Someone has calculated that the third Monday in January each year is the most depressing day of the year. The date is calculated through combining various factors including the weather, the level of our debt and our ability to take positive action. I’m not convinced that one day is more depressing than any other but there is no doubt that many of us feel low in spirits in January. How can we find the strength to cope with such times whenever they come?
It makes all the difference when we trust in God and his care for us. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven, give us each day our daily bread.” They lived in a subsistence society in which people were dependent on the crops which they grew on their land. They needed to find their food each day. Every day the men would go out hunting or fishing and return with something for the family to eat. The women would bake bread and cook the meal. As the family ate their food they gave thanks to God for supplying their needs for another day.
It is good to bring all our worries and anxieties to God. Jesus told the people they could learn valuable lessons from the birds and the flowers. He said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour and spin. Yet I tell you not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”
So when we feel low in spirits it is good to pray to God and to ask him to help us by providing all our needs. We can ask him to help us not to worry about tomorrow but to do what we have to do today. As each day comes to an end we can thank him for bringing us safely through the day. I still pray a prayer I learned in infant school, “Lord keep us safe this night, secure from all our fears, may angels guard us while we sleep till morning light appears.”
In the past week snow has covered Britain like a blanket. There is a stillness as the dark days of winter are illuminated by the reflected brightness of the snow. As we struggle to get about in the ice and snow the countryside around us is beautifully adorned. The trees bow under the weight of the snow. Schools are closed and children delight in making snowballs and snowmen and in sledging. Snow is an amazing natural phenomenon. It is a testimony to the creative power of God. Each snowflake is exquisitely beautiful and no two snowflakes are the same.
In the Bible snow is used as an image of forgiveness. King David once sinned very seriously by committing adultery with Bathsheba, the beautiful wife of one of his bravest soldiers. When David realised that Bathsheba had conceived his child he tried to hide his sin by arranging for her husband, Uriah, to be killed in battle. Then David took Bathsheba as his wife and acted as if nothing wrong had happened. It was a very dark and shameful episode in David’s life. When, eventually, he faced up to his sin, he prayed to God for forgiveness, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”
The prophet Isaiah was called to speak to a nation which had turned its back on God. Despite all God’s kindness to them, his people had rejected him. Their religion was a sham and God’s laws were being flagrantly broken. Isaiah called on the people to repent and turn back to God, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
The snow, therefore, speaks to us and to our nation. Each of us has turned away from God and committed serious sins, of which we are ashamed. Our nation worships the cult of celebrity and the gods of materialism. As a result we are experiencing a moral and economic decline which seems irreversible. Where is hope to be found? God’s call to each of us, and to our nation, is to return to him that we might experience his forgiveness. The God whom we have rejected offers us hope. Whatever we have done his promise is that, in his Son Jesus, we can find forgiveness and become as white as snow in his sight.
The results of the 2011 Census for England and Wales reported a decline in the number of people identifying themselves as Christians and an increase in the number of those saying they had no religion. How significant are these figures for our nation? What influence will this change have on our society? Does it matter that fewer people believe in God? Does this affect the way they live?
A legal expert once asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Jesus clearly linked a wholehearted love for God with a true love for our neighbours. When we do not recognise God’s right to be first in our lives, this has inevitable consequences for those around us. When self is king, when what I want reigns supreme, then the rights and needs of those around me count for nothing.
There are signs that this is what is happening in our society. We affirm a mother’s right to choose whether or not to have a termination of her pregnancy. But does not the unborn baby also have rights? If we were that unborn baby what choice would we want our mother to make? Sexual predators who abuse children and vulnerable adults feel they have the right to fulfil their perverted desires without any thought for the devastating consequences for those they abuse. How would they feel if someone did the same thing to them? The growing population of elderly people is becoming a burden to the rest of our society. Some say it is not fair that younger people should have to pay the cost of caring for the elderly. But when we are old, how will we want people to care for us?
The commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves is a sure guide when we have to make moral choices. We owe a moral duty to God and to each other to seek to obey this commandment. Jesus said, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” Future happiness for us and for our children depends on us rediscovering a real love for one another through a living relationship with God.
Recently my wife and I attended a very special 40th birthday party. Stephen was born with multiple disabilities, both physical and mental. He was Carla and Franco’s first child and the full extent of his disabilities only became apparent after he was born. A doctor at the hospital, who realised the implications of Stephen’s disabilities and, no doubt, wanted to help, advised Carla and Franco to leave Stephen in the hospital and carry on with their own lives. They didn’t take his advice.
The challenges of caring for Stephen were very great, but Carla and Franco committed themselves to his care. Although Stephen cannot speak he has always known that he is loved. His mother has gladly given her life to caring for him. She is a wonderful example of motherhood and unconditional love. Caring for Stephen has not meant social isolation but has brought a wide circle of friends who have played a part in encouraging and supporting Stephen and Carla over the past 40 years. Stephen now lives in a house in the community with a wonderful team of carers. More than 100 people came to his 40th birthday party including family members, friends, social workers, carers and other disabled people.
When Stephen was in his early teens Carla met some Christians who began to help with Stephen’s care and shared with her the good news about Jesus. As a result Carla experienced God’s love in Jesus and became a Christian. Soon after Stephen became seriously ill and lost his sight. He was so ill that it looked as if he was going to die. Carla and Franco prayed to God for his help. They remembered how a man called Jairus came to Jesus pleading on behalf of his 12 year old daughter who was dying. Jesus responded to Jairus’s urgent request and healed the little girl.
One evening Carla and Franco and the church leaders met to ask God to make Stephen well, although, at that time, the future was very uncertain. God heard their prayers. Stephen began to recover and now 25 years later is really well. He knows God’s love for him and is a member of the church family. He loves coming to the services. At the birthday party everyone sang Stephen’s favourite hymn, “Living he loved me; dying he saved me; Buried he carried my sins far away! Rising, he justified freely for ever; One day he’s coming – O glorious day!”