But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.Luke 5:16
What a challenge this is to me – and perhaps to all of us!
Here is God the Son, in the midst of a very busy schedule of healing the sick, bringing comfort and acceptance to the outcast, calling humble fisherman to follow him and learn from him, defending his ministry against the attacks of threatened power-brokers, demonstrating his Divine origin, love and power, etc., and he sees the need, as he habitually does, to spend time away in a ‘lonely place’ to spend time with his Father in prayer!
The next time I feel adequate to cope with the stresses of life and addressing the needs of others – so much so that I don’t have time to pray – I hope the Holy Spirit will remind me of this verse and of my need to follow Jesus’ example. It is not surprising that the men who had the privilege of observing Jesus’ daily life in action, asked of him: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
How much I (we?) need to make this same request of him today as we become more and more aware of the limitation of our own personal resources to cope with the pressures of our world!
And I notice that their request was not: “Lord, teach us to SAY our prayers”, or: “Lord, teach us to be more eloquent, or demanding, or impressive in our prayer life.”, but simply: “Lord, teach us to PRAY.” As the Apostle Paul encourages us: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7).
“Dear Master, in whose life I see all that I would but fail to be, let thy clear light for ever shine to shame and guide this life of mine. Though what I dream and what I do in my weak days are always two, help me, oppressed by things undone, O thou whose hopes and dreams are one!” (John Hunter).
[Eliphaz addressing Job] Is not your wickedness great? Are not your sins endless? You demanded security from your brothers for no reason; you stripped men of their clothing, leaving them naked. You gave no water to the weary and you withheld food from the hungry, though you were a powerful man, owning land – an honoured man, living on it. And you sent widows away empty-handed and broke the strength of the fatherless. That is why snares are all around you, why sudden peril terrifies you, …Job 22:5-10
This could well be the harshest and hardest of all the criticisms Job had to face from his three ‘friends’. We, the readers, KNOW, from the beginning of the book, that ‘Job was a blameless and upright man; he feared God and shunned evil’ (1:1). This TRUE assessment of his character was confirmed by the LORD himself from the outset, when Satan was challenged about the genuineness of this godly man’s life (1:8), and it was confirmed again at the end of the book when the three ‘friends’, Eliphaz, Zophar and Bildad, were soundly rebuked for getting their assessment so WRONG (42:7).
In the light of all this, we can confidently believe that part of Job’s ‘blameless’ and ‘upright’ walk before God included avoiding wickedness and doing the things that were closest to God’s heart: quenching the thirst of the weary and feeding the hungry (cf Matthew 25:35)! Therefore, to be accused in the very areas in which he was careful to reflect God’s character must have been EXTREMELY hurtful.
Has this ever been your experience? We can feel the depth of the hurt when we read Job’s response to it in the next chapter. It is possibly here, more than anywhere else in the book, that we see Job as a FORESHADOWING of the Lord Jesus. The SINLESS Son of God lived his whole life on earth in perfect obedience to the Father, keeping God’s Law in EVERY detail, and demonstrating God’s unwavering compassion in caring for the weary, the poor, and the hungry. Yet the same people who should have been doing all this and weren’t, who are the very ones who had NO EXCUSE for not recognising all this clearly in Jesus’ ministry among them, are the ones who brought false accusations against him. This was part of the cost to him of bearing my sin. ‘Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood; sealed my pardon with his blood – Hallelujah! What a Saviour!’
Lord, please help me to remember what I have just written next time I get upset and on my high horse for being wrongly accused of something!
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.1 Corinthians 10:12-13
Someone once commented to Mark Twain that he didn’t like the Bible because there are too many things that are too hard to understand. Mark Twain’s response was: “It’s not the parts I CAN’T understand that worry me, it’s the parts I CAN understand!” I would put today’s verses in that category.
By reading them, I realise that all those many times when I DO give in to temptation, I am left without excuse because, according to his promise, my faithful God has always provided a ‘way of escape’, and I have either failed to notice it, or, worse still, refused to avail myself of it! Perhaps part of my problem is complacency – I think I can manage to deal with the situation in my own strength, and I don’t NEED God’s help – and the Apostle Paul reminds me, therefore: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Or perhaps I have already compromised to some extent, and I just don’t WANT to be delivered.
The Greek word Paul uses for ‘escape’ has overtones that suggest a connection with the ‘exodus’ from Egypt, and this is consistent with what he has been referring to in verses 1-11. David Prior comments in ‘The Bible Speaks Today’ commentary on 1 Corinthians: “Luke (in 9:31) describes the redemptive death of Jesus as the ‘exodus’ he will achieve at Jerusalem. God himself provides the oppressed and sorely tried with his exodus. He is not vindictive. He is not waiting to hit the presumptuous with punishment. Nor are we on our own; we are in this situation along with countless others, for whom the time of testing is equally, if not more, nerve-racking. It is the certain consummation of an exodus already achieved that enables us to endure: we see the light at the end of the tunnel and we press on.” (p.171).
“Yield not to temptation, for YIELDING is sin; each victory will help you some other to win. Fight manfully onward, dark passions subdue; look ever to Jesus, he will carry you through. Ask the Saviour to help you, comfort, strengthen and keep you; he is willing to aid you, he will carry you through.” (Horatio Palmer).