‘Songs for the Summer: The Path to Life’

‘Songs for the Summer: The Path to Life’

Have you ever been resentful of people whose lives seem successful? They’ve achieved recognition, they have beautiful children, and take exotic vacations. The very thought of them strips any sense of happiness from you.

Now there’s nothing wrong with being successful, having a great family or taking vacations. The question is how do we value them? Do they represent what life is all about for us or is there more to life?

Today we come to a second Reflection on Psalm 1. The Psalm is important for it lays the foundation for the whole Book of Psalms. As it progresses it identifies our two life-choices – the road to nowhere or the path to life.

Consider verse 3. The imagery is vivid as it speaks of the truly blessed or happy people. They are like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all it does it prospers.

Like a tree, truly happy people draw upon life-giving water, growing slowly, steadily, surely, putting roots deeper and deeper into the source of life. Their source of water is God’s word. And just as a well-rooted tree develops its own particular fruit in the appropriate season, so they develop their own distinctive personality and quality of life.

And significantly, because this tree is well-rooted, its leaf doesn’t wither in the crippling conditions of drought. Unlike reeds in dried-up river beds or grass in parched earth, trees because of their deep-rooting system are more able to reach what little moisture there is. Similarly in the tough times of life, the faith of God’s people is not likely to shrivel up.

Yes, our faith will be tested, but in the same way a deeply rooted tree in drought conditions is stimulated to push down even deeper in search of moisture, so too are we are stirred to dig deeper into God’s word; to rely more and more upon him; to be more focussed on putting our life in his hands. This results in bearing the fruit of love – love for God and love for others. We yearn for this. We long for the water of life, but in our natural state we look in the wrong places.

Two thousand years ago a woman at a well in Samaria longed for happiness but it had eluded her. Thinking that love and marriage was the answer, she had been married five times. And as Jesus observed in his conversation with her in John chapter 4, she was now living with a sixth man. But each time she made the same mistake. Her life was a mess. She felt insecure, lonely, and dissatisfied.

Unexpectedly and yet significantly, Jesus offered her living waters that spring into eternal life. He further pointed out that “…the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him (John 4:23f). In John, chapter 14, verse 6, we read Jesus’ further words: “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me”.

Through the lens of the New Testament we see that it is through Christ Jesus we can become beneficiaries of God’s living water and so enjoy the true spiritual life God offers us. It involves a heart response to Jesus.

Consider what Psalm 1 tells us happens to a world that fails to turn to God and put its trust in him. In verse 4 we read: The wicked are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away.

Chaff is the epitome of what is rootless and weightless. It has no substance: it’s useless. We can feel the force of the imagery – the action of winnowing, tossing the harvested grain into the air so that the light, useless chaff will be carried off by the wind, while the heavy grain falls to the ground.

Other psalms, such as Psalm 73, point out that all too often it is the godless rather than the godly who seem to succeed in life. But such psalms come to the same conclusion as this psalm, Psalm 1. There will come a Day when men and women of straw together with their works of straw will be shown up.

Verse 6 looks ahead to this: Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

If this world is to make any sense at all, there must be a final judgement. If there is any morality, there must come a time when everyone is called to account. The day of final accounting for us all is a consistent theme throughout the Bible – as we read in Paul’s address to the intelligentsia in Athens (Acts 17:30f). Psalm 1 wants us to know that on that day, those who have ignored God, who turned their backs on the perfect pattern of life he has shown us, or who have simply rejected him, will not have a leg to stand on.

Are you looking for meaning and lasting joy in life? Psalm 1 tells us how we can find it. We won’t find it by following our own inclinations nor by following our passions. And, with the incarnation of the Son of God (John 1:14), we certainly won’t find the hope of life in all its fullness and joy if we dismiss Messiah Jesus.

We don’t know what life holds. But one thing we do know is this: our world is not getting any better. The western world is more and more wrecking itself on the rocks of unadulterated selfishness. People want happiness and hope but insist upon looking in all the wrong places.

God tells us where we can find it: in responding to him, in learning from him and leaning on him, in living lives shaped by his perfect pattern. Then, and only then, will we begin to find true happiness.

