In Everything….Give thanks!

Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season.

(Ps 1.1-3)

“The Lord be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.” My tongue will proclaim your righteousness, your praises all day long.

(Ps 35.27&28)

When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.

(Ecc 7.14)

A wife of noble character who can find? she is worth far more than rubies…she is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

(Prov 31.1, 25&26)

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation….I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

(Phil 4.12&13)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment…to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share..

(1Tim 6.17&18)

My circumstances may change, but the God in whom I trust remains the same, and his purposes are eternal. He delights in the well-being of his servants, and only he truly knows what that consists in – I cannot know, but  may choose to trust his wisdom and knowledge of all things. Other people may be trusted to do their best for me, but only God can be trusted to do what really IS best for me, every moment of every day for the rest of my life. Since this is so, I can also choose to give thanks in all circumstances, and to be content.

Perhaps when our lives are full of material blessings, we are sorely tempted to self-reliance, conceit and pride; to selfishness and indolence. In these circumstances, the danger is that our contentment develops into arrogance and we become distant from God. Here the wisdom of scripture teaches us to remember that all we have is a gift from God, certainly for our enjoyment, but also for use in his kingdom and the blessing of his children. We hold good things as stewards bear responsibility for another’s possessions, and we are accountable to the Lord of all for our use of his gifts.

It is imperative that we do not base our faith in God on the gifts we receive from him – or where should we be when troubles come and our gifts are gone? Our true security – the strength and dignity of the wise woman of Proverbs; the joy and peace of the Psalmist – come from the right-doing character of the unchanging God in whom they (and we) trust, revealed in his word and ultimately in Jesus Christ, the living Word.

When God chooses to bless me with health, how do I use it? When God chooses to bless me with wealth, how do I spend it? When God chooses that my loved ones should also enjoy these blessings, how do I pray for them?

I do not need to feel guilty when I am in pleasant pastures, and there are no storms on the horizon. But I must cultivate a spirit of humble gratitude, and open-hearted generosity, so that all the gifts entrusted to me are being used for God’s glory. I believe that for a mature follower of Jesus, the true enjoyment of God’s generous blessings is dependent upon this sacrificial attitude, this willingness to surrender all to God’s service. How is it possible to be glad in one’s own good things when others in the family of Christ are in need? Or to relish my own rich inheritance of faith when there are so many around me who know nothing of salvation and the free gift of forgiveness? I may not be in a position to make a big difference, but I can be willing to do my part!

So as well as thanking God for his many material and physical blessings, I thank him for a tender conscience, and the gift of wisdom to see that unless all these things are held by me on behalf of the body of Christ and for the mission of God, then they will be spoiled for me.

And I also choose to thank him for the overwhelming gifts of love which I receive every day – the personal touches from the Lover of my Soul, which are given to gladden my heart and strengthen my faith. They prompt me to praise, and encourage me in striving to live for Christ and with Christ.

In everything dear friends, let us rejoice in the Lord who does all things well!

There is a time…

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend,

A time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

(Ecc 3.1-11)

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands…Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.

(Ps 31.14-16)

Jesus…prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you…

(Jn 17.1)

…You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

(Rom 5.6)

When my spirit is filled with an ache of longing, and wearied with the unruly, ugly and frightening deeds of humankind, dear Lord, let me remember that you have set eternity in my heart, and that is why I am homesick.

When it seems that the pride of man, and the prince of this world have frustrated all potential for good, for redemption, for hope, dear Lord, let me remember that you are the eternal God, and they are nothing in your sight.

When the pattern of my own life is not what I had hoped, or expected; when it holds gashes and stains, rough and dark streaks, when the threads are weak and like to break, dear Lord, let me remember that all my times are in your hands and none of this is wasted.

When my own persisting sinfulness, the temptations within and assaults from without would bring me to despair, dear Lord, let me remember that you have died for me, declaring forgiveness and cleansing, and that nothing can prevent you from bringing me triumphantly home at last.

 

We are creatures burdened with a divided loyalty – to our own time and place within an earthly span of years; but also to the place which God is preparing for us at his side in the new earth, where time has no meaning, and in a glory which our limited minds cannot begin to comprehend.

To this time, belong the peculiar mixture of gladness and mourning; building and tearing down; living and dying. In this sphere, we are given the privilege and opportunity of receiving all things from God as opportunities to glorify him, even as Christ prayed on the eve of his greatest ordeal.

The times of plenty, of peace, of fulfillment – these are an opportunity to push past the gift and to glory in the Giver. I need not be ashamed of the blessings I receive, but rather hold them thankfully, humbly, and seek to share them. Our suffering too, in its own small way, is a platform on which – by his grace – God may be exalted. I do not write this lightly, for I know that God’s children have experienced incredible trials, and yet the testimony of the saints remains – God is good, and worthy of our trust. All that happens to us can be surrendered to this supreme purpose, and our obedience, submission and sacrificial praise are an acceptable, fragrant offering to God. Will I not, in my turn, seek to honour my beloved Lord when he chooses that I should suffer?

