Where’s your trust? (Psalm 136)

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We have to put our hope and trust in something. The question is, are you hoping in something that can’t change? Are you trusting in something that will remain the same through any storm of life?

At this uncertain time of COVID-19 and unending lockdown; we find that things we may previously have held onto, we can’t rely on any of them any more. Salaries can’t be relied on; savings can only be relied on for a short time, our health is something that could change with a trip to the shops. People who we look up to and see as strong and safe are as susceptible to be being brought down by this virus as we are. It can be a bleak picture; everything that was normal is now not allowed, and our entire world is changing before our eyes; scary indeed.

However, there is One who is not affected by all this change. He is in control of it and has the power to stop it. As we read in Psalm 136, he is above every god, lord or king in this world. 

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. 2 Give thanks to the God of gods. His faithful love endures forever. 3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords. His faithful love endures forever. 

Psalm 136 starts by reminding us who our God is and then goes on to tell of all the things he has done. When we feel surrounded by uncertainty and difficult things, we should be reminding ourselves of our God who alone does mighty miracles. 

4 Give thanks to him who alone does mighty miracles. 

Remembering his past miracles should help us to put our eyes on him who has shown his power and might through the ages. He is still the same God now as he was when he parted the sea for the Israelites and led them to safety. 

11 He brought Israel out of Egypt. His faithful love endures forever. 12 He acted with a strong hand and powerful arm. His faithful love endures forever. 13 Give thanks to him who parted the Red Sea. His faithful love endures forever. 14 He led Israel safely through, His faithful love endures forever. 

As I look to this powerful God, the beautiful truth woven through this Psalm is that he sees me and loves me with a love that is loyal, constant and dependable. This love he has for me will always be there, forever. 

Though we can’t see him, the Holy Spirit makes him alive to us as he reveals the wonders of who he is to us. Reading Psalm 136, I am convinced that I am safe in the arms of a Father who is powerful and unchanging, yet loving towards me in all he does. 

My responsibility is to thank Him because He is good to me and has shown me His faithful and enduring love. He did this by sending his son Jesus to the cross. A close relationship with him is now possible because my sin was dealt with on the cross. 

So look to Him and trust him. He is the only unchanging and stable thing you can hold onto at this time. Looking to Him is a decision you make in your heart. How do we act on this decision? We read His Word, and allow it to shape our thinking and lives. 

[Bible references are all from the NLT translation in today’s devotion]

Nadine is one of the elder’s wives at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Yahweh! (Psalm 16)

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1 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 

This Psalm starts with a request that is so relevant to our lives today. God, would you please protect or preserve me! Do this God please because I take refuge in You alone because I have made You my security!

The request reveals some underlying beliefs;

  • David believes that God is able to preserve him
  • David believes that God knows him personally
  • David believes that God is a refuge worthy of trust
  • David believes that God rewards & responds to personal faith 

What we pray reveals what we believe. Prayer is not some cosmic game of darts or insurance scheme. Prayer is personal; prayer is powerful because God is personal, and God is omnipotent.

2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” 

The HCSB translation translates vs2 in the following way; “I said to Yahweh, “You are my Lord; I have nothing good besides You.”  David uses Israel’s name for God and appeals to the personal, covenantal relationship God has established as the foundation for his appeal in prayer. He says essentially, ‘Yahweh; You are my LORD! And all the good in my life I attribute to You!’

Yahweh is the source of every good thing in our lives because He is good and because He established a gracious, loving covenant with us who believe in Him.

David declares that there is, in fact, NOTHING GOOD that is in his life that did not come from God. Or said another way, there is no good outside of God.  

This declaration takes us back to the original sin. Adam and Eve believed the enemy when He tempted them with the insidious thought that God was not good – tempting them into thinking that there was something good, something better for their lives in disobedience rather than in obedience to God’s spoken word. 

Brothers and sisters, there is never any good outside of our God. Sin promised good to Adam and Eve outside of God; sin always promises some good, some fulfilment but Scripture declares here that there is no good outside of God.

Personal reflection: 

Is there any way in which at the moment the enemy is tempting me with something which might feel or look ‘good’ but is, in fact, just you looking for good outside of God and God’s will? See it for what it is, a lie and a trap. Declare today with David that there is no good outside of God and His will for your life.

4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips. 

Since there is no good outside of God, for anyone to ‘run after’ anything other than Yahweh is futile.  

No other ‘gods’ or people or created things can deliver as they promise, can satiate our longings or be the sanctuary and refuge we need.

