The Servant Heart

With more than 2.3 billion followers (take that Twitter!), almost a third of the world’s population, there is no doubt Jesus is a leader. But what sort of a leader is He? and, if we are to follow Jesus, what sort of leaders should we be (since each of us has someone who looks up to them in some respect)? In chapter 10 of Mark’s gospel we see that Jesus is a servant leader.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” — Mark 10:45 (ESV)

But what does it look like to imitate Jesus? Just a few verses later we get an example of how Jesus lets others set the agenda. For context, a blind man, called Bartimaeus, is irritating a whole bunch of people as he screams out for king Jesus to have mercy on him. The more that people want him to shut up the louder he gets. (This may bring to mind some difficult person you have had dealings with?) Jesus asks Bart a simple question, one we can easily copy, in verse 51:

And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” — Mark 10:51a (ESV)

It is the question of a servant (of good customer service) and, for those of us who risk asking it, it puts us at someone else’s disposal — even at the disposal of someone who is loud and annoying, like Bart. As God, Jesus had intimate knowledge of what the man wanted within His grasp, and most people would probably guess that what a blind person would want most is sight. Yet Jesus doesn’t preempt him. Jesus gives him room to formulate his own reply, to dig deep and express his heartfelt desire.

You might be contemplating how you would respond if Jesus asked you, “What do you want me to do for you?” Sadly, some may seek to exploit the question, like the brothers James and John, who sought to use it as an opportunity to tussle for rank at the only other occurrence of this question from Jesus in the book of Mark (Mark 10:35-45). Of course none of us is in the position to dictate when God will work a miracles but the beauty is that, armed with Jesus’ question, God will use us to meet each other’s more basic needs. Some will need to wait for heaven for Jesus to grant them healing.

You may feel that asking someone, “What do you want me to do for you?” is beneath you. Thankfully, Jesus, the king of the universe, was willing to stoop down and assume the role of a servant, our servant, and met our greatest need at the cross, giving His life to ransom many.

Jesus, our Servant King, have mercy on us. Open our eyes to recognise Your beauty as One who, even though You are worthy to be served, gives up Your vitality, Your very life, in order to serve us by paying the debt we owed. Help us become more like You by asking each other, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Is God Angry?

Since I make a point of hearing people out, even when I don’t agree with them, I recently read God: The Most Unpleasant Character In All Fiction, by Dan Barker. As an ex-minister he is a great communicator and is well versed.

The premise of the book is running with the baton passed to him from Richard Dawkins, providing Old Testament verses in support of Dawkins’ uncharitable depiction of God in The God Delusion, (as well as adding further accusations). The book is the result of focusing entirely on God’s negative aspects, like His jealousy or anger, to the exclusion of any positive aspects.

While there is much in this book for Christians to contend with I just want to briefly address God’s anger. I agree that God is angry, there is no argument there. Only the thought arises: might God be justified in His anger? Would we really want a god who is soft on sin? a god who does not enforce any repercussions for wickedness? a god who is indifferent, cold or aloof?

I think we could all imagine how terrible life would be with no rules or authorities to enforce them. The Bible teaches that God is responsible for all such authorities, which we take for granted (Romans 13:1). These authorities help stem the tide of immorality. People hold each other to account for their actions, why not God?

To me, the fact that God is angry with how we treat Him and one another is unremarkable. However, that God, in the form of His own Son, would bear the brunt of His own anger, so that we needn’t, is remarkable.

Paul, in Romans 11:22, would have us simultaneously straddle two aspects of God, “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God.” (NIV) These ideas must be held in tension with one another. When you stress just one, you do so at the expense of the other. Yes, God is angry but in His kindness, via the cross, He has provided a way to escape His wrath. All we need to do is trust in Jesus.

Also, as an aside, the artwork within the book is stunning.

Trouble Assured

For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. (Job 5:6-7 ESV)

This statement, from one of Job’s friends, strikes a chord. It is a simple, yet profound, description of humanity’s predicament. (The wording of it would seem to contradict Adam’s curse in Genesis 3:17-19, unless its intention is for us to take a step back and recognise God as the ultimate source of trouble?) Anyway, as part and parcel with living in a fallen world, trouble is guaranteed. It is a dead certainty, just as anyone who has sat and watched a fire will attest, sparks are sure to fly upward, so too are we destined for trouble. Being at odds with our creator has made our lives difficult. Not even Jesus and His cross are enough to spare us affliction in this world. Instead, here’s what Jesus had to say:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)

Although these words of Jesus come prior to His crucifixion and resurrection He speaks so definitively about overcoming the world that He talks about it in the past tense, “I have overcome the world.” Curiously, peace can be had in the midst of turmoil, and it is found in Jesus, especially in what He said to us.

