I like flying (in a plane, of course). I particularly enjoy the long haul flights, and it has nothing to do with the lack of legroom and cramped seating conditions.
There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is I get to enjoy guilt free entertainment. I seldom get the opportunity to immerse myself in TV series, or get a break from work which is totally justified. I can watch a series back-to-back without interruptions, and no one is there to judge me. The second is the view and the perspective that it provides.
From 30,000 feet I am able to see snow-capped mountains, arid deserts, neat circles of cultivated crops, meandering rivers, busy highways, rugged coastlines, beautiful clouds, stunning unusual sunsets and sunrises.
In particular I find the last couple minutes of flight fascinating as the plane descends from that loft position to landing. It is surreal. You very quickly move from a perspective where everything looks ant-like to being back on the ground. While I am at 30,000 feet I try to imagine what it is like to be on the ground or in that car… and I struggle to place myself there… while back on the ground I try to imagine what it is like in the aircraft looking down.
I have wondered on many occasions if this is how things look from God's viewpoint! Of course we don’t know but it certainly feels like it could be God’s vantage point.
A physical viewpoint is just one use of the word perspective and it can be used in other ways. Last week Pete Smuts, while sharing from the book of Jonah, asked us to consider things from three perspectives, Jonah’s perspective, God’s perspective, and Christ’s perspective. This was essentially an academic or a mental exercise. He was not asking us to physically get into Jonah’s shoes but rather to try and understand why he reacted in the way he did and why he made the decisions he did.
The word perspective can be applied in different contexts, but the meaning remains the same, which is to regard something from a different viewpoint than our own.
The Bible, at its very essence, is where God reveals Himself and His view of our world in what He says and what He does. We are instructed time and time again to see things from His perspective. WHY? Because perspective has a direct influence on action! How we see things affects our thoughts, our emotions, our spiritual lives, and how we act and react to a situation.
This morning what I would like to do is unpack what it means to see things from His perspective. And in so doing encourage you once again to take stock, consider your life and its circumstances, and to make a conscious decision to see things for GOD’S PERSPECTIVE.
We are going to do this by looking at 2 passages of scripture, Psalm 137 and Jeremiah 29.
Now, fundamentally the bible teaches us that the difference between a person of faith and the unbeliever is revealed in the way in which they judge things.
The unbeliever judges things by worldly standards, by their senses, and by time with death being the bookend. Despite their best efforts they are just not able to gain a full picture. While the believer on the other hand is learning to think like God and brings God into everything, viewing this from His perspective, by His values. They view the event or activity in terms of eternity.
Now I use the word learning very deliberately, because the bible and our lives are peppered with accounts of the constant grappling to see things from God’s perspective.
If we are honest with ourselves, we default very quickly, and see things on ground level. We live mostly by sight, and not by faith.
This is the experience of the people of Israel during the time of Jeremiah.
A quick history lesson so that we can see this passage in context
As a fulfilment of the prophecies from the Old Testament, God used King Nebuchadnezzar as an agent of His judgement. Because of their idolatry, sin, and rebellion against Him, God allowed Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, to lead his armies against the Israelites, killing many people, destroying the temple, taking many thousands captive, and leaving Jerusalem in ruins.
It was during this time that Nebuchadnezzar took many of the finest and brightest young men from Judah captive, including Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
They are now in exile, in a foreign land, having lost their home, their jobs, and for many their families.
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?
Their emotional state is clear. Every line of this Psalm is alive with pain, and it grows in intensity. Babylon was a land fed by four powerful rivers, and the scene opens where these grieving captives sit down on the banks and weep. The use of the word to weep is used in scripture to depict deep and intense sadness. John 11:35, the shortest verse in the bible, tells us that outside the tomb of Lazarus, where the lack of faith from believers and family cause Jesus to weep.
Now, although it is completely understandable to be deeply saddened and disappointed when confronted with tragedy and hardship, whether at our own hands, or as a result of God's correction, OR completely unjustified, what is not, is our dwelling on it. Deep sadness must not lead to deep despair. No matter how unfair.
Why is it that the most Godly, kind and caring man I have known, a man who lived a life of service and sacrifice for his family for this church and others, was stricken down with dementia. It robbed him of his dignity, it robbed us of a grandfather way too soon… it was not fair… But by the grace of God it did not lead to despair.
For the Jewish people music, their worship, was at the very center of their spiritual lives. But they hung up their harps… If we are to seek God’s perspective, if we are to understand God’s ways, then this must be done by spending time with Him, in prayer, in worship, reading His word, in His presence.
Their sadness and deep despair lead them to a place where their spiritual lives were affected. They were overwhelmed and stopped worshipping God!
I am reminded here of Peter, walking on the water, he sees the wind and the waves, and takes his eyes off Jesus and begins to sink. When the enormity of the circumstances start to overwhelm us, that is the time when we need to fix our eyes on him. We cannot allow ourselves to fall into a place where the enormity of the problem affects our worship, our meeting together and seeking God’s vantage point.
To add insult to injury, their captors mocked them, tormented them, demanding songs of joy.
They are led to pose this question: “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”
How can we worship God and be joyful while our trials are so difficult?
BUT GOD HAS A WORD OF THEM, and he has a word for you this morning.
