Bring some Spirit-filled peace into your hectic schedule every weekday morning with this new Daily Devotional.
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Day 23 - Issue 39
Acts 20.28 NLT
'So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders.'
I suspect that most people would choose not to be compared with sheep! It would hardly be seen as a flattering description! Sheep are rarely viewed as the brightest of animals and are generally understood to be easily led. However, God’s people are frequently described as being like sheep in both the Old and New Testaments. It isn’t surprising therefore that, as Paul addresses the Ephesian elders in his final talk with them, he speaks of their responsibilities for caring for the flock. Paul knows that the church, like any flock of sheep, needs to be guarded, fed and cared for.
The responsibility for caring for the church was so great that the appointment had to be made by the Holy Spirit. That is still the case today. If an individual feels an inner conviction that this is something that they should do that should always be greatly welcomed. But it isn’t enough.
That inner conviction needs to be carefully weighed and assessed by others who, listening to the Holy Spirit, will seek to discern whether this is God’s will.
The responsibility of the shepherd always involves guarding the flock. In Psalm 23 David, who had himself been a shepherd, reflected that the Lord’s “rod and staff protect and comfort me.” The rod and staff, or shepherd’s crook, were the means of defending the sheep from attackers but also of rescuing those that got into trouble. The shepherd had an active and continual role of protecting the sheep and that’s exactly the role that church leaders need to perform today. Life is full of threats and temptations and the shepherd must be continually alert.
There are many different aspects to a shepherd’s role but they are summed up in the word love. We see that supremely in the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who gladly laid down his life for his sheep. We need to thank God that the Holy Spirit continues to appoint people to the awesome responsibility of church leadership.
QUESTION: How do you understand the role of the shepherd in church life today?
PRAYER: Thank you Lord for those whom you set apart for leadership in the church in our day. May they be faithful in guarding, feeding and caring for their flock. Amen
Day 22 - Issue 39
Acts 20.24 NLT
'But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.'
What’s the purpose of your life? We all have to agree that this is an excellent question, but most of the time we are far too busy to be able to ask it. We may be busy with our work, family, church, hobbies, sport and a thousand other things and asking the biggest question of all gets put off. We promise ourselves that we will ask it one day when we’ve got a bit more time! For the apostle Paul the moment was now because he recognised that his life was under threat and he might not have much time left.
Paul was clear that his life’s work was to communicate the Good News about the wonderful grace of God revealed in Jesus. What an amazing ministry he had! His leadership, teaching and example were of incalculable importance and we are still deeply conscious of our debt to him. In all honesty our roles are unlikely to have the same world-shaking significance but each of our lives is important and we need to make sure that we use our time well. This life isn’t a rehearsal for anything. It’s the real thing and we need to ensure that we are giving our best.
I have the privilege of mentoring a number of people and those conversations are all focused on helping my mentees to reflect on the direction of their lives. Not everyone will have a mentor but it is valuable for all of us to have such highly focused conversations with someone else from time to time. The busyness of life can very easily push such times of reflection to the margins but they need to happen and we are wise to set aside time to ensure that they do.
QUESTION: How would you describe the purpose of your life?
PRAYER: Lord God, thank you for the gift of my life and for every opportunity that you give me to serve you. Amen
Day 21 - Issue 39
Acts 20.18-20 NLT
“You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews. I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes.”
I want to tell you about something which regularly happens in our home. My son works for a well-known food retailer. When he leaves for work I will naturally wish him well and he always has exactly the same response. “I’ll do my best, Dad.” And what is even better than that is that I know he will. And that’s exactly what we are reading in this passage today. We are meeting Paul as he addresses the leaders of the church in Ephesus and he wants them to know that he did his best. He didn’t hold anything back from them. He suffered with them and told them everything they needed to know, even if they weren’t keen to hear it. He had done his best.
Paul had spent three years with the church in Ephesus which was a very long ministry for him. He clearly loved them passionately and was always keen to take every opportunity to encourage them. On this particular occasion, he was eager to get to Jerusalem in time
for Pentecost and so he decided not to make the journey to Ephesus, but invited their leaders to make the 30 mile journey to the coast to meet him at Miletus. His speech to them is deeply moving and reveals his deep love for them and his passionate desire that they should be strong in the face of whatever opposition they might encounter. Paul was sure that this was the last time that he would meet with them, and he was right about that, although he had no idea why that was that was going to be the case. The fact was that when he got to Jerusalem he was going to be arrested and be sent, finally, to Rome to face trial.
Paul wasn’t perfect and neither are you or I. We all fail. But God looks to us, frail as we are, to do our best and, amazingly, our gracious and loving heavenly Father will take that and use it to his glory.
QUESTION: Are you committed to doing your best for God today?