Jesus, not even Your death and resurrection protect us entirely from the effects of Adam’s curse during our days on earth. However, we take heart in the fact that You have overcome this world, when You experienced the very worst humanity could dish out. We ask that, when life seems to be going up in flames, tribulation would drive us to lap up Your words to us, that we would be comforted by the fact that You have overcome Adam’s curse for all eternity.

Satan’s or God’s Hand?

Is God at work in our lives or is it Satan? For any particular incident, whether good or bad, we tend to think it must be either one or the other. Curiously though, the Bible implicates both in consecutive verses.

Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “… stretch out your hand and touch all that [Job] has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” (Job 1:9-12a ESV)

Notice, first Satan incites God to stretch out His hand against everything Job has, then God places everything Job has into the hand of Satan (even while preventing him from stretching out his hand against Job himself). Both God and Satan are stretching out their hands simultaneously — in tandem we might say — but each is working with a vastly different outcome in mind. God is at work to prove our faith genuine, while Satan would see our faith crumble. Also, Satan can do no more or less to us than what God allows, in other words, God is sovereign — in control.

It would appear that Job was blissfully unaware of any involvement from Satan when he later says to his wife:

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:10b ESV)

Job doesn’t blame Satan for all the bad things while giving God the credit for all the good stuff. Nor is Satan responsible for all the good and God only the bad, that’s absurd. As far as Job was concerned, God had taken away his children and wealth, even his health, and he wasn’t wrong in expressing it; he didn’t blaspheme. When something bad happens Satan nefariously wants us to curse God, yet God benevolently wants us to continue trusting in Him. Similarly, when something good happens, Satan would have us get more carried away with the gift than the Giver, but God would receive our gratitude.

Whether navigating life’s pleasures or enduring its pain, there is more at play than just God and Satan. A third entity must be contended with. Namely us, but especially the problem emanating from our own desires:

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. (James 1:12-14 ESV)

Jesus, we are sorry for failing to react like Job — like You — to life’s ups and downs. Thanks that the Spirit that raised You from the dead is at work in us to give us life (Romans 8:11). With His help, let us not be taken in by the tempter when Your Father’s hand brings about good or bad for us. Please purify our desires and make us steadfast, like You, in the face of trials that we may lay claim to the crown of life.


Round two. Satan hasn’t finished casting aspersions on Job yet, even though he remains a model of integrity after his first bout with Satan, going toe to toe with his accuser. Satan is adamant that Job will abandon his faith once he can no longer say, “Well at least I still have my health!” As a heavy comfort, Satan is prohibited from giving Job anything terminal.

And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” (Job 2:3-6 ESV)

Satan’s cunning is again met with frustration as Job once more exhibits Christlike resolve, even rebuking his wife whom, in a stroke of brilliance, Satan spared in order to taunt Job:

So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:7-10 ESV)

Father, by Your Spirit, help us maintain our integrity, even when You are incited to destroy us without cause. Keep us from cursing You and help us stand our ground in faith when our health is taken from us. May we not cave, even when those closest to us tempt us to defile our lips. Help us accept both good and bad in our lives as coming from Your gentle hands, to trust that suffering has a good purpose, equipping us to comfort others with the comfort we receive from You (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Thank You for Jesus, that He kept His lips pure in the face of staunch opposition, and whose suffering made possible our salvation. Make us like Him. Thank You for being there and helping me get through all the hardest parts of my life.

Cosmic Wager

It would seem that Satan’s war against humanity must be waged within bounds set by Yahweh. Job is a Christlike figure, a righteous man, head and shoulders above his peers. If God were a betting person, He’d put His money on Job (only the deck is stacked because He knows the outcome beforehand) since God is pleased with Job and the exemplary life he leads.

And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (Job 1:8-12 ESV)

Till now, Job has led what many would consider a charmed life but all that is about to change. His life is going to be drastically altered. Of all God’s blessings he will only retain his good health, in a bid to work out whether he will continue to fear God. Satan is convinced that Job will change his tune, but even when Job learns, in quick succession, that he has been robbed of his possessions and family (bar his wife) his faith remains intact.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (Job 1:20-22 ESV)

Father, thanks for the times when we enjoy Your hedge of protection around us, when You bless the works of our hands. By Your Spirit, strengthen us to endure when You reach out take from us. Give us faith that will withstand a cavalcade of disaster. Don’t let Satan prevail against us. If only we could be the sort of people You could place confidence in. Thanks for Jesus, for living a peerless, righteousness life which becomes ours through faith. Help us follow in His footsteps.

