The Gracious Hand of God
Things happen to us. So much of life is simply the set of circumstances we find ourselves in.
For example, our parents, our genetic design, the weather, much of our education and our government are all things that we experience as ‘happening *to* us’. In Greek grammar, these things are expressed in what we call the ‘*passive voice’*. However, we also *make* *things happen*. When I initiate an action and do something, this is expressed in the ‘*active voice’*. But Greek grammar also has *a third voice* – *the ‘middle voice’*. This is neither wholly active nor wholly passive. When I use the middle voice, I am participating in the results of an action. Christian prayer is spoken in the middle voice. It cannot be in the active voice because it is not an action I control, as in the ritualistic pagan prayers where the gods do our bidding. Prayer is not in the passive voice either, in which I’m at the mercy of the will of gods and goddesses. In Christian prayer, as Eugene Peterson puts it, ‘I enter into an action begun by another, my creating and saving Lord, and find myself participating in the results of his \[gracious\] action.’ In one sense, the whole of the Christian life is prayer. We welcome God’s gracious hand in our lives, and we participate in what he is doing in the world. God involves you in his plans. Of course, he could do it all on his own, but he chooses to involve you. He gives you freedom, yet he remains in control.
God will deliver you
For millions of people around the world, the COVID-19 epidemic has been a ‘day of trouble’.
What about you? Are you facing trouble in your life? A stressful situation at work? A difficult relationship? A worrying health issue? A financial challenge? God is in utter control of his universe: ‘God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets’ (v.1).
He owns everything. We may fight and struggle for our little corner and our possessions but, in the end, God owns it all: ‘Every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills’ (v.10).
He is not dependent on human beings: ‘If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it’ (v.12).
Nevertheless, he graciously gives you a part to play.
Thank God ‘Sacrifice thank-offerings to God’ (v.14a).
Call on God ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble’ (v.15a).
Honour God ‘I will deliver you, and you will honour me’ (v.15b).
I have come back many times to Psalm 50:15. I have called out to the Lord ‘in the day of trouble’. It is amazing to look back and see how often his gracious hand has delivered me.
Lord, thank you so much for all the wonderful answers to prayer. Now, Lord, I call upon you again to deliver me...
Luke 22:3–4, 22–23, 31–32
Your prayers make a difference
Are you sometimes tempted to compare yourself with other people?
It is encouraging to see that Jesus’ disciples struggled with many of the same things that we do. There is bickering among the disciples over which of them would end up the greatest (v.24). It is always a temptation to compare ourselves with others. This either leads to pride (if we think we are doing better) or jealousy, envy and insecurity (if we think we are not doing as well).
Jesus points out that the values of the kingdom are the polar opposite to the world: ‘Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It’s not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant... I’ve taken my place among you as the one who serves’ (vv.25–27, MSG).
As we look at the parts played by each of the people in this drama, we see, once again, that the Bible teaches both predestination (that God has planned everything in advance) and free will. This is a mystery that the Scriptures hold in tension and we are rightly suspicious when any human system attempts to explain it away one way or the other. In this passage we see three examples of how this tension operates in practice.
Judas We see here a terrifying description of how evil works. No one is immune from temptation. Judas is one of Jesus’ chosen twelve, yet Satan enters him (v.3).
Jesus says that all this was foreknown and indeed predestined: ‘The Son of Man will go as has been decreed’ (v.22a). But the fact that it is foreknown and predestined does not absolve Judas of responsibility: ‘But woe to that man who betrays him’ (v.22b).
The paradox is that although ‘it has been decreed’, Judas is a free agent. Judas’ ‘will’ was involved. When he was offered money to betray Jesus, Judas ‘consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over’ (v.6). 2. Simon Peter The same ‘Satan’ who entered Judas (v.3) wanted to ‘sift’ Peter ‘as wheat’ (v.31).
Peter was very confident that he would not let Jesus down: ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death’ (v.33). Jesus knew that Peter would fail: ‘I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows today, you will deny three times that you know me’ (v.34).
But ultimately his faith did not fail. Jesus said, ‘But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail’ (v.32). This shows that in the midst of this extraordinary paradox of predestination and free will, prayer really does make a difference. Why and how it works we may never understand. However, the example of Jesus shows that it really does count. Your prayers do make a difference. 3. Jesus Supremely, in the life and death of Jesus we see this paradox of predestination and free will. Jesus says, ‘The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed’ (v.22a). He says, ‘It is written: “And he was numbered with the transgressors”; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfilment’ (v.37). There could not be a stronger statement that Jesus’ death was preordained, pre-planned and predestined. Yet Jesus went willingly to his death; he chose to die. He gave his body for us (v.19).
We see the balance between God’s part and our part. We are reminded of it every time we take communion. Jesus said, ‘This is my body given for you... This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’ (vv.19,20). That was the hard part – the sacrifice of his life voluntarily given for us. Our part is relatively simple: ‘do this in remembrance of me’ (v.19).
Lord, thank you that you have done all this for me. Thank you that you gave your body and shed your blood for me. Thank you for your gracious hand in my life.
God will do amazing things
Do you realise that God is with you? And if God is with you then you can face every challenge that lies ahead. God says to Joshua, ‘I am with you as I was with Moses’ (3:7).
Again, we see here the balance between our part and God’s part.
Prepare yourselves God was about to act in a miraculous way on behalf of his people. But the people themselves had a part to play. Joshua tells the people to prepare themselves: ‘Sanctify yourselves. Tomorrow God will work miracle-wonders among you’ (3:5, MSG).
They were also given the task of choosing people to play particular roles in preparation for the crossing of the Jordan (4:1–4). 2. Provision of God We see again the gracious hand of God. The Lord did ‘amazing things’ (3:5). One of these amazing things was the crossing of the Jordan (Joshua 3).
God promised to exalt Joshua (v.7). Joshua did not exalt himself. But ‘That day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel’ (4:14).
He provided for all the people’s needs: ‘The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan’ (5:12). God provided as much as they needed and no more.
This kept them from material security and self-sufficiency and, perhaps, from not trusting in God. Your security and trust must be in God alone. He has always provided enough, but no more.
Thank you, Lord, for the astounding way in which you involve me in your plans. I consecrate myself to you today. Thank you that you promise that you will do amazing things in me and provide for all my needs.
This theme of being ‘the greatest’ keeps coming up. The disciples were jostling for power. It seems so inappropriate when disaster was about to strike. They should have been getting instructions from Jesus.
At this stage it didn’t look as if any of them would become great leaders, but they did. This gives hope to us all.
Eugene Peterson, *The Contemplative Pastor* (William B Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1993) pp.91–93 Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790. Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.