PRAYER: Lord God, I know that I often fail you. Thank you that you are willing to take and use what I give to you today. Amen
Day 20 - Issue 39
Acts 19.11-12 NLT
'God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.'
Isn’t this wonderful? I have no personal experience of my own handkerchiefs or aprons being a blessing to anyone else, but that’s not the point. God can work in the way that he chooses and in this wonderful period of Paul’s ministry that was exactly what he chose to do. The reference to the handkerchiefs here is probably to the sweat bands that Paul used in his daily tent making work. This story reminds me of an earlier account in Acts when people were healed by Peter’s shadow falling across them as he walked by. God was blessing his ministry in such an amazing way that sick people were brought out in the street on their beds and mats to be healed. (Acts 5.15)
When we hear about God working in wonderful and miraculous ways we are, naturally, very keen to see him do exactly the same things today. When we read the amazing accounts of revivals when whole communities have turned in faith to Christ we, understandably, long for that to happen in our own day. But I believe that our focus needs to be on the fact that God is always acting miraculously. Every day is an expression of God’s miraculous power. It happens when people get better after a time of illness; when people recover after skilful surgery; when a child is born; when people come through a crisis and find new hope; or when we look at the beautiful countryside or watch a majestic sunset. Every day in a thousand ways we are being blessed by miracles, and that needs to encourage us to expect God to work in new and amazing ways. Looking at my handkerchiefs or my shadow, I don’t have any particular expectation that God is suddenly going to do amazing miracles with them, but looking at the miraculous God that I know, I find it very easy to believe that he might do so.
QUESTION: In what ways have you seen God act miraculously in the past week?
PRAYER: God of miracles we worship you. We praise you that you are continually doing amazing things in our world. Amen
Day 19 - Issue 39
Acts 18.9-10 NLT
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, “Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to me.”
Throughout the Bible we hear God telling people not to be afraid. When God made a covenant with Abram, the father of the nation of Israel, he spoke to him in a vision and said, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.” (Genesis 15.1) Later, we meet Joshua after the death of Moses and God said to him “This is my command – be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1.9) Much later, we hear the angel telling a young girl called Mary that she should not be afraid when she is told that she will bear the Son of God.
The command not to be afraid indicates how damaging fear can be. God knows that we cannot be effective in serving him unless we overcome the problem of fear. Our verses today come at a time when the apostle Paul had had a great deal of experience of living for God. He had faced many struggles and much intense opposition, but God knew that fear was still an issue and so he spoke to him in a vision to give him assurance. God didn’t merely tell him not to fear but reminded him that he would always be with him. He also gave him the encouragement that there were in that busy, cosmopolitan city people who belonged to him. Paul wouldn’t be alone as he ministered in that famously immoral city.
Fear takes many forms, and it can creep up on us at any time. It may be a fear of what other people think of us, a fear of failure, loss, ill health or death. Just because you are normally a confident person doesn’t mean that you are impervious to fear. The answer is that we need to look to God and hand over our fears to him, reminding ourselves that he is with us and will never leave us.
QUESTION: What are you most fearful of at the moment? What are you doing with that fear?
PRAYER: Loving Father, thank you that you understand us so well and that you are able to give us the strength to face up to any fears. Amen
Day 18 - Issue 39
1 Thessalonians 5.19-21 NLT
'Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.'
It has been estimated that as many as 20 per cent of the paintings held by Britain’s major museums may be forgeries. It is apparently extremely difficult to be certain of the precise origin of paintings and it takes a great deal of forensic work to gain any degree of certainty. The apostle Paul is greatly concerned about an even more serious kind of fake, and that is when someone claims to
be speaking a word of prophecy but is not. This was clearly a matter of great concern for the early church. There were undoubtedly many people who enjoyed the influence that they acquired by stating “thus saith the Lord” and were delighted by the ease with which they could deceive people.
Paul was eager to encourage the church to know how to approach prophecy. He certainly didn’t want them to dismiss all prophecy just because there were some irresponsible people who deliberately made up their prophetic utterances. He wanted people to be eagerly listening out for the voice of God knowing that God had graciously given prophets as a gift to the church. But Paul didn’t want the church to be gullible and simply accept everything that anyone claimed to be from God. They needed to test everything. The same applies to us today. We should welcome prophecies. Sometimes they will speak of things that will happen in the future, but most prophecies will declare a word from God about the present. We should listen with great attention but, just like an art expert, we must be alert to the fact that there are fakes around. We should test prophecies by looking at the character of the person who is speaking. We will also want to ensure that what they are saying is in line with the Bible. God would never say something that was completely different from what he has declared in the Scriptures.
Having tested everything God calls us to hold on to what is good. Those good things will nourish and strengthen us, and surely we wouldn’t want to let them go.
QUESTION: In what ways would you want to test a word of prophecy?
PRAYER: Loving Father, thank you that you love to speak to us. Help us to be eager to hear your voice. Amen