But note that sin isn’t just the absence of God. No sin is active; sin multiplies sorrow, and sadness! Sin results in multiplied sorrow since the good God had for you is forfeited plus, the path you chose outside of God and His revealed will for your life has no good in it anyway either (vs2). So to choose a lifestyle of sin and compromise only multiplies your sorrow and loss!

As a pastor for nearly 20yrs, I have seen the truth of this verse over and over and over again. Sin multiplies sorrow, don’t believe for a minute that you’ll be the exception.

5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. 

The better way to live is to resolve that God is our portion – He is enough for us. God ‘You hold my future’ the HCSB translation says.  

In His sovereignty and His love, God has determined the details of our lives, where we live, the arrangements of our lives (work, family, job, timing…) and contentment with that which God has ordained is good for us!

This Psalm doesn’t bluntly declare that all circumstances we encounter and endure are good or pleasant. Rather it expresses faith (‘inheritance’ is in the future), for when good can’t be seen or isn’t being experienced, God is all we need. More than that, trust is expressed here that God has our good in mind somehow in whatever we are facing in the present.

7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 

David knows what it’s like to need counsel in the night, to awake disturbed by worry but then to have God draw alongside us and settle us in our innermost being with His presence. Because God is our God, our everpresent Help in trouble, because God is always at our right hand, we can go back to sleep knowing; “I will not be shaken”!

Our fortitude is not in some stoic stand but founded on the firm foundation that God is with us always.

9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. 11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 

Exultation! Everything inside of us rejoices, peace comes upon us, because we know God is with us. We will never be abandoned even if we die. For even when we do die, God will resurrect us who have believed in Jesus to new and eternal life in God’s presence forever and ever – joy indescribable.

Personal Prayer:

Thank God that because you have believed in Jesus your eternal future is secure, that even in death you can be secure because you know that death is not a termination but a transition to eternal life with God forever and ever!

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Pour out your heart (Psalm 142)

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Sometimes we feel trapped in situations and powerless to change them like David felt when writing this Psalm (vs 7). In moments like this, it’s hard to know what our next step should be. It can be overwhelming. Perhaps you remember being in a situation like that or you might find yourself feeling like that today.

I cry out to the Lord;
I plead for the Lord’s mercy.
2 I pour out my complaints before him
and tell him all my troubles.
3 When I am overwhelmed,
you alone know the way I should turn.

Like David, telling Jesus how you’re feeling is a step in the right direction. He already knows what’s in your heart and the struggles you’re experiencing, but when we pour out our hearts to him, we are inviting him to walk with us and do it together rather than alone. It’s crucial that we acknowledge him and the fact that he knows what the way forward is. By acknowledging God we are showing him that we trust him. We are also helping ourselves by speaking truth to our troubled hearts.

5 Then I pray to you, O Lord.
I say, “You are my place of refuge.
You are all I really want in life.

Putting Christ at the centre of our lives is the best decision we could make. It’s about coming to a place where we genuinely want his input above any other in our lives. He should be the only thing that we put our hope in and the biggest desire in our life. He is the best thing for us and should be the longing of our hearts.

6 Hear my cry,
for I am very low.
Rescue me from my persecutors,
for they are too strong for me.

Once we’ve acknowledged him and invited him into our place of need and trouble, we can confidently ask him to help us and rescue us from this place where we feel stuck. He wants us to ask him. He is our Father, and he loves us with unfailing love. He also happens to be the Lord of Heaven’s armies and is powerful and able!

7 Bring me out of prison
so I can thank you.
The godly will crowd around me,
for you are good to me.”

In this Psalm, David asks God to free him from this trapped and powerless place, so that he can thank him. Let’s not forget to thank our Father when he does show us a way forward and lead us out of difficult situations. When we focus on being thankful for what he has done for us, it helps us to see life in a different light.

Lamenting before him and sharing what’s in our hearts is an important thing to do; however, we can become stuck in this mode if we don’t focus our eyes on Jesus and allow him to help us out of that place. If we are intentional about thanking him, our hearts become more focused on the wonders and goodness of knowing Jesus in our lives.

So let’s turn to him, acknowledge him, ask him and be thankful for all the goodness he brings into our lives.

[All references are from the NLT translation]

Nadine is one of the elder’s wives at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Lament: People! (Psalm 12)

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Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. 2 Everyone utters lies to his neighbour; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. 

