Christmas has passed, the decorations have been taken down and life is returning to normal. Yet for many people living in Britain January is a worrying month because the bills for Christmas will soon arrive. Millions of people are entering 2018 with a debt hanging over them because they overspent during the festive period. One advice line estimates that 7.9 million people are likely to fall behind with their finances in January because of credit card debt incurred over Christmas.
Being in debt is oppressive. I remember visiting a man who was in debt. He had been injured in a car accident and had lost his job. The debts had begun to accumulate and he was unable to pay them. The bank had refused to increase his overdraft and the red letters, with their demands and threats, were arriving regularly. He no longer opened letters from the companies to which he owed money. Debt had paralysed him and filled him with fear for the future. He felt very alone and had seriously considered ending his life.
When we are in debt we need to seek help. I was able to come alongside the man and to work out with him ways to begin to address his debts. In time, all his debts were cleared and he was able to move to a new flat. A great burden had been lifted from him and he was able to enjoy life again. Organisations like Christians Against Poverty offer practical help to people overwhelmed by debt enabling them to manage their repayments and, in time, to be debt-free.
When I visited the man I was also able to pray with him and to ask God to help him. God is just and is particularly concerned for the poor and for widows and orphans. He sees the oppression of the poor and vulnerable through immorally high interest rates and he will call such lenders to account. God also provides for us in our need. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This petition is not only for our food but for all our daily needs. God is the One who gives us all good gifts. If you are overwhelmed by debt, ask God to help you. In Psalm 34 the Psalmist says, “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles.”
As I was driving home one evening on the motorway I was passed by a paramedic vehicle travelling at high speed with its emergency lights flashing. I wondered to what kind of emergency they were responding and prayed that they would arrive in time and that the person’s life would be saved. I also thanked God that I was safe and well.
It is a great blessing to live in a country where, in a medical emergency, we can dial 999 and know that a paramedic team and ambulance will immediately be dispatched to help us. We will be given immediate treatment. Early treatment by paramedics saves many lives. Then we will be taken by ambulance, or sometimes even by helicopter, to the A&E department at the nearest hospital to be treated by a highly skilled medical team with the best available equipment. For all this skilled care we will pay nothing! What an amazing privilege!
In some years the number of life-threatening calls reaches more than 3 million. The aim is to reach 75% of those calls within 8 minutes and for a vehicle that will take the patient to hospital to arrive in 19 minutes. In most cases this is achieved. What a massive relief it is when we speak to the emergency operator and they tell us a paramedic team and ambulance are on their way to help us!
There are many other kinds of emergencies we experience in life. All of us experience fears and anxieties. We have problems in our relationships; with our marriage partners or with our children. We may lose our job or get into debt. We may lose our homes. Someone we love may die; a parent, a partner, a child, or a close friend. We may feel very alone. At such times to whom can we turn for help?
David wrote Psalm 34 at a very difficult time in his life and remembered the way God had helped him. He said, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” What an encouragement David’s experience of God’s help is for us to pray to him when we, too, are in great need!
The Bible is a best selling book. More than 100 million copies of the Bible are sold or given away every year. Gideons International gives away a Bible every second. The Bible is available as a whole or in part in more than 2400 languages, covering 95% of the people of the world. Yet, for many people, the Bible is an unread book. The Bible is very big and it isn’t easy to know where to start reading. Yet in the Bible God speaks to us. Christians believe that the Bible is God’s Word. What the Bible says, God says. The Bible speaks into every situation that you and I face.
In the letter he wrote to the Christians living in Philippi the apostle Paul says, “Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful that the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
Worry is a universal human experience. We lie awake at night worrying. We go the doctor to ask for medication to help us cope with our worries. We worry about our families, about our work or study, about money, about our health and about the future. We usually worry about things we can’t do anything about and people may say to us, “Don’t worry, it may never happen!” But this doesn’t help us and we continue to worry because what will we do if it does happen? So how do Paul’s words help us?
Paul didn’t simply say, “Don’t worry.” He said, “Instead pray about everything.” Because God is there we can talk to him. We don’t need special words to speak to him, we can simply tell him what’s on our hearts. We can speak to him every day about everything, big things and small things, and ask him to help us. We can tell him the things we are worrying about and ask him to be with us and to give us strength to face whatever may come. It’s important to remember how he has helped us in the past and to thank him for being with us in difficult times. As we speak to God, he gives us his peace. One hymn says, “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.”
Tragically 39 trekkers have died in the Himalayas. 400 others have been rescued. They were trekking with local guides in the Thorong Pass, which is one of the final stages of the “Annapurna Circuit”, a 200 mile route around Annapurna 1. This is the 10th highest mountain in the world standing at 26,500 feet. It takes two to three weeks to complete the circuit which attracts more than 100,000 trekkers each year. The route comprises footpaths between villages and teashops and does not require great hill walking experience.
October is the peak season for trekkers because the weather is normally good and the views of the mountains are majestic. This year, however, a cyclone in India moved quickly into Nepal. At altitudes of more than 15000 feet the biting winds and severe cold engulfed the trekkers. Few were equipped to cope with the extreme conditions which were so cold that people’s eyelids were frozen. In April this year 16 people died on Mount Everest and the world’s highest mountain was shut down for the first time.
Those who walk in the Himalayas are attracted by their spectacular grandeur and beauty. Those who complete the Annapurna Circuit, or climb a great mountain, have a real sense of achievement. Yet the sight of towering mountain peaks also makes you aware of your smallness. The Himalayas have stood through the millennia and have been left unmoved by countless severe storms, but we are far more vulnerable. In times of trouble the mountains, for all their greatness, cannot help us, but there is One who hears our cry.