In his Christmas message in 1939, as Britain was about to enter the year of its darkest hour, King George VI quoted these compelling words: “I said to the man at the gate of the year ‘Give me a light’ that I may tread safely into the unknown’. And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.  That will be better to you than light; safer than a known way.”

So, if we want to find true happiness, it’s worth planning a lifestyle that includes the daily reading of the Bible – developing a pattern of prayer, so we can plunge into the springs of God’s living water. The best way to begin is to not procrastinate. If you are not regularly reading the Bible, start today!

A prayer. Blessed Lord, you have caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning, grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, so that, encouraged and supported by your holy Word, we may embrace and always hold fast the joyful hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Almighty and merciful God, out of your bountiful goodness keep us from everything that may hurt us, so that we may be ready in body and soul cheerfully to accomplish whatever you want us to do: through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may like to listen to the Keith and Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa song, What is Our Hope in Life and Death.

© John G. Mason

‘Songs for the Summer: The Path to Life’


Happiness is something we long for. But how can we achieve it? It’s elusive: one moment we can be feeling happy, but the next we’re not. Like moonlight it has slipped through our fingers.

In fact ‘happiness’ can’t be a goal in the strict sense of the word. For a goal is something that is within our power to achieve. Happiness isn’t like that. There are too many variables outside our control.

We can think that being successful, having a good family and friends, material assets and comfort, will make us happy. But they don’t. There will always be others more successful. And behind the best of families there is often unresolved pain or hurt; those with wealth often find they’re not satisfied – they want more, or they worry about the security of all they have. Despite experiencing much that is good in life we don’t always feel that overwhelming sense of real happiness and joy.

Psalm 1 helps us. Blessed is the one … we read. Blessed means ‘happy’. The idea is echoed twenty-six times in the Psalms. It is also the word Jesus used in what are known as the Beatitudes in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12).

In Psalm 1 verses 1 through 3 we read: Happy is the one who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.

We all have a real thirst, a longing for something that will satisfy us deeply. The thirst is not wrong. It is part of our complex make-up that makes us human. Our problem is that we look in the wrong places to satisfy it. The prophet Jeremiah records God’s words: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water,…” (Jeremiah 2:13).

Verse 1 of the Psalm challenges us to consider our world-view. Our natural inclination is to adopt a world-view that appeals to our sense of self-sufficiency. We like the music emanating from the temples of materialism or humanism that puts us in control of our lives and our destiny.

As we continue down this path, we indulge in behaviour that appeals to our feelings, even though it means flouting God’s directions and good purposes. And so we find ourselves marching in step with the crowds who live as though there is no God and no objective moral order. In turn we join the cynics who mock Christianity. We become part of a silent majority, failing to speak up for what we believe because we’re afraid. We sit in the seat of scoffers.

What then is the path to real happiness? Verse 2 tells us: their delight is in the law of the Lord; and on his law they meditate day and night.

The negatives of verse 1 are now contrasted in verse 2. As others have observed, they show us we have a choice. Like Adam and Eve in the original garden, God respects the gift of choice he has given us. It’s one of the features that makes us human. We are not puppets on a string in a mechanistic universe. We can choose.

Verse 2 provides the key that unlocks our true humanity: Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. We need something to transform us from deep within. The law of the Lord which stands against the counsel of the wicked is a reference to God’s instruction.

Interestingly the word meditate here is the same word plot Psalm 2:1. What goes on within our hearts and minds becomes evident in our words and actions. In Psalm 2:1 the plotting is the intention of darkness that leads to evil. In Psalm 1 meditating on God’s Word, his self-disclosure, leads to Godly growth and behaviour.

People who are blessed meditate on God’s Word – God’s special self-disclosure. Here is the key to real and lasting happiness. It foreshadows Jesus’ reference to living waters that he promised to the woman at the well in Samaria. These ‘waters’ are bound up in knowing him.