Do you ever feel that? I mean not in a proud way, where you have convinced yourself of your goodness. But where you feel like the endless stream of bad news and news of scandals and bribery and corruption are overwhelming. Where it feels like godliness, leadership integrity has vanished, and in their place lies double talk abounds. So we can identify with David’s lament here in this Psalm, he could have written this in 2020 in South Africa. The human problem is the same in every generation – sin.

3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, 4 those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?” 

David is tired of arrogant and boastful people who deceive and manipulate with their words. His prayer is that God would remove such people!

A great friend and father in the LORD (Mike Tabraham) always speaks of how when we have a problem with someone we should ‘speak to God about them before we speak to them’,  and this is precisely what David does here.

You might not like David asking for God to ‘cut off’ people or to cut off their lips depending on how you read those verses, but it is way better taking that raw emotion to God than expressing it to others or doing something you regret later!  

Lament is an amazing gift from God. God can handle our raw emotions with their peaks and troughs and their unsanctified requests. And when we lament about people or situations, we put ourselves in the presence of our Father who can and does speak to us and help us to gain His perspective if that is indeed what we need.

5 “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the Lord; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” 

In this situation, David’s lament is echoed by God. It is not a lament God needs to re-shape in David because God shares David’s disgust. These wicked boastful deceiving people are acting unjustly towards the poor and needy. They are using their lies and influence to manipulate and oppress the poor, and God is moved to action!  

Our God is a God of justice, a defender of the marginalised and the weak. I love the phrase God speaks; “I will now arise”! and “I will place him (the poor & needy person) in the safety which for which he longs.” God’s response shows His righteous character. Our God is very good, a very present help in trouble, always there, always fighting for the weak and the oppressed.

6 The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. 7 You, O Lord, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever. 8 On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man. 

God’s response elicits praise and worship in David. God’s words are pure! There is no one like our God; David knows that God will intervene; God is good and worthy of our praise.

So, when next you are unjustly treated, or you see injustice, take your raw emotions to God in lament. God can handle your emotions, God can re-shape your thoughts, and you can know that God will act when He sees injustice!

Healing Tears (Psalm 6)

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1 O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. 

Do know that feeling? When you’ve done something deserving of punishment or someone’s anger – you deserve what is coming, and you know it. David seems to know that he has done something worthy of a rebuke.

The opening words of this lament is a frank acknowledgement that he is appealing to God asking for grace. David knows, that God never disciplines those He loves in unhinged anger, after all, then God wouldn’t be righteous or loving.

Rather, God disciplines His people because He loves us (Hebrews 12:5-11) and because of that unchangeable truth if and when God chooses to discipline us it is for our good, for our training.

The motive is not anger or frustration, and the aim is not punishment but loving training. And so, like David, when next we feel God’s discipline we don’t need to worry as His beloved children whether He is angry with us, we know the motivation for God’s actions towards us – and it is always His love.

 2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled. 

So David’s appeal is for grace. He knows that he doesn’t deserve anything; he is not standing on his rights but simply asking for grace. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve, which in this case sounds like mercy which is not getting what you do deserve!

David’s plea to God is not from a place of strength but acknowledging his weakness. He is languishing, his strength is failing him, and he has no hope of resuscitation.

Do you know that feeling? When the trouble you are in is so great that your bones feel uneasy, troubled. And so David, in addition to grace, appeals to God to heal him, to make him whole again. Only Creator God can also be re-Creator God; this hopeful desperate prayer is entirely reasonable when Almighty God is the One you’re praying to! David asks for God’s healing with confidence that radiates his belief in who God is.

 3 My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord -how long? 

The big question at this point in David’s lament is; “God you see my anguish of soul, but God You don’t seem to have done anything, haven’t responded, haven’t spoken yet – LORD how much longer will You be?”

How often isn’t our Father’s perfect & loving timetable not the same as the one we had in mind! What’s needed in moments like this is trust – when we can’t see & don’t understand. Are you in a moment like this? Does your soul echo the question of vs3? Right now is the time to trust.

4 Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. 

It’s like David is speaking to himself in between his lines of prose. He bounces back from vs3 with another faith-filled request for God to deliver him. His confident request is grounded on the certainty he has regained that God loves him in a way that is utterly steadfast and immoveable.

 5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? 

Remembering God’s love, it feels like David’s lament for grace, healing and deliverance becomes a cheeky logical prayer argument. David says to God; “Listen I’m of more use to You alive than dead! After all God; if I’m dead I won’t be able even to remember You, and if I’m dead I can’t give you praise from down there in Sheol – so you might as well save me while You still can LORD.”

God can handle it all, though! God can handle our questions, our praise, our logic and our nonsense.

