May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us –
yes, establish the work of our hands.
We all crave favour. Favour comes in many outward and visible forms – the pride of a parent in their child, the excellent grade in a test score, promotion at work, affirmation from friends and peers, financial reward, a loving spouse.
Some people seem to bask in favour, while others are always struggling.
There is mystery here. What is the secret to obtaining favour? Can favour be earned?
Of course, different people will answer these questions differently; our circumstances, experiences and personal history all go some way to defining our response. The Bible, though, stresses that ultimate favour comes from God. This is the favour that we should seek; this is the favour that counts above all else.
God’s favour is experienced in many ways. Often it is less visible, more an assurance, a deep awareness of God’s presence, his approval, his pleasure. That joy that comes from knowing we are ‘accepted in the beloved’ (Eph 1:6), that all the riches of Heaven are ours when we come into God’s family through faith in Jesus -- that joy is unmatchable. Our identity in Christ is priceless, and the realisation, the appropriation of that truth brings great strength that often becomes visible to others in outward signs of God’s favour.
And yet favour is not always visible. Sometimes it is like hope, deferred. Certainly Joseph may not have considered himself favoured as he languished in an Egyptian jail on trumped up charges, with no hope of release. And yet even there, awaiting his glorious future as the Saviour of the World sitting at the right hand of the Pharaoh of Egypt, in charge of giving out life-giving food to all who came to him, the writer of Genesis comments that ‘while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warden…’ (Gen 39:20-21). The favour shown to Joseph while in jail was, as it were, a promise of the greater favour that was to come, the encouragement and assurance that despite his circumstances, God was with him.
So how do we get favour? Firstly, pre-eminently, by following Jesus. Jesus is the one who gives the simplest of invitations: “Follow me!” And in doing so we gain favour from God as we enter into the full purpose of his calling on our lives. Some people seem just to have favour. The boy Samuel ‘continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with people (1 Sam 2: 26); King David is described in the New Testament by Stephen as one ‘who enjoyed God’s favour’ (Acts 7:46). The early church, following the Day of Pentecost, ‘enjoyed the favour of all the people’ (Acts 2: 46).
And yet there’s more. What if we don’t have favour? If it’s not visible to us, if we’re struggling? What if we just want more? There is good news! For we can pray for favour, we can cry out for it, we can prevail upon God to show us favour. We’re not all smart, or popular, or rich, or gifted. Most of us are pretty ordinary. But asking God for favour can lift us above the ordinary.
Famously Jabez is described as ‘more honourable than his brothers’ because he refused to accept his mediocrity, his constant pain. He cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’
The author’s commentary on the result of this prayer is rich in its simplicity. He writes only that ‘God granted his request.’ (1 Chron 4: 9-10). Was Jabez righteous? We don’t know. Did he deserve more of God’s favour than anyone else? Probably not. And yet, clearly, God saw his heart, his urgent desire for favour from above. Was there a cost to his request? Surely there must have been! Was it worth it? Absolutely. For the verdict is that God granted his request. And everyone saw it.
We pray for favour at CMJ Israel. We cry out for God’s favour on all we do. If we do not experience God’s favour even, as happened with Joseph, when things seem against us, then what are we here for? We are not here to satisfy ourselves; this is not our ministry. No, we are here because God has called us here, and so we want to be obedient to his call and his direction, and we want to know his favour! And sometimes as things go well, breakthroughs are made, celebrations are held, we become aware of his favour and we sense his smile.
This is one of those times. There are two weddings within a week this month at Christ Church as couples from our community get married! What joy, what blessing, what richness! How exciting! Weddings are a sign, I believe of God’s favour. They are times to rejoice, to feast, to party, and to be reminded of that wonderful wedding feast of the Lamb that awaits us. While we are sad to say farewell to Vida Butterfield as Director of Christ Church Guest House, we rejoice with her and David as they move on, and we welcome Paul Dilcher as the new Director and his wife Karin as the new volunteer co-ordinator. These are signs of blessing, and times of rejoicing. We recently welcomed Scott Morgan as the new Shoresh Director. Our guesthouses are full, and many people including tens of thousands of locals are visiting our Heritage Centres in Jerusalem and Jaffa each year.
Perhaps the most exciting evidence of favour on CMJ Israel right now is with our properties.
We recently received back from long-term tenants three commercial properties that we have transformed into beautiful apartments for use by our staff.
And most significantly, we have just received back from our longest tenant a valuable building that has been used by the Voice of Israel radio station since the 1930s, before even the founding of the State!
Initial despair at the sudden loss of rent and the poor condition of the building quickly, unexpectedly and wonderfully gave way to relief, delight and rejoicing!
Not only did we receive the keys back this month after some 80 years, but we have just this last week signed a deal with a new tenant who approached us, and who reflects our values, supports our ministry and will restore the building to an excellent standard. And all this without us doing very much at all.
That’s favour. And it’s very encouraging.
Sometimes when there’s a wind at your back, you should recognise it for what it is: Favour. Favour from God. And welcome it, enjoy it, and thank God for it.
In Luke 15 Jesus tells a simple parable about a woman who had ten coins and lost one. And when she finds it, ‘she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, “Rejoice with me! I have found my lost coin.”’ (Luke 15:9) It’s so simple really that it’s easy to gloss over. But here’s the deal: the moment is worth sharing; there’s too much rejoicing for one person to do alone. So I’m writing to call on all you who read this to Rejoice with us! Things are going well, there is a wind at our backs, our properties are being restored, our friends are getting married, our staff is being replaced well, and there is favour here.
And our prayer is that the favour of the Lord would rest upon us continually, and establish the work of our hands (Psalm 90: 17).