May I choose not to question what my God may send me in the days ahead, but accept all things as from him – rejoicing in the hope which Christ has birthed in me; fortified by the presence of the Spirit; and resting in the tender love of the Father who may be trusted to do all things well.

Learning in serving

[Moses] said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day…they are not just idle words for you – they are your life!”…”The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms…Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword”..since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.. 

(Deut 32.46&46; 33.27&29; 34.10)

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts..so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body..God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be..God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body..If one part suffers, every part suffers with it

(1 Cor 12.12&13,18,24&26)

While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there..on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands..and mark that you do this with humility and discipline – not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences…..Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift..working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive in Christ.

(Eph 4.1-3,712&13: The Message)

I know of very few things which are as effective in showing me the true state of my soul as the necessity of serving my fellow-beings, and more to the point, serving as Christ would do – in love. I can gloss over my weaknesses when alone, or when in congenial company with no challenges to my pride and sense of self-satisfaction, but it is a different matter on the frontline of fellowship.

An opportunity for service may initially strike me as a way to bless others, to do God’s work in a particular sphere, and in a myriad of ways, to feel good about myself and what gifts I bring to my community. Those things may be true – God prepares good works for us, so that his body, the church, might be built up in every way and it is right that we should seek to use the gifts we have to that end. BUT, it is also true that I am not perfect, far from it in fact, and that God has much to teach me and to change in me. Did Moses, that great servant of God, not discover many uncomfortable truths about himself as he obeyed God’s call to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and through 40 years of desert wandering? His final words to the people ring with the authority of one who has been tested, and has proved the faithfulness of God – and also the forgiveness of God – as the only basis for our lives, but that authority came from years of learning about his own weakness, and crucifying his pride as leader.

Christ is always my example in my dealings with others, but how easy to forget when we are frustrated by another’s failure to be and act in the ways we want – when ‘our’ project is not being carried out as we planned it. How readily we give up on those who do not share our gifts, energy, intelligence or talents but who nonetheless are alongside us in serving the body of Christ. It is never my job to condemn, ridicule, undermine or lose patience with my fellow-believer – but how often I am tempted to do so. May God have mercy on me, show me the places where pride still reigns, and love is smothered by self.

Father God, thank you for the privilege of being part of the body of Christ; let me never forget that this is all by your gift, not my merit.

Lord Jesus, thank you for the privilege of serving the Church, your body; let me never rate my gifts too high, but in continual humility see the value of what you have given to others. Let me always be willing to repent of pride, and learn to cherish each unique child of God.

Holy Spirit, thank you that you are the lifeblood, the oxygen in the veins of the body of Christ, bringing continual fresh supplies of grace, and healing, transforming power, so that I – along with my fellow believers – am being renewed in the image of Christ himself.

A state of readiness…

 

Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side….. whose name was Boaz.. “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.”….Then Boaz announced to the the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech..I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property…” Then the elders and all those at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming in to your home like Rachel.. Ruth gave birth to a son..and they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

(Ruth 2.1&20, 4.9-11,13&17)

I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.

(Ps 123.1&2)

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come…you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him…Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns…

(Matt 24.42-46)

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near..The Judge is standing at the door!

(Jas 5.7&8)

The book of Ruth focuses on an obscure family, at a time of national neglect of the things of God. The period of the Judges was passing, there was no king in Israel and everyone did ‘as he saw fit’ (Judges 21.25). It would have been easy for personal godliness and faithfulness to the law to slip away, as each looked out for their own interests and had little hope or expectation of change..

And in this situation, we meet Boaz, a man who lived day to day in the light of the law, even though there was no ruler – priest or king – to enforce it, and who stood ready to act rightly, to do justice, and have mercy on the widows and aliens in the land. The readiness of Boaz to respond to the opportunities which God opened, extending mercy and kindness where he could have chosen either to be cruel, or to exploit Ruth’s vulnerable situation, is a beautiful example of how we are called to live in these days between the first and second coming of Christ.

We are a chosen people, we have all we need for godly obedience, and we are called to live each day in expectation of the return of our Lord and Master – the one whose sacrifice on our behalf wins our loyalty and obedience in his service. He has tasked us with witnessing to him, faithfully proclaiming the gospel, serving one another, and labouring to model the life of the new kingdom in this old creation.

Like Boaz, we do not know what each day will bring, but we can choose to live on the godly principles, and to respond to the opportunities God gives. We may be surrounded by people and situations which are daunting, mocking the sovereignty and goodness of God. But we also have the truth of the gospel in our hearts, and the promise that in his good time, God will return looking to find his servants at their appointed tasks, patiently awaiting him.

Like Boaz, we have the privilege of serving a living God who works all things together and calls us into his purposes. The readiness of this godly man to fulfill his responsibilities as kinsman-redeemer not only blessed him with a wife and family, but also furthered God’s plan and in due course, Boaz’s great-grandson David would be born – and ultimately, Mary would give birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, as Ruth did to Obed.

Am I ready for what God may have in store for me? Ready to serve; ready to forgive; ready to love; ready to learn and to praise? I cannot tell how my prompt response in obedience might be used by God, but I can choose daily to be ready. I may not know this side of glory what purposes will be served by my small part in his great plan, but I can choose not to be preoccupied with what may be and instead discipline my heart to deal with what is in a way that glorifies him.