 6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. 7 My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes. 

Lament is exhausting, strength-sapping. David has cried so much that his couch is drenched. The continual river of tears have left their mark on his eyes & wearied him.

 8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. 9 The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer. 10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.

Lament is replaced by confidence, David has reached the point in his lament where in his heart he knows that God has heard his cries and has accepted his prayer.

In once sense, nothing has changed, and yet nothing is the same. David is now certain that he and his God are reconciled since God has heard and accepted his request for grace & healing. And so David commands his enemies with the confidence of one who knows – God is on my side! The uncertainty of the future has become certain in an instant. No more details of the future are known, but this unshakeable truth is now certain – God is with me!

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Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.  

What are you devoted to? (Colossians 4:2)

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What are you devoted to in your life? What things are you committed and dedicated to with your time? Is it prayer?

Perhaps your life is devoted to your job; you want to be successful and do your job well. Maybe it’s your family, or your goal is to excel at a specific sport. Though none of these things is wrong, be careful of being more devoted to them than the things that will draw you closer to Jesus.

I think many people pray in times of crisis and need, even those who don’t follow Jesus. That, however, is not being devoted to prayer. Being devoted to something is committing time and energy into it; giving it a place of prominence in your life.

Prayer isn’t always easy, sometimes it can feel like hard work, but remember who you get to speak to when you pray. Because of Jesus, we get to enter the throne room of the King of kings and talk to him, who made the universe. The most amazing part is that he loves you and cares for you and wants to hear what’s in your heart. Ponder that for a moment. It is a privilege.

Along with devoting ourselves to prayer, Paul encourages the Colossians to do so with an alert mind and a thankful heart. When I was thinking about this, I realized he is saying that because we have the tendency to become dull and unaware of influences around us and we are naturally selfish.

Reading your Bible and speaking to Jesus, letting him know what’s in your heart, will make you alert and thankful because you’ll be allowing the Holy Spirit to work in your heart. It’s also important to be alert to what’s happening in the world around you and your community so that you aren’t just aware of your own life and needs. So, read the news, and you’ll have many things to pray for, that aren’t self-centred. Paul was wise in saying we should have grateful hearts when we pray because prayer is way more than coming to God with a list of requests, or even demands.

Prayer is about recognizing who He is and being in awe of that; which will produce joy and hope in our hearts. It’s about asking him for what we need and trusting that he knows what’s best for us. It’s about yielding to him and believing that he has a plan for our lives which goes beyond our understanding.

I have found that reading the Psalms has helped me in prayer. It has helped me with what words to use to praise God. God wants to hear everything that’s in your heart; the good the bad and the ugly. He isn’t shocked by your prayers of anger; he knew you were thinking like that before you spoke the words. Be open with him and ask him to change and transform you as you yield yourself to his will.

So, are you devoting yourself to prayer? If you know the answer is no, then take decisive action. Join the church prayer meetings, set time aside to speak to Jesus and get into a habit of talking to him throughout the day. He welcomes you with a big smile and arms wide open.

Nadine is one of the elder’s wives at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Reset Opportunity (Colossians 3:16-17)

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National Lockdowns and social distancing restrictions stopping churches from gathering for Sunday worship celebrations have the potential to expose & bring adjustment to some unbiblical patterns that have crept into the church of Jesus. Our passage for today says;  

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16-17)

1. Corporate not Individual Faith

In our individualistic age, we need first to remember that these words were not written to individuals. “We are writing to God’s holy people in the city of Colosse, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.” (Colossians 1:2 in NLT) Why is this important?

We live in a self-obsessed age. The ‘god’ of our age in the Western world at least – is SELF. Sadly, as believers in Jesus, we are not immune to the influence of our age.  

It is all too common to have individuals or families opting out of regular church gatherings be those physical or virtual due to lockdowns on a Sun or mid-week or for small group times of worship/prayer/God’s word/community/care.  

They do so, rationalising their choice to themselves or others even though they are in flagrant disregard to the command of Scripture not to stop meeting together as the church (Hebrews 10:25).

The problem is that the decision making GRID they are using is too individualistic and is not Biblical – ‘This doesn’t suit me, I don’t have time, I don’t need this…service/prayer meeting or small group.’  

But what is entirely missing is the biblical emphasis we see in our passage today – the very corporate nature of our faith! Biblically, we are a family, a body of believers. We are not individuals doing what serves us and suits us. We are to be those who think of others and their needs as more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4).  

In Colossians 2:19 & 3:12-17, we see radiating out of Paul’s letter his understanding of the church as a body. The church as a community of faith formed by the Gospel and deeply interconnected.  