Sometimes we think that mediation is something carried out by the super-spiritual – people who are etched into stained-glass windows, people who have their heads in heaven but who are no earthly use. This is not so. The words here echo God’s command to Joshua – God’s man of action who needed just as much as anyone else to think hard about the will of God if he wanted to achieve anything worthwhile.

Real happiness is found in our determination to be instructed and counselled by God himself. This isn’t easy. It means being prepared to look inside ourselves and consider why we say the things we sometimes do, why we think and behave the way we do, and then be willing to change. This can be tough. It means being honest with ourselves before God. It can take time.

For to meditate on God’s teaching involves letting the weight of God’s Word press upon our hearts and minds, and our life-style.

Where then do we find true happiness? Not swimming in the shallows of faith, but plunging into the mind of God found in the living waters of his Word.

Prayer. Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth so that they may return into the way of righteousness: grant to all who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s service so that we may renounce those things that are contrary to our profession and follow all such things as are agreeable to it; through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Almighty and eternal God, grant that we may grow in faith, hope, and love; especially make us love what you command so that we may obtain what you have promised; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may like to listen to He Will Hold Me Fast from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

‘Songs for the Summer: The Path to Life’

‘Paul’s Prayer: Transformation’

How can we weather the challenges of our messy and conflicted world?

Come with me to Ephesians chapter 3, verses 14 through 21 where we find one of the great prayers of the Bible. The curtain over Paul the Apostle is drawn aside and we are given a glimpse of him at prayer.

I kneel before the Father, he begins, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. Genesis chapter 1 tells us that God created us in his image and it is therefore true to say that all humanity has its fatherhood or parentage in God. However, as the Bible unfolds, we see that there is a very special relationship between God and those who are personally drawn to him. Paul is echoing what Jesus taught his disciples: we can call God, ‘our Father’.

This really is an extraordinary privilege – to be able to call God ‘Father’. In fact, when we think about it, there is no higher honor that God could give us, for it means we stand in a very special relationship with him as his adopted sons and daughters. This awesome truth stands at the heart of Paul’s prayer. And he prays that we might experience this awareness in our lives, so we can relax and enjoy the amazing privilege of being God’s special people at every twist and turn in life. Three themes stand out.

Inner strength. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit…

The work of the Spirit goes to the heart of our being. Despite what cosmetologists and exercise gurus want us to think, the truth is that our physical bodies are wasting away. The time will come, when as far as our physical body is concerned, there is little hope for the future. But Paul wants us to understand that it’s not all downhill.

If God is at work in our lives, changes for the better to our inner being can occur. It’s here we see the counter-cultural way God works as opposed to the way that the world expects him to work. The world expects God to work with great displays of power. Tempted to think this way too, we might say that God’s power is to be expressed in self-confidence, self-assertion, success. And when it comes to churches, it is thought that God’s power will be seen in high-powered church growth and in dramatic answers to prayer.

But God has a different plan. For the present he chooses to work in secret, changing us from the inside out, not the outside in. It’s an important distinction most of us miss. Paul is praying that the Holy Spirit will strengthen us at the very root of our character and our lives. He prays that God’s Spirit will so work in our lives and so teach us that we will be strengthened in our appetite for God and our love and loyalty to Jesus. He wants us to focus our hope on Christ, to drop sinful habits and develop a new framework for living.

Paul says that he wants to see the whole of our inner life affected by the Spirit — our hearts and affections, our will, our minds and decisions. It’s radical and it’s painful. Once the Holy Spirit starts to work in our lives, begins to probe, to question, to challenge, to discipline and to develop us, it hurts. For when he takes the Word of God and reaches to the very depth of our being, the Word becomes like a scalpel in his hands.

Transformation. That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love (3:17).

This is the only place in the whole of the Bible that speaks about Christ dwelling in our hearts. Dwell means ‘settle down’, or ‘putting down roots’. Mixing his metaphors Paul prays that we will be well-rooted trees withstanding droughts, and well-built houses that can withstand hurricanes.

There will be many things in us with which Jesus Christ will not be comfortable. Repairs and renovation are needed in our lives. And anyone who has done house renovation and repairs knows it takes longer and costs more than we anticipate.