When everything has been taken away, what you do not have is a hope and a future. And this is precisely what God will give them - a hope and a future.
Through the prophet Jeremiah God tells them… “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future”
God’s view of our lives is so much higher, so much farther away. To the Israelites God says he will bring them back from captivity. 70 yeast was the time God had set. This was His discipline. The people had turned away from Him. They worshipped idols and did evil in the sight of God.
Warning had been given, but they had not heeded them. So God brought judgement at the hands of the Babylonian’s. But when this discipline was over, God would bring them back. God had a plan. God always has a plan.
God does not second-guess what He wants to do with our lives. We seek God because He always has a plan for us.
God has a purpose in all that He allows in our lives, even if it means hardships. Our lives are not like a piece of driftwood, tossed by the currents of the seas. God says He has a plan for His people. They may not know it all the time, or understand His plan, but He does. “For I KNOW the plans I have for you…”
He need not have to guess. God knows what He is doing in your life today.
In the book of Proverbs King Solomon says “ In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight”
But before this line, he says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding”
The wisest man on earth directs us to another Wisdom, the wisdom above his wisdom, the source of all wisdom! Our modern world has no shortage of knowledge, but we are hopelessly short of wisdom. The heart of wisdom is acknowledging our shortcomings and seeking God’s perspective with all our hearts!
We must not allow our circumstances to dictate us!
If we sit by the river, like the Israelites, and weep… then there is no song in our hearts.
We forget that God is good. We forget that God has a purpose in everything he does. We forget God’s promise.
HERE Jeremiah reminds the people, that God has a plan… a plan to prosper and not too harm you…” God’s intention for us is always good. Believe this today. We may not see it at first, but trust him.
With hindsight history tells us that God was right. After 70 years the exiled did return to their homeland. It seemed improbable, but it happened.
As for the Babylonian’s, they were punished for their sin, and were obliterated by the Persians!
Nothing can stop God. Nothing can interrupt His plans for us!
I don’t know your circumstances. The situation you are in may be where He wants you to be at this very moment.
WHAT DID GOD ASK THEM TO DO?
The Lord asked them to settle down in the foreign land: Build | Settle | Plant | Eat | Marry | Find wives | AND Increase in number
In fact his very clear instruction is to not decrease in number!
Verse 7 “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper”
God’s desire is to bless His people where they are. We do not have to wait. God wants to bless us where we are.
Of course blessing has nothing to do with a particular time or place. It has to do with God. Where the Lord is, that is where there will be joy and peace and hope.
Jeremiah tells them that God wants them to bless them where they are. You do not need a change of circumstances in order to know God’s blessings.
And so it is with us, we don’t have to wait for things to turn around, before we can know His blessing.
Have you been looking for God’s blessing in the wrong places? Or have you been casting an eye across the fence thinking the grass is greener on the other side? And in doing so you miss the grass you have at your feet!
The truth is that the grass is always greener where God has watered and prepared it!
God is all we need. We need to worship Him and seek Him with all our hearts.
verse 12-13: “12Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart”
Whatever the circumstances God is just a prayer away.
Isaiah 59:1 “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.”
God will be there to comfort and guide you.
Living out God’s plan does not mean everything will be easy.
The people had to learn to settle down in a foreign land, build their homes, plant their crops, and raise their family, in a different culture and environment.
It took hard work. There was a lot of adjustment.
When God says I will bless you, it does not mean that life will be easy or smooth-sailing.
We find his blessing in the challenges of life. He is with you to bless you even in the hardships of life.
Many good things happened during the 70 years of exile.
The Book of Daniel tells us many capable men were taken to the palace and trained to serve the King of Babylon. Daniel and his friends were among them, and they went on to become the best administrators in that land. And God’s Name was proclaimed and glorified in the foreign lands.
The Jewish people were able to live in peace during these 70 years. They had time to write some of the greatest books of the OT - 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Psalm 137
Most important of all, they learnt their lesson - the people realised that they had been unfaithful to God. This whole calamity was a discipline, and it caused them to return to God wholeheartedly.
This was God’s plan. And he uses whom He pleases to accomplish His plan.
He used the Babylonians to bring discipline, and then the Persians to bring them home. Nothing is outside God’s domain or beyond His power.
He used the captivity of Joseph to prepare his people for the famine to come.
He used Pharaoh’s daughter to save Moses, who would in turn lead His people to freedom.
Some of you may remember Chuck Colson, an aide to the former US President Richard Nixon, who was jailed for crimes he committed during the Watergate scandal. But who found Christ in prison and went on to found Prison Fellowship, a worldwide prison ministry. This was all a part of God’s eternal purposes for this man. Not only was his life changed, his work became a blessing to thousands of prisoners today.
It was a part of God’s plan from the very beginning.
- Just like the people of Israel, just like Colson, your life cannot be ruined, not by your sin or anyone else’s.
- God’s good plan for your life is not buried under the mistakes of the past.
- God has a plan for your life, a good plan, a loving plan, and that plan is still in effect. You haven’t missed it. He is working in your life today.
Will you believe that? Make a fresh commitment to seek God with all our heart.
- In this short passage, the Lord stresses a few times – pray, call upon me, come and pray to me, seek me.
- He wants to show us the way. He wants to give you hope and a future.