Personal Application: 

  • How are you engaging with your local church?  
  • Are you acting like an individualistic, selfish consumer connected to your church in whatever ways you decide while it still serves your needs expectations and desires?  
  • Or are you truly there for the whole body, playing your unique part, totally committed for the sake of the whole body?  
  • I urge you even in these unique times of social distancing, to repent of self-centred thinking and to ask God to help you to make your unique contribution for the sake of those other people God’s put you into contact with through your local church community.  
  • Get into a Community Group and show up each week when it meets, spend yourself for others and watch what God will do in and through you! 
  • Show up for church mtgs, prayer times etc. and reach out to others daily.

 

2. Saturated with God’s Word (vs16)

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (vs16)

The Apostle Paul’s desire for this church in Colossae (and for all church communities) is that it be one that is saturated with the Word of God!  

As believers; we have an innate sense that reading the Bible would be good for us and would help us to grow spiritually. And although we might know that Colossians 3:16 urges us to let God’s Word dwell in us abundantly richly – the dangerous modern pattern is that we simply do not read the Bible enough!

Here are some thought-provoking statistics from LifeWay Research (@https://lifewayresearch.com):

  • 88% of Americans own a Bible, and 80% consider the Bible to be a sacred book, yet only 20% of Americans read the Bible regularly.
  • However, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible
  • Less than a quarter of those who have ever read a Bible have a systematic plan for reading the Christian scriptures each day, and a third of Americans never pick it up on their own.
  • 57% read the Bible 4 times a year or less!

We are increasingly in a pattern in the Western church at large of wanting to be spoon-fed Scripture once a week by our pastor through the preaching.  

If God’s Word were equated to the physical food necessary for nourishment for health and growth – many believers would be on a habitual hunger strike! We would be we emaciated and weak due to our eating only once a week (assuming you come to church every week & that the sermons and worship are Scripture saturated, which is a big assumption)! Is it any surprise therefore that the Western church’s spirituality is so emaciated, weak & riddled with compromise?

I unashamedly want to inspire you to hit the reset button in your life and to inspire others around you in your church to do the same. Decide today to commit yourself to a personal habit, a personal devotion of reading, believing and applying God’s Word to your life and watch what God will do in you!

“When it comes to spiritual growth, nothing beats the Bible… Scripture reflection more than any other practice moves people forward in their love for God and love for others.” – Parkinson & Hawkins

Reflection on Scripture is the most potent spiritual practise you could give yourself to. Let the word of God dwell in you and in your church richly, abundantly, deeply. Make Scripture not just your daily pattern but make it central to your thought processes, decision making, your conversations with others.

Personal Application:

Eugene Petersen said of Bible reading that we should “read the Bible with our ears!”. By this, he meant that we need to read listening to the One who authored it – God Himself. The Bible is no ordinary book, so why not try reading, asking the following three questions as you read:

  1. What have I LEARNT about God/faith?
  2. What is God SAYING to me?  
  3. What am I going to DO now?

 

3. #Everyonehasacontributiontomake! (vs16)

As a church, when we all saturate our individual lives with God’s Word, things begin to change as a result in our community of faith.  

  • We all begin to teach and correct and counsel one another with all spiritual wisdom rooted in Scripture not the ideas of the world we live in or our opinions.  
  • We also lose our over-reliance on leadership to teach us once a week through the sermon, rather we start teaching one another from the treasures stored up in our hearts from our own Bible reading.

After all, God promised that we would all know Him (Jeremiah 31:33-34), that we would all be filled with the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29) and Jesus said; ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me’ (John 10:27).

  • And lastly from our passage, we all begin to overflow with lives of worship and thanksgiving and praise to God. We won’t have an over-reliance on the worship band to gather us to worship, we will initiate worship in whatever context we find ourselves in, we will break out in hymns and spiritual songs filled with thankfulness to God because we are overflowing with these things because we have filled our own life-tanks and so aren’t relying on someone else to fill us, but we bring our plenty and splash it on everyone we engage with.

Colossians 3:16-17 teaches us that in a biblical church, everyone has a contribution to make!  So, let’s all decide today to get into our Bible’s, to fill up our spiritual tank so that we have an overabundant supply to splash on to others in our church.

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What a compelling, inspirational picture of what is possible in your church and in your personal life, if only you and I will allow these lockdown moments to jolt us into a personal and church-wide RESET! Let’s respond to God’s Word to us today and see all that God will do as a result.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.