Someone to Intervene

In the most ancient book of the Bible, Job appears as something of a rarity. Someone who is blessed exceedingly with wealth and yet reveres God, living a life beyond reproach. He is not even Jewish. What is perhaps more striking still is his role as a priestly intercessor. He wastes no time mediating between his adult children and God, all of the time.

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. (Job 1:1-5 ESV)

In this way, the story of Job anticipates the Christ.

Consequently, [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25 ESV)

Father, thanks for Jesus, the sinless Saviour, who lives to constantly mediate at Your side on our behalf. He saves us totally so we can get up close and personal with You. Make us like Job — like Christ — ready to step in between others and You, to plead for forgiveness for them. May the riches of Your blessings not prevent us from living reverent, blameless lives of upright obedience to You, shunning evil.

I was the Cupbearer

Ever feel like your role in life is insignificant or inconsequential? Take note of the progression of the following passage. First, Nehemiah is deeply moved when he learns of the plight of his people. This prompts him to beseech God through fasting, prayer and confession. Then we find out Nehemiah is just your run-of-the-mill, humble, unassuming servant, in the role of cupbearer to a foreign king.

And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king. (Nehemiah 1:3-11 ESV)

The rest of the book regales us with how God utilises Nehemiah, and his ordinary job, to bend a foreign ruler to God’s will, making the king favourably disposed to God’s people. In God’s hands, Nehemiah becomes, in large part, the answer to his own prayer, aiding to restore his people’s fortunes.

Father, move us to have compassion regarding the plight of our fellow man, both for those who are enemies of Jesus and for those who suffer for His namesake. In Your hands, no one is useless but all of us can be used mightily for Your purposes—to extend and bolster Your kingdom—whatever our station in life. Thanks for Jesus who, though He was King, came to serve, especially by reversing our fortunes. Thanks for keeping Your covenant promises. Help us uphold Your commandments. You can turn a cupbearer into so much more.

Forty: Hardship, but also Revelation

The number ‘forty’ in the Bible is associated with judgement and trials. God sent rain for forty days and nights in the days of Noah and the flood (Genesis 7:4, 12). Israel was made to spend forty years in the wilderness for their failure to obediently capture the land God had promised to them (Numbers 14:33). Jesus also spent time in the wilderness (forty days), being tested by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11). And, although Satan gets to sift us like wheat, we remain under the protection of Jesus’ prayer:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32 ESV)

Forty also relates to revelation. Moses was with God up the mountain for forty days and nights, where he experienced God’s glory and received the Law (Exodus 24:15-18ff). After His resurrection, Jesus spent forty days among His disciples teaching them regarding God’s kingdom (Acts 1:3).

Father, You do not allow wickedness to go unanswered, but execute just punishment. Thank You that, even though we must suffer at times, Jesus has shielded us from Your coming wrath. Thanks for Jesus who, though tempted, was without sin and that by trusting in His death and resurrection we get to participate in Your kingdom. Your name be praised for the faith-sustaining prayers of Your Son in the face of hardship. Reveal to us more and more of Your glory and Your kingdom through the ministry of Your Christ.

Twelve Included

God, from small beginnings, transformed a forlorn and childless Abraham and Sarah into a formidable nation. Enacting His initial agreement to an extent with the twelve sons of Abraham’s grandson, Israel (Jacob), giving rise to twelve tribes.

Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s servant: Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s servant: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram. – Genesis 35:22b-26 ESV

In the end there were thirteen tribes, sort of, with Joseph’s sons becoming the heads of the two half-tribes: Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:3-5). How fitting, then, that from among these tribes Jesus appointed and trained twelve Disciples, investing His authority with them to begin bringing about the ultimate fulfilment of God’s initial agreement, where all Christians are considered Abraham’s children—God’s children—saved through their witness and testimony by the work of the Holy Spirit.

And [Jesus] called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. – Matthew 10:1-4 ESV

Judas, due to his betrayal, was later replaced by a thirteenth Apostle, bringing their number back up to twelve (Acts 1:15-26).

Now we await the day when the elect among the Jews (symbolised by 12x12x1000) along with every chosen Christian (beyond number) are gathered before Jesus:

And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel…
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, – Revelation 7:4-9 ESV