Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 18 2019 - Ecclesiastes 3 – A time for everything

Some of you may be old enough to remember a young Pete Seeger in 1962 singing, "To everything, turn! Turn! Turn! There is a season; turn! Turn! Turn! And a time to every purpose under heaven." The song became (for me) a memorable hit for Mary Hopkin in 1968. There are not many pop songs based on words from the book of Ecclesiastes!

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is a beautiful piece of poetry, expressing thoughts with which we can readily identify. Our own lives are marked by changing circumstances. We tend to mark off periods of our lives by the most important of those changes: "This happened before I was married"; "That happened just after the second of our children was born"; "This happened when we lived in London"… In our minds and in our memory the different phases of our lives are marked out by the changing events of our lives. Life is full of changes and different seasons, each with its highlights.

But in these verses the author is not simply looking back on the various seasons of his life, he is perplexed by the way in which life seems to have no particular direction. People are born only at last to die. What is planted and flourishes for a while is later uprooted. What is constructed at great pains is later pulled down and destroyed. The work of one day is undone in the next. No wonder he concludes his beautiful poem with the words, "What do workers gain from their toil?" (v. 9)

In the following verses (10-11), the Teacher writes, "I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end." The "seasons" of our lives and of human history may each have their own coherence and beauty, but the human mind and heart longs for something more. The word translated "eternity" in verse 11 really means "the whole". That is to say that we are not satisfied to enjoy each passing moment, we long to understand the bigger picture: "What is life all about?"; "Is human history going anywhere rather than just going round in circles?"; "What does it all mean?" We long to "fathom what God has done from beginning to end"; to understand the big picture and to make sense of it all.

It is God who placed this longing in our hearts. And it is God who has answered this longing with the revelation of his eternal purposes in the pages of Scripture and in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has shown us the big picture.

This is God's world which he created for his own glory and has committed to our care. But because of our rebellion against God and failure to care for his creation, we live in a world that is marked by futility (or, a world that has been subjected to vanity, Romans 8:20). Our lives, lived in this world, may seem to lack meaning and significance, but that is because neither we nor the world are as we were created to be.

Jesus entered our world to show us the greatness of God's love for a world gone wrong. He identified himself fully with us in the frustrations of a broken world. In his death upon the cross, that broken world is brought to judgment. By his resurrection from the dead a new creation has come to birth; we know that death is not the end. When Christ returns in glory all things will be made new.

Christ gives meaning to history and to our lives. History is not just going round in circles but will be brought to its fulfilment at the return of Christ. Our lives have meaning and direction as we look for, live for and work for that day. We have more to hope for than the enjoyment of the passing moment.

This is God's big story and we need to read all Scripture, including the book of Ecclesiastes, in the context of this big story which has its focus in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Loving Father, help us to tell your big story to a world longing for meaning and significance. May many come to find life, hope and direction in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jun 18 2013 - Acts 12:1-23 – The God who answers prayer … as he pleases

In Acts 12 we read of a remarkable answer to prayer. Herod had seized James, the brother of John, and had executed him. When he saw how much this pleased the Jews, he had Peter thrown into prison, planning, no doubt, to do much the same with him as soon as the Feast of Unleavened Bread was over. This set the church praying earnestly for Peter to be spared.

Their prayers were answered and Peter was released from prison in the most dramatic fashion. An angel appeared in the prison and woke Peter with a blow to the chest. As he got up, Peter's chains fell off his wrists. He hastily got dressed and followed the angel. The prison doors then opened automatically before them (don't let anyone tell you that the automatic door was invented in the twentieth century), and Peter was led out into the town and into freedom.

Peter could hardly believe what was happening. He seems to have thought that it was all a dream – until, that is, the angel left him and he found himself wide awake, a short distance away from the prison and in the middle of a deserted street.

Peter immediately made his way to the house of John-Mark where many were meeting in prayer on Peter’s behalf. When he knocked at the outer gate, a servant girl Rhoda was so shocked to hear Peter’s voice that she ran back into the house without letting Peter in. Despite having been earnestly in prayer for Peter, no one could believe that Peter was actually free and standing on their doorstep!

It's easy to use this passage as a lesson in prayer: if we are only sufficiently earnest in prayer, God will answer us – meaning that he will give us what we ask for. But wait a minute. Peter was not the first person Herod laid his hands on. James was first to be seized, and he was executed. Don't you think that the church was just as earnest in praying for James as they were for Peter? God does hear and answer prayer, but it's not always to grant the things we ask for, even if we ask for them most earnestly.

We need to be earnest in prayer, but we need also to be humble and submissive before God. We need to admit that we do not always understand God's ways; we do not understand why he so often seems slow to answer our prayers. Nor do we understand why God answers some prayers in astonishing and miraculous ways while other prayers remain unanswered. It will not do to suggest that unanswered prayer is the result of defective praying. We need to learn simply to trust God even when we do not understand his ways. And we can trust him and rest in the certainty of his care for us – for he gave his Son for us.

In his book, God on Mute, Peter Greig, writing from the painful experience of unanswered prayer, says, “I don't know why your prayers haven't been answered. But I do know that the very best thing about our lives – the most incredible thing we've got going for us – is that the Creator of a million stars is entirely and eternally good, that He is utterly caught up in the details of our situation, and that He cares for us more than we care for ourselves.”

Father God, you have given your Son for us and assured us that with him you will freely give us all things. Help us to trust you even when we walk in darkness and in the shadow of death, knowing that you have not left us in the dark concerning your love. Thank you that the day will come when darkness will be swallowed up in the blaze of your glorious light and we shall know you even as we are known by you.

Peter Misselbrook