Covenant and Encouragement

Readings for this week October 14 – 18
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – The Covenant

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 7:21-25

The idea of covenant is at the heart of Jewish belief. Though God created the entire world and all peoples in it, he called Abraham and his people to belong to him in a special way so that ultimately the blessing poured out on Abraham and his kin would be carried by them to all human beings. The agreement between God and Abraham’s family came to be seen as similar to the agreement a king might make with his subjects, or the marriage bond between a husband and wife. The word ‘covenant’ was used to describe this relationship. This covenant was renewed several times, most notably on Mount Sinai, and prior to entry into the Promised Land, and a return to covenant faithfulness was what the prophets exhorted the people to each time they strayed from their God.

The covenant was always still operative, never forgotten, disdained or disestablished by God, even when his people abandoned it and him. Later prophets like Jeremiah also promised that after the punishment of exile (a punishment prophesied as the just desserts of refusing to repent and turn back to God), God would renew his covenant with his people and restore them to himself. Jesus believed that this was coming true through what he was doing in proclaiming the kingdom of God, ultimately signified through his death and resurrection. His followers later came to see that these promises of covenant renewal had been fulfilled in Jesus, and that his followers were to be the vehicles of the blessings promised to the world.

Questions to Consider
What did God hope to achieve through the covenant? How was this renewed through Jesus?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, we praise you for your plan for all people and all creation and we praise you for your faithfulness to us in spite of our failure to be faithful to you. In Jesus name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – A Covenant Begun in Grace

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Exodus 20:1-11

The covenant contains both rule and promise, both law and grace. It is not a one-sided deal imposed upon a people with no say in the matter. It was an agreement between God (I will be your God and you will be my people and I will always be with you) and Israel (you will be our God and we will be your loyal, obedient people). But it begins with grace. God had already acted before the giving of the Law and the Commandments. He had graciously rescued his people from slavery. He had acted out of the natural goodness and love of his heart to rescue his people, re-establish them before the nations as his own, renewing his covenant with his chosen people, and offering them a further sign of his love for them by giving them the Law.

The Law was a many-layered gift. It would show that the Israelites belonged to God, it was a glorious gift designed to set them apart, to show up sin when it was present and to deal with it by refining and remoulding the Israelites so they could be holy before God, a sign to others of the blessing that comes from knowing and obeying the Lord. The Israelites weren’t accepted by God because they kept the Law or because they never broke the covenant (or even because, failing, at least God was happy they tried); they were saved and accepted by God first, and showed their love for him by entering into the covenant relationship he offered them, complete with obeying the Law as a sign of their continued commitment to God and to his covenant with them – a sign of his grace.

Questions to Consider
What is your view of the covenant? Why? What is the relevance today?

Prayer
Lord God, thank you for calling all people to be your people. Thank you that you love to give good gifts to us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – A Covenant with a People

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Genesis 17:1-8

We’re familiar with the idea that God initiated a covenant with Israel and made them his Chosen People. The Jewish conviction, found throughout the entire Old Testament, is that the one God, Creator and Sustainer of all that is, had called Abraham and his family to be His special people, to belong to him in a special way in order to bless the whole world through that relationship. And of course the New Testament talks of a new covenant in Christ, a renewal of the old.

Covenant is about calling – God calling us to return to Him, and to be His people. And so, it is therefore also about belonging – recognising that we belong to God, but also that, as God calls all people, we belong to each other too. Often we think of the covenant relationship as simply one between God and his people. But because he calls a people, the covenant is also a relationship between the people called to follow. Our relationships with each other matter because we are called to be a people, a new community, not a random collection of individuals who never coalesce into anything greater than themselves. Our relationships with each other are crucial to the covenant relationship with God.

God calls a people, a community, and so, ultimately, at the very heart of covenant is relationship – with God, yes, and also with others: dynamic, evolving, loving, life-changing relationship.

Questions to Consider
Why is relationship at the heart of covenant? What does this imply about our role as a community modelling this covenant relationship?

Prayer
Loving Father, thank you for making us relational creatures capable of loving. May we love others as you love us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – The Call to Encourage

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Sometimes it seems as if encouragement and edification are alien to our culture. In a society that sometimes appears hell-bent on telling us – to the exclusion of all else – that we need to look out for number one, make sure we push to get what we want, and make sure no one ever steps on us or inhibits us from achieving whatever goal or identity we are chasing after, the idea of encouraging and building up others can seem pointless, if not naïve. And if we’re spending so much of our time worrying about who “likes” us and how people are rating us or how many are “following” us, then taking the time to look around and genuinely support others and spur them on in their endeavours simply seems irrelevant.

So many times in scripture, God encourages us to encourage others, to affirm and build up each other as a sign of love and grace. Edification and affirmation are important human needs that everyone has, and as followers of the God who created human beings and gave them worth and dignity, we are to affirm others’ worth and dignity as beloved creatures of God. We need to turn away from our comparison culture and create a champion culture, a culture where we encourage others, spur them on, cheerlead for them, and build them up rather than tear them down. God loves each person and part of our task as his followers is to remind people of this fact at every opportunity.

Questions to Consider
Who encourages you? How? Who are the people in your life you feel a particular call to encourage?

Prayer
Gracious God, thank you for the people in my life who encourage me and build me up. May I always be an encouragement to others. Help me see the ways in which I can support others in what they do and who they are. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Looking for the Good, the Pure, the Noble

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Philippians 4:8

The Christian cultural cul-de-sac can be a comfortable place. The presence of fellow Christians, Christian versions of every cultural commodity freely at hand – music, films, books, clothing, etc. – everything viewed through the lens of Christian life, however that might be defined. But it was never a place we were meant to inhabit. Some segments of the community of Jesus’ followers would prefer to remain within the safety of this Christian community and its products, away from the evil world and its pernicious influence, its corruption of human nature and the world.

But there is much good being created and fought for and strived for in this world, many places where the God-given attributes of humans are being exercised faithfully, even if it is not deliberately or knowingly being done in God’s name and for his glory. Because there are so many places in this world where God is moving and where God’s will for his creation is being worked out that occur outside our cul-de-sacs, an openness to the world is a necessary attribute for God’s church to have. Yes, it can sometimes require discernment to see it, to look beyond the surface and see what is being aimed for. But wherever there are good things happening, wherever human freedom and dignity and worth are fought for and celebrated and cherished, we should be there too. Not everyone sitting around a table where such discussions and dreaming is taking place will be Christian, but every table where such discussions and strivings and yearnings are being voiced should have Christians – us – sitting at it.

Questions to Consider
Where do you see God moving in our world? How can you join in and support what God is doing in the lives of others?

Prayer
Lord God, give me eyes to see the movement of your Spirit in this world, the places you want me to be, the endeavours I need to support. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)