Knowing that this kind of life-changing transformation is what God wants and knowing that it requires God’s power in our lives, Paul prays that God will do what is necessary to make our lives a fit home for his Son.

Christ’s Love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length, and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that passes knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (3:18-19).

With imagery that awakens us to the complexity and profundity of God’s love – the breadth and length, and height and depth – Paul prays that we will know the love of Christ. He wants us not only to know but also to experience God’s love so that we may be able to say, and really know and feel it in our hearts, ‘the Son of God gave himself for me.’

This genuine experience of Christ rarely comes to anyone who is not spending time in the Scriptures – for example, meditating on Ephesians chapter 1 through chapter 2, verse 10. The kind of mind-shift we need to prompt us to do this usually requires large explosive power. Sometimes God gives us a wake-up call through hardship, bereavement or tragedy. Sometimes it’s not until we see material possessions for what they are, baubles and trinkets, that we begin to comprehend the reality of God’s love.

Indeed, it’s only when God’s power is at work in our lives that we will begin to see what it meant for God to get into our skin and enter our world, what it cost for him to suffer and die in our place. I pray, says Paul, that with all of God’s people you experience the power of God’s love in your hearts, and knowing that, experience the fullness of joy with the transcendent Lord.

Beyond Imagination. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen (3:20-21).

Paul’s words here startle and encourage us. Our thoughts and imaginations are lifted beyond time and space to the Lord himself. Significantly, the focus of God’s powerful work is amongst and through his people.

Too often we forget God’s awesome cosmic purposes; we focus too much on ourselves. Maybe we are content to swim in the shallows of faith rather than in the deep, clear waters of God’s love. For in his love God has far greater expectations for us than we can even begin to imagine.

A prayer. Almighty God, who taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit: so enable us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things and always to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

You may like to listen to The Lord is My Salvation from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

‘Songs for the Summer: The Path to Life’

‘Jesus’ Prayer: (3) Confessional Unity’

A question we rarely think about is this: ‘What does Jesus expect of everyone who believes?’

A third part of the prayer Jesus prayed on the night of his arrest provides a vital part of the answer. In John chapter 17, verse 21 we read: “I ask … that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me”.

The all in this verse suggests that he is including everyone who comes to believe in him, as well as his disciples.

In the flow of his prayer, it is important to notice that he is not praying for ‘unity’ as we often think of it – a structural unity – but rather a ‘confessional’ unity. He is praying for a unity of understanding amongst all his people: the acknowledgement that he is the unique Son of God, sent by the Father to rescue humanity.

In other words, Jesus is praying that the essential truth of his relationship with God the Father will be at the heart of Christian belief. As such, he prayed for a unity amongst his people that reflects the unity of relationship between God the Father and God the Son. The unity that Jesus is speaking of here is that all his people would receive and respond to his teaching the same way.

Which implies another key to the unity for which Jesus prays – the acceptance of the unique authority of his person and work and his teaching.

Furthermore, there is to be a unity of profound love and fellowship between his people because of their fellowship with God the Father and God the Son. His prayer reflects his teaching that true worshippers will ‘worship God the Father in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:23).

And it is also important to notice that Jesus is praying for a ‘missional’ outcome to this unity: “That the world may believe that you have sent me”.

Division amongst men and women is the way of the world. True unity amongst the people of God, for which Jesus prays, facilitates gospel outreach – ‘so that the world may believe’.

Men and women in the wider world are in revolt against God and the Son he has sent. Yet God has loved, and continues to love, the world and is committed to drawing more and more people to the One he has sent. The unity in faith of God’s people will be a sign that will draw many to faith.

Now, we need to note that Jesus is not praying here for the amalgamation of denominations. Joining like-minded Christians together might be desirable, especially where buildings and services are often duplicated with a loss of efficiency.

But Jesus is not praying for this kind of structural unity. Rather he is praying for the essential union of hearts and minds that respond to the truth of Jesus. Ultimately he is praying that all his people – whether the first disciples, or you and me today – will be with him where he is: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am,…” (John 17:24).

