The summer holiday season is in full swing. The number of people in Britain taking holidays is increasing. In 2017 87% of British people took a holiday at home or abroad. On average British people take 3.8 holidays each year of which nearly 50% are overseas holidays. People living in London and Northern Ireland take least holidays; less than 2 per year. 18% of people don’t take a holiday. In 2017 the average British family spent £1284 per person on their summer holiday.
In the Old Testament God commanded the people of Israel to celebrate annual feasts and festivals. They were communal holy days which focussed on remembrance, thanksgiving, joy and celebration. The people remembered the great things God had done for them in delivering them from slavery in Egypt and in providing food and water for them through their 40 years in the wilderness. Other festivals were related to the annual harvest when the people thanked God for his faithful provision for their needs and offered their gifts to him. Each year the people also remembered their need for God’s forgiveness and offered sacrifices to him.
The weekly Sabbath day was God’s gracious provision for his people to rest from their daily work. “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work.” In our secular society we have lost sight of the importance of a weekly day of rest. All of us need to rest. A weekly day of rest enables us to do our work more efficiently, to spend time with our families and those in need and to thank God for his love and faithfulness.
Holy days are also an opportunity to think about eternity. In the midst of our busy lives it is good to reflect on the fact that we are mortal. When someone we love dies we may put on their gravestone the words “Rest in peace” because we want them to find eternal rest and peace. Christians in the first century patiently endured persecution as they lived in obedience to God’s commands and maintained their faith in Jesus. In the book of Revelation John hears a voice from heaven saying, “Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!”
Early on the Sunday morning after the clocks went back I drove to North Wales. It was a sunny morning and the autumn leaves were resplendent. The yellows, browns and reds were brilliant in the early morning sun. Scattered amongst them was the occasional green fir tree. It made me realise afresh that God has made our earth a very beautiful place and I thanked him for his wonderful kindness to all of us who live on this little planet.
The autumn colours remind us that the long, warm days of summer are passing and the dark days of winter lie ahead. The regularity of the seasons points us to the faithfulness of God. He has promised, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” So we know that winter will not last for ever, however dark and cold it may be, but that springtime will come and the trees and flowers will come to life again.
There are also seasons in our lives. The early years of childhood are full of hope and promise. The energy and enthusiasm of children hold out great potential for their future lives. Childhood gives way to adult years when physical and mental powers are at their height. It is a time for striving to achieve our full potential at home and work. Loving families and homes provide a secure and loving environment for the next generation to be born and thrive.
Then comes the autumn of our lives when mind and body are not so strong and grey hairs appear. In the early senior years there can be a beauty and poise that make it seem that things may continue as they are but, in our hearts, we know that our lives are moving inevitably to their appointed end.
Solomon, who was legendary for his wisdom, wrote, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.” It is best to remember God and entrust our lives to him when we are young so that he is at the centre of all we do. But we can also draw near to him in the autumn of our life and find in him the peace we need now and the hope we need for the future. His beautiful creation proclaims that he exists and encourages us to seek him and find him.
The last autumn leaves will soon have fallen. Once again we have witnessed the spectacular autumn colours – yellows, browns and red. On bright sunny mornings the kaleidoscope of colour has been glorious. This is one of the ways in which the great God of creation tells us that he is there and this is his world. Even in the process of dying there is beauty in his world and as the trees stand stark and bare through winter there is the promise that they will spring to life again.
The passing seasons are a testimony to the order that God has established in his world. His creation is never random and accidental, but always purposeful. As the years pass God is accomplishing his purposes for his creation and all of us who live in it. One well known hymn says, “Summer and winter and springtime and harvest, sun, moon and stars in their courses above, join with all nature in manifold witness to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love. Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand has provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”
We all need to know and rest in the faithfulness of God. He is both the great God of creation and the One who knows and cares for us in a very personal way. Every human being is precious in his sight. Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. Even the hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” So when a young child in a remote rural village in Sierra Leone is dying of Ebola the heart broken parents can find comfort, strength and hope in the living God because he cares for them.
We are more precious to God than the amazing creation in which we live. King Solomon wrote, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” This is why the things we have in this world can never satisfy our deepest longings. God created us to live for his glory and to enjoy him forever. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand.”
In recent weeks the natural world around us has come into its full glory, despite the spells of unseasonably cold and wet weather. The splendour of God’s world thrills our hearts and reminds us of his great faithfulness. After the great flood, God made a wonderful promise to Noah and his family, and to all the generations which would follow, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.” This promise has been kept throughout history. Each year we are glad to see the new life of spring and the long days of summer.
In the Western world many people do not acknowledge God’s faithfulness, and some deny it. We take for granted the order God has established and maintains in his world. Some influential people say that the laws of nature came about by pure chance and that the progress of the human race is inevitable. They have great confidence that our future is entirely in our own hands. But the continuing, and deepening economic crisis, has seriously dented future confidence. It is clear that our world leaders are not in control, nor do they have all the answers.
In good times and bad, we can put our confidence in the living God. Jesus taught his disciples not to worry about how their daily needs would be met. 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 are? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith.”
So every day the natural world around us teaches us important lessons about God and his faithfulness. It reminds us of his goodness and faithfulness as he feeds the birds and exquisitely clothes the flowers. As we face an unknown and uncertain future we can put our trust in him and know that, whatever happens, he will always be faithful.
Recently I visited a good friend, who is now more than 90 years old. He and his wife married in 1941, during the World War II, and have been married for more than 70 years. His wife has dementia and had fallen and broken her leg. She was in hospital recovering from an operation to repair the break. My friend and his wife live with their daughter and her husband. He is not able to go out very often.
He showed me his Bible and a verse which was stuck on the inside cover. He said, “We have proved the truth of these words throughout our lives.” The verse comes from the book of Lamentations, which was written by Jeremiah, and says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” These words were written at a time of national crisis for the Jewish nation as they were about to be conquered by the Babylonians and be carried away into exile. Jeremiah himself also faced a very uncertain future.
God’s Word is a wonderful source of strength and encouragement. My friend and his wife have known the Lord providing for them every day of their lives. They have faced many challenges from the early days of their marriage during the War until today. In every situation they have experienced the Lord’s faithfulness and have a quiet peace as they face the future.
Our world is facing many crises. We may also be anxious about our own future. The eternal God is a source of constant help and strength. His steadfast love is expressed in his promises. His mercies never come to an end, but are new every morning. He is always faithful. Who do you believe and put your trust in? Don’t listen to the angry voices of atheistic secularists, but put your trust in God and his unchanging Word, which still speaks with calm, eternal authority.
Spring has come, the days are lengthening and the weather is gloriously sunny. The spring flowers and the blossoms are brightening the landscape. The Lord has brought us through another winter and promises that each day he will meet our needs, whatever they may be. How good it is to trust in his steadfast love every day of our lives and to know that he will provide new mercies every morning.