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Emmanuel Church, Plymouth
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St Paul's, Efford
Tony's Reflections from St Paul's: 2
What used to frighten you, when you were little? I’ve told some of you before, as a very small child, I had a bedroom all on my own, on the ground floor of a large Victorian terraced house, with my parents and little sister two flights of stairs further up. My bedroom was spooky enough in the dark (I could always hear "monsters" playing in the cellar underneath my room), but it was even worse in a ferocious night time thunderstorm, when the rolls of thunder shook the old wooden sash window and the lightning sent its split-second shadows darting all over the room.
I can still remember crying out for my dad, him getting out of bed, coming down to my room, pulling the curtains back and holding my hand, while we watched the thunderstorm together. Somehow, with my big strong dad stood beside me, my hand safely in his, I had a whole different perspective on the storm. Not that there was anything different in what was going on outside. The difference was he was holding my hand and I felt safe with him close by.
The Bible verse below speaks the same about God being near at a terrifying time in the history of his people, Israel. It speaks of God taking "little Israel" by the hand and saying, "Don't be afraid.”
"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.” (Isaiah 41:13.)
The chapter that verse is taken from is all about a time of great national crisis in Israel's history. (I have attached it, if you want to read it.) The times that were coming upon them would be frightening, as none before. A huge army was going to invade and their country would be decimated. There would be nothing anyone could do to fight back, because the odds would be so overwhelming.
This could easily have driven them to despair, but Isaiah brings hope. He reminds the people that God is the one who has whistled up this destroying army (v.2f), but when the time had come God would also be the one who will reduce this destroying army to nothing (v.11).
The invading army coming and the destruction it will bring on Israel are part of God’s big purpose. They are things he is in charge of and come at his command. But then so is the destruction of that army part of God’s big purpose, too. It’s going and its eventual destruction were all in God’s hand as well.
As I am writing this, I am looking out of my window onto a sunny Spring day and all looks well. As I watch the news, though and hear through my nurse daughter what is going on a few miles up the road in Derriford, then it’s clear our country is also being attacked by a deadly foe.
God decreed the coming of Israel’s enemy and that enemy’s eventual destruction. God has also just as surely set the time when this dreadful virus would come upon our country and he has also set the time when it will go. Both its coming and its going are in God’s hand.
As we realise this, It would be easy for us to feel like helpless, hopeless victims, at the mercy of forces we do not fully understand, which are so much greater than us.
That would miss the point of this chapter entirely … We need to go back to that precious little nugget that is in verse 13. Yes, we are small. Yes, the power and the destructiveness of this virus are immense. On one level, all we can do is to hide ourselves away as best we can and hope it doesn't get us. It is frightening, when you think of it like that.
What does God say, though, to this fear? He reaches out his hand to us and says, "Don't be afraid, I will help you."
With your right hand in his almighty hand know that he is close to you. What’s most precious of all, know that he is near to you, not to strike you down or destroy you, but to lift you up and bring you help and strength - that is truly breathtaking.
Picture God stood beside you. See your hand in his. Do not be afraid.
Love to you all,