Theme: Pressing on in Obedience
In this week’s lessons, we learn what it means to lift our eyes to the Lord, remembering his mercy, and striving to please him in all things.
Scripture: Psalm 123:1-4
Let me suggest here that the only thing that will ever lift you out of your sin and complacency, put you on the pilgrim trail, and keep you there throughout life is a profound awareness of the mercy and grace of God.
Consider the example of John Newton, the hymn writer. When Newton was a young boy, he ran away to sea and eventually went to Africa to participate in the slave trade. His reason for going, as he wrote in his autobiography years later, was that he might “sin his fill.” Sin he did! But the path of sin is downhill, and Newton’s path descended so far that he was eventually reduced to the position of a slave in his master’s African compound. This man dealt in slaves, and when he went off on slaving expeditions, Newton fell into the hands of the slave trader’s African wife, who hated Europeans and vented her venom on Newton. Newton was forced to eat his food off the dusty floor like a dog, and at one point he was actually placed in chains. Sick and emaciated, he nearly died.
Newton escaped from this form of slavery eventually. But he was still chained to sin and again went to sea transporting slaves from Africa to the New World. It was on his return from one of these slave voyages that Newton was wondrously converted.
The ship was overtaken by a fierce storm in the North Atlantic and was nearly sinking. The rigging was destroyed, and water was pouring in. Newton was sent down into the hold to pump water. He pumped for days, certain that the ship would sink and that he would be taken under with it and be drowned. But as he pumped water in the hold of that ship, God caused Newton to remember Bible verses he had learned from his mother as a child, half a lifetime earlier, and these verses led to his repentance, faith and conversion. Right there in the ship! While the storm was raging!
The ship survived the storm. The sailors were saved. Sometime later, after Newton had left the slave trade, this former “slave of slaves” studied for the Christian ministry and eventually became a well-known preacher in England. He even preached before the queen.
What was Newton’s motivation? It was a profound awareness of the grace and mercy of God toward him. It was this John Newton who wrote,
Amazing grace—how sweet the sound—
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Newton never forgot God’s mercy to him. Once a friend was complaining about someone who was resistant to the gospel and living a life of great sin. “Sometimes I almost despair of that man,” the friend remarked.
“I never did despair of any man since God saved me,” said Newton.
In his most advanced years, Newton’s mind began to fail and he had to stop preaching. But when friends came to visit him he frequently remarked, “I am an old man. My mind is almost gone. But I can remember two things: I am a great sinner, and Jesus is a great Savior.” Certainly the mercy of God moved Newton to offer his body as a living sacrifice to God and to seek to please him.
You and I often waver in our discipleship and stumble on the pilgrim pathway. We get discouraged and are sometimes inclined to quit. One thing that will keep us going is knowledge of the mercy of our God.
Ephesians 2 describes our experience. It says that before God revealed his mercy to us, we were “dead in … transgressions and sins” (v. 1). We “followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (v. 2) and were “by nature objects of [God’s] wrath” (v. 3). But now listen to what God did. “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (vv. 4-7).
Shouldn’t that motivate you to the most complete offer of yourself to God and to the highest level of obedience? How can it do otherwise?
What is needed in order to lift oneself out of sin and complacency?
How does an awareness of God’s mercy change us?
What keeps us on the right path when we stumble or are discouraged?
Reflection: Reflect on John Newton’s declaration, “I never did despair of any man since God saved me.” How does this encourage you in your prayer list of unsaved souls?
Application: How will you seek to share your knowledge of God’s grace and mercy with someone else today?
Key Point: The only thing that will ever lift you out of your sin and complacency, put you on the pilgrim trail, and keep you there throughout life is a profound awareness of the mercy and grace of God.
Prayer: Ask God to make you conscious of your sinful state and God’s great mercy.