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God’s promises

The Bible is the best-selling book of all time. Around 5 billion copies have been purchased, five times more than the next best-seller. It is also the most translated book in human history. The whole Bible has been translated into more than 700 languages, the New Testament has been translated into more than 1500 languages and portions of the Bible have been translated into 3400 languages.

The Bible is a big book and often lies on a shelf unread. The best places to start reading the Bible are the New Testament, which tells us about the life and teaching of Jesus, or the book of Psalms, which is in the middle of the Bible and tells us about people’s experiences of God. When we read the Bible God speaks to us so that we may know him and find strength to face the challenges of life. I know people who started reading the Bible during the pandemic and have come to know Jesus as their Saviour.

Before we read the Bible, we can ask God to speak to us. One psalmist prayed, “Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.” You don’t have to read large sections of the Bible to find help and strength. Many people have found help in single verses to which they often turn in times of stress and trouble. The night before my father had major surgery for cancer, he read the Gideons’ New Testament by his bedside and found comfort in these words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

In the Bible God makes wonderful promises which we can fully trust. He spoke to his people through the prophet Isaiah, “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’” In Psalm 23 David wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

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When I am afraid

Fear is a common human emotion. The coronavirus pandemic has created sustained fear in the hearts of many people, especially the elderly, who are afraid to leave their homes in case they catch the virus. Some people I know have not left their homes since last March.

Fear can protect us from danger. Parents use fear in a positive way to teach their children to be careful when crossing the road or not to touch electric sockets in case they receive a shock. It is helpful for people to be aware that the coronavirus is easily transmitted and, in some cases, produces serious illness and even death. It is wise to be afraid of enclosed spaces, crowds, and close contact with others, especially those who may have the virus.

Fear can also paralyse us and prevent us from coping with daily life. So, it’s really important to know how to cope with fear. The psalms of David help us to know how to handle our fears. In Psalm 56, which he wrote when his enemies had captured him and his life was in danger, he says, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. I praise God for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?” Instead of being overcome by fear, he put his trust in God’s promise that he would be king. When we are afraid, we can put our trust in God.

When we are afraid, we can also pray for God’s help and protection. A few weeks ago, some good friends were in a very difficult situation with the virus. The husband is elderly and vulnerable. His wife is caring for him with the help of a team of carers who come into their home every day. One of the carers contracted coronavirus and, soon after their son, who lives with them also picked up the virus at work. All we could do was to pray for God’s protection for the couple and God graciously heard our prayers. When we are afraid, we can pray to God.

In Psalm 23 David speaks of his confidence in the Lord, who was his shepherd, even when facing death. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Despite the excellent care of doctors and nurses, good friends have died from coronavirus, and their families had only been able to visit them at the very end, but they, like David feared no evil because the Lord was with them.

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Words matter

Words matter. At the marriage of Jack Brooksbank and Princess Eugenie last week their deep love for each other was obvious. The Dean of Windsor declared them to be husband and wife because they made solemn, lifelong promises to each other. Eugenie was asked, “Eugenie, wilt thou have this Man to be thy wedded husband, to live together according to God’s law in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love him, comfort him, honour and keep him, in sickness and in health and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?” She replied, “I will.” Jack made a similar promise.

One media organisation hired professional lip-readers to tell them what the Royal guests were saying to each other. It seems even small talk matters! Jesus taught that our words reveal the condition of our inner self and that God will judge us for everything we say. He said, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!”

Those who heard Jesus speaking recognised the authority of his words. During a difficult time in his ministry, when some people turned away from him, Jesus asked his close disciples, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.” Jesus made wonderful promises in which we can have total confidence. One of his promises is, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Some Christian friends of ours invited a neighbour, who is not a Christian, to a meal. After the meal the wife asked the neighbour if she could read a passage from the Bible. The neighbour agreed and the wife read one of the Psalms. As she was reading the neighbour began to cry. When the reading was finished the neighbour explained why she had cried, “In my religion we speak to God but he never speaks to us. As you were reading I felt God was speaking to me!”