All of us experience the storms of life, which often come suddenly and unexpectedly. To whom can we turn for help? In Psalm 121 the psalmist says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and for evermore.” It is wise to turn to the Lord before the storms come. In one of his hymns Charles Wesley speaks of the safety and security he found in Jesus Christ. “Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly, while the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high. Hide me, O my Saviour, hide, till the storm of life is past; safe into the haven guide; Oh receive my soul at last.”
Some new stories are very sad and reveal how vulnerable we all are when we are exposed to exceptional pressure. Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse at King Edward VII hospital who answered a prank phone call from two Australian DJs, took her own life just 3 days later. Frances Andrade, a mother of 4 sons and a very talented violinist, committed suicide after giving evidence against the music teacher who abused her when she was a teenager. Both Jacintha and Frances were living fulfilled lives until they were subjected to pressures with which they could not cope. Both deaths are tragic and have devastated the families.
The apostle Paul was once imprisoned in Philippi. He and his friend, Silas, were in the deepest cell with their feet fastened in stocks. At midnight there was an earthquake which shook the foundations of the prison. All the prison doors flew open and the chains of every prisoner fell off. The jailer woke up and, seeing the prison doors open, assumed the prisoners had escaped. He drew his sword and was about to kill himself when Paul shouted to him, “Don’t do it! We are all here!”
Under great pressure the jailer made a mistake, which any of us can do. He had experienced an earthquake, saw the prison doors open, and assumed all the prisoners had escaped when, in fact, none of them had. All of us can be brought to a situation where we are in the depths of despair and feel there is no way forward, no hope for the future. It is so important to be sure we have really understood the whole situation. It is easy to think that we need to do something drastic and to do it now!
It is also important to be able to talk to those who love us, our family and friends. Feelings of despair and hopelessness are strongest when we are alone. Those who are tempted to take their own lives often feel that everyone would be happier if they were not around, but nothing could be further from the truth. We can also ask God to help us and give us strength. He is a refuge for all in need. One hymn writer, who had experienced great troubles, wrote, “How oft in the conflict, when pressed by the foe, I have fled to my refuge and breathed out my woe! How often, when trials like sea-billows roll, have I hidden in Thee, O Thou rock of my soul!”
The abduction of 5 year old April Jones has shocked the nation. Bryn-y-Gog estate is a quiet residential area in Machynlleth, a small town in North Wales. We have friends who live in Bryn-y-Gog. It is a place where you would assume it was safe for young children to play outside. The realisation that their daughter had been abducted devastated her parents and sister and brother. The immediate response of neighbours and friends was to join in the search for her. By the next day hundreds of volunteers from many places had joined with the police and mountain rescue teams to scour the town and countryside.
On Sunday 700 people gathered at St Peters Parish Church for a service of prayers and readings. There are times in life when many of us feel a deep sense of our need for God’s help. Desperately sad things happen, which we are powerless to change. Very bad things happen, which reveal the inner struggle we all experience with our sinful nature. In our helplessness we need to know that there is someone who sees and knows, who loves and cares, and who is able to help.
In Psalm 121 the psalmist asks, “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?” His answer is, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Machynlleth is surrounded by beautiful mountains. The mountains have stood as silent witnesses to the desperate search for April. They have no power to help, but remind us of God himself. The help we need comes from the One who created the mountains, the omnipotent, all-powerful Lord. He always watches and cares and he is able to help us in our sadness and grief.
Jesus showed a deep love and care for little children. When mothers brought their children to him he said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. Little children are very trusting, and sometimes people wickedly betray that trust. But childlike trust in Jesus is something we all need. We don’t understand the sad and tragic things that happen, but we can bring our sadness and grief to him and know that he cares and will help us.
An avalanche on Mont Blanc has claimed the lives of 9 climbers, including 3 from Britain. They were part of a group of 28 experienced climbers who were attempting one of the most dangerous ascents in Europe to reach the summit of Mont Blanc. One of those who died, Roger Payne, was the mountain guide for the party and had been the General Secretary of the British Mountaineering Council. He had taken part in more than 20 expeditions to some of the world’s most difficult peaks, including the notorious K2 in the Himalayas. His love of climbing began through his scout group in Hammersmith, West London, and he developed his skills in the Scottish and Welsh mountains. A friend said, “He loved the mountains.”
It is easy to understand why people love the mountains. The photographs of the rescue team at work reveal the awesome beauty of the Mont Blanc massif as it towers above them. The bright sunshine, the white snow and the rugged peaks give little indication of the tragedy which had taken place just a few hours before. Climbers will continue to climb Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps, to achieve an ambition and to experience the beauty of God’s creation.
In Psalm 121 the psalmist reflects on the greatness and beauty of the hills. “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Walking and climbing in the mountains make us feel how small we are. The mountains tower above us. They were here before we were born and will continue after we die. We are all so vulnerable and life is so frail. We need help, but the mountains cannot help us.
The help we need comes from the One who created the mountains – the Creator of heaven and earth. He watches over us and never sleeps. He keeps our feet from slipping and keeps us from all harm. He watches over our coming and going both now and for evermore. Life in this world only makes sense in the light of eternity. When terrible tragedies happen and lives are lost there is One to whom we can turn. He understands our frailty and need. His Son, Jesus Christ, came into this world to demonstrate his love for us. This love is so great that nothing in all creation can separate us from it.