So, the essence of this part of Jesus’ great prayer is that all his people throughout the ages will be with him where he is in the Kingdom of God. His intention for his people is that we all see the glory that the Father has given him, as God’s unique Son, because of God’s love for him. So Jesus continued:  “That they may see my glory which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24b).

This prayer of Jesus that we have touched on over these three Wednesdays tells us so much about him – his glory, his suffering and his passion. We see his commitment to glorify God. It also tells us about the significant work of the disciples; if they had messed up, we would have no knowledge of God’s extraordinary love and the forgiveness he holds out to us. Thirdly, Jesus’ prayer tells us about us, and our need to work at the unity that springs from a united confession of faith.

Jesus’ prayer is not a ‘God bless…’ prayer. It is a prayer that instructs our minds and touches our hearts with the riches of God’s love.

Prayer. Lord may we come to love you more and more, with all our mind, with all our heart and from our very soul, so that you may be glorified in the lives of all who are united in a common confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Lord, give your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only true God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You may like to listen to May the People’s Praise You from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

‘Songs for the Summer: The Path to Life’

‘Jesus’ Prayer: (2) Life & Ministry’

How can we be sure about God? Christianity makes claims that can be hard to believe in the 21st century – for example, its exclusiveness, its supernaturalism and its age.

 To say that Jesus is the only way to God appears to be very narrow-minded. Further, the story of Jesus is woven around miraculous events – a virgin birth and a resurrection. And it all happened more than two thousand years ago.

In John chapter 17 we find the record of a prayer Jesus prayed on the night he was betrayed and arrested. The greater part of the prayer was for his disciples, revealing the unique role they were to play in building on the foundation that Jesus himself was laying.

In Jesus’ words to God the Father we discern the importance of the disciples in God’s big plan: “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

The disciples were to be the link between Jesus and the world. Much will depend on their understanding of Jesus as the Christ – the Messiah – and their courage and loyalty to him.

In verses 2 and 3 Jesus had prayed: “Since you have given him (that is, he, Jesus) authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, so that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

The ministry of his disciples would be essential if men and women were to benefit from God’s gift of eternal life. If the disciples failed in their task, if they gave in to hostile pressures and denied the truth they had been given to speak about, Christianity would have been still-born.

So Jesus prays that the Father would give each of the disciples eternal life. He also prays that the Father would protect them (17:11), keep them from the powers of evil (17:15), and make them holy in the truth (17:17). He also prayed that the love that God the Father has for the Son, would be true for them as well (17:16).

Jesus knew the road the disciples would tread would not be easy. Yet he didn’t pray that they would be taken out of the world. Rather, he prayed that they would be kept faithful and guarded from the powers of the evil one.

Furthermore, Jesus went on to pray for everyone who would come to faith: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, …” (John 17:20).

At the heart of the disciples’ ministry would be the ministry of ‘God’s Word’ – preaching and teaching. The content of their word would be Jesus the Messiah.

From the time of Pentecost the disciples, now apostles (sent ones), began preaching, urging their hearers to turn to Jesus as the Messiah in repentance and faith. Over the following fifty years, thousands turned to Christ through their word ministry.

Furthermore, it was during those years that the apostles and others who had been uniquely trained, equipped and commissioned by Jesus, wrote the Gospels and Letters for the churches.

In 2 Peter 1:16-18, we read: For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

Peter is saying that he and the other apostles did not pass on a cunningly invented myth. Jesus really is God in the flesh; he really did rise from the dead. ‘I have the evidence of my own eyes,’ Peter says. ‘Our testimony is true.’

Furthermore, in 2 Peter 3:15 we read: …Count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother, Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

Paul’s Letters also were acknowledged as God’s Word.

What we often overlook is that these men, and others with them, overturned the Roman world not by armed revolution, but by the example of their lives, their testimony and teaching. Can you imagine that those disciples of Jesus constructed a monstrous lie?

Prayer. Heavenly Father, keep your household the Church continually in your true religion; so that those who lean only on the hope of your heavenly grace may always be defended by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may like to listen to Lift High the Name of Jesus from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason