that just seems too difficult? Perhaps it needs expertise that you feel you don’t have.
Picture this: a man who is used to the quiet life is asked to become leader of a very motley crew of people. They are not very organised, because they are not used to making their own decisions. He is understandably rather taken aback. “They won’t listen to me”, was his first excuse. When that proved to be a weak argument, he tried, “I’m no good at talking to people”. So he was given an assistant to do the talking. But he still really didn’t want to do it! His final attempt to get out of it was “Can’t you send someone else?”
The man was Moses, and we can read about him in the Bible books of Exodus and Numbers. It’s fascinating to see how he develops and becomes more and more capable as events unfold. He became one of the greatest leaders of all time, almost unrecognisable from the man who felt overwhelmed when he was first approached about the job.
The meekest man on earth
Yet he didn’t become self-important. He is described as “very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth” (Numbers ch 12:3).
The truth is that God can work with anyone. We don’t have to be particularly talented, strong or charismatic. There were probably plenty like that who could have been chosen to lead God’s people, but He chose Moses. The important thing for Moses was that he learned to trust that God could provide what was needed.
When life becomes overwhelming, it can help to remember this. The New Testament teaches exactly the same thing. The apostle Paul wrote: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. (Philippians 4:13) We might never be asked to do anything as extreme as leading a whole nation of people, but in our own daily lives we will come across challenges. Having faith in God can give us courage to do things that we would not otherwise attempt.
How do I get that faith?
“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
We are only asked to listen to the word that God has given us. It will teach us everything we need to know. A good start is an organised approach to reading the Bible, so that we get a good overview of its contents. There are various Reading planners available to help with that, or Distance Learning courses which focus on navigating around the Bible and seeing how it all connects together. It’s something only you can do!
All quotes from NKJV
A Fresh Start
January is traditionally a time for looking back and looking forward.
Why look back? Many people would prefer to forget 2020, because so many plans had to be scrapped in the face of the Covid pandemic. Yet that was not the only thing that happened in 2020. Babies were born, hostages were released, and Africa was declared free from polio… there was still some good news!
Sometimes we look back at happy memories and celebrate them, for example on anniversaries and birthdays. But a particular date might bring back very sad memories.
If we brood over the bad things that have happened to us, it makes our lives very dark.
Joshua was a Bible character who was given a huge task, that of leading God’s people into the Promised Land. He took over from the prophet Moses. God said, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise…” The focus was very much on looking forward. God made it clear that Joshua would not be facing this task alone. “Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go”. (You can read the full details in Joshua chapter 1.)
Joshua would never forget what he had learned from Moses. He could look back and see how God had cared for His people in the past. This gave him confidence to move forward.
Most of us have good and bad memories, but sometimes the bad ones seem to overshadow the good. If we trust in God, He will be with us wherever we go, no matter what 2021 brings. He knows about our fears and worries, and He can bring us to the kingdom He has promised. Jesus is going to reign over the whole earth from the same Promised Land where Joshua led his people.
So we can look forward to the future without fear – “…If God is for us, who can be against us?”
(Romans 8 v 31).
All Bible quotations from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise stated.