First Worship – Week One

My idea with ‘First Worship’ is to provide a weekly devotion that gives us Bible readings, a reflection on the Word and points for prayer. I hope you find this helpful and may God bless you richly as you read and ponder His Word and as you call upon Him in prayer. I would encourage you to read the Scripture aloud and also pray aloud. If you’re not in isolation, you may find it helpful to use this alongside someone else. Below is just a guideline, feel free to add in elements of your own.

Let’s begin with Psalm 91:1-2 ‘He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Read this again at the end.)

Praise: Why not pause here to sing or listen to your favourite hymn.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank you for your call on my life to follow you. Thank you for your blessings, your grace and your mercy, new every day. I’m sorry for the times I have let you down, forgive me I pray, and help me, by your Spirit at work in my life, to resolve to love you more and serve you well. Help me to be strong, courageous, obedient and in all things faithful. Show me how I can be a help and encouragement to others in these challenging days. And hear as I pray as Jesus taught – ‘Our Father, Who art in heaven…..’

Reading: Read Ruth Chapter 1: 15-22

On this Mother’s Day we read of Ruth and Naomi her mother-in-law standing by the roadside. Their situation is desperate – they have faced famine, tragedy and loss, and now they are two women alone with a very uncertain future. Naomi thinks the best plan is to separate, but Ruth won’t leave her. As you read, think of the love and devotion behind Ruth’s words; indeed the whole book of Ruth is a study in looking after and out for each other.

Prayer: Take time now to pray for yourself, your family, our church, our front line health care workers, all who are unwell, our town and local businesses. Ask God to guide you as you pray to bring people and situations to mind.

Reading: Read John Chapter 10: 7-18

As you know, we have been on a journey through the Gospel of John. In past weeks we have focused on the signs in John’s Gospel and some of the great ‘I Am’ statements. We have looked too at how Jesus has transformed lives – Nicodemus, the Woman at the Well, the man born blind. This week we focus on two more of the ‘I Am’ sayings as Jesus declares, ‘I am the gate for the sheep’ and ‘I am the good shepherd’.

Reflection: We live in very challenging days. At the beginning of February, when we as a congregation began our journey through the Gospel of John, I remember saying that when we set out on any journey, we may have a destination in mind, but none of us knows what twists and turns there may be on the road. Well, we have certainly hit a section of the journey few could have anticipated, with Church services and activities suspended, and with phrases like ‘social distancing’ and ‘isolation’ now the new norm…But our God is the God who has always encouraged His people to gather, to come together, to be close to others and Him, so how can we ‘gather’, connect, come together, be close, amidst distance and isolation? In lots of ways…

Firstly, we can think of ‘togetherness’ in terms of looking after each other, even if we are not close in terms of being in the same physical location. We can demonstrate the same kindness and care that is displayed throughout the book of Ruth, between Ruth and Naomi and later Ruth and Boaz; kindness and care that makes sure the vulnerable are put first and those who are in need are given a helping hand. There are so many examples of this already in our town of Donaghadee and beyond; neighbour helping neighbour, strangers volunteering to shop, fetch medicines, do anything needed, people praying…that’s closeness; that’s togetherness.

And we can use this time to come nearer to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Look again at John Chapter 10 and what it teaches about Jesus, for this is a passage all about closeness, security and care. Jesus calls Himself, ‘the gate for the sheep’ (v7). In Jesus’ day, a shepherd would lead the flock to the best pastures but as darkness fell would corral them into a small enclosure with a single opening for safe keeping. Once all his sheep were inside the shepherd would lie down across the entrance – he literally became the gate – using his own body to keep the sheep safe. That’s a picture of your Lord and Saviour; the One who cares, the One who wants you to know safety and security especially in challenging times; the One who loves you so much He laid down His life for you and through Him you are saved (v9, 11 & 15); the One who came to bring you life at its very best (v10). Jesus is the Good Shepherd (v14); the One who knows His sheep, who really knows them. That means He knows everything about you, your hopes and fears, your worries and anxieties. That’s the security, closeness and care that comes from being a child of God.

But this passage also sets out our responsibilities in terms of listening to and for His voice and in acting as one flock, one people, His people (v16). So, why not set aside some extra time for prayer and Bible reading? Perhaps instead of reading verses why not read whole chapters or even whole books? And as you sit down in the quiet place to read, ask God to help you listen, really listen for His voice. Let me make another suggestion, a way for us all to come together – why don’t we all set our phones, alarms, whatever, for 10am every Wednesday morning (the time of our usual prayer meeting) and agree to pray for half an hour? Just listen to these words from 2 Chronicles 7: 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place…. Let’s get praying!

We live in challenging days but with challenge comes opportunity – opportunities to draw nearer to each other through acts of kindness and care and opportunities to draw nearer to God. Jesus is the Gate and the Good Shepherd, may you feel the closeness of His presence today and in the days ahead and to Him be the praise and glory.

Praise/Prayer: Why not pause again to sing and then to pray in a spirit of repentance and thanksgiving. You may find it helpful to read from Psalm 91 again.

Benediction: May the God of Hope fill us each one with all joy and peace in believing, that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (based on Romans 15:13).

Everyone say the ‘Amen’ with me (as loud as you like)!