Following…who?

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.

(Ps 1.1-3)

Watch out for false prophets..By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 

(Matt 7.16&17)

As I urged you…stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer…these promote controversies rather than God’s work – which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about…

(1 Tim 1.3-7)

If you point these things out …you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus..train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

(1 Tim 4.6-8)

The goal of God’s work in his children’s lives is their godliness, the creation of an ever clearer reflection of himself in them, showing his glory and beauty to the world. In the same way that a silversmith purifies the metal by fire, burning off impurities until he sees his face reflected in the liquid metal surface, so also our God is working out his good purposes in us.

We can choose to cooperate with this work, to embrace our destiny with faith and hope, trusting in God to be at work in all things, and seeking to learn in every situation what his will is for us. We can choose to hunger for godliness, choose to yearn after the fruit of the spirit above all worldly ambitions and make every effort to reject those things which frustrate our fruitfulness. The psalmist celebrates the power of the word of God to grow us into fruitful disciples, and when we meditate on it – chew it over, consider it from many angles, allow it to shape our thoughts – we are transformed indeed.

But we also make choices about what kind of people we admire and emulate, whose advice we take seriously and whose lives are our example. It is about choosing such people wisely that Jesus teaches when he speaks of looking for grapes on thornbushes! It is good to have role models, but what qualities should I look for?

Firstly, I need to find people who at least claim to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, our sacrificial Lamb, the Risen and returning Judge – a tree that looks like one which ought to bear good fruit. Secondly, I need to consider what fruit their lives actually bear, since this may give the lie to their claims. Paul warns Timothy about those who claim to be christians, but who bear bad fruit in disputes, divisions, doubts and pointless speculation. The effect of their ministry is not growing godliness – in themselves or their hearers – and this is a sure sign that they cannot be trusted.

So if I am looking to be inspired and encouraged by others in my journey of faith, I need to find those who bear good fruit after the manner described by Paul – lives of godliness, showing peace and self-control, faithfulness and patience, love, joy and kindness. It may well be that those qualities are in lives which are small and quiet in the eyes of the world, and even those considered foolish – so be it, these are the things which I desire. Let me learn humbly and reverently from God’s servants wherever they may be found, recognising in them a means by which I may be drawn further into godliness.

It is also good to find teachers who can educate us in the things of God, and we can serve them in praying for their protection – the history of the church is littered with sad tales of prominent saints who were led astray, and whose status proved a temptation to which they seemed to have no defences. We are all vulnerable and none should judge another for falling, but rather pray God’s keeping from sin and deliverance from temptation for ourselves and all those called into public service for the gospel.

Lord God, I thank you for all those who teach and lead me in your ways. Keep us all from sin, and make us quick to run to you when tempted to go astray. Keep your name in honour among us, that we might above all things fear bringing it into disrepute, and strive with all our might to be found increasingly in the image of Christ. For your glory and our blessing we pray, Amen!

The rock on which we stand

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord for ever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal….

The path of the righteous is level; O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth. Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you…

Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us..You have enlarged the nation, O Lord; you have enlarged the nation. You have gained glory for yourself; you have extended all the borders of the land.

(Isa 26.3-4,7-9, 12&15)

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved…For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins..that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day…

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep…for the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed..then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”….

Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.

(1Cor 15.1-5,19-20,52&54,58)

One of the most wonderful things about the gospel which is the good news of our salvation, is that it is always true! It has nothing to do with our feelings, our circumstances, our confusion or misunderstandings, our theology (or lack of it it)..This ‘rock’ or foundation is the basis of our lives, of the freedom and strength and joy which God gifts to his children and it is reliable because it is the character of our God to be faithful.

We have received the gospel because God promised from the beginning that he would make a way by which fellowship between himself and his people would be restored. We have received the gospel because all through the bible narrative, God demonstrated his divine commitment to fulfilling that promise – in spite of the faithlessness of his chosen people, their idolatry and abandonment of his truth. We have received the gospel because it is entirely the work of an almighty, loving, just and gracious God. If any part of the good news depended upon human merit or ability, we would be utterly lost – praise God that he has done it all!

In spite of the two millennia of human failing which have characterised the church, still God continues to faithfully fulfill his promise, calling people to himself from every nation, tribe and tongue, and patiently waiting until all his own are gathered in before he winds up time and ushers in the glory of our eternal life with him. He has borne with the shame and dishonour which humanity(especially the church) continues to bring upon his name, as we fall sadly short of the example of Christ, and expose him to mockery and derision all over again. He continues to make people new, to call them to lives of loving service, of freedom from guilt, of wholeness instead of brokenness.

The gospel has not lost its power to transform, because God has not been diminished in any way by the increasing sophistication of our world. He is not weakened simply because certain leading thinkers and social influencers dismiss the idea of faith – nor because those who deny the divinity of Christ, and the truth of the gospel are shouting loudest. The Lord seated on the throne of glory laughs, and waits until the truth is revealed, and the folly of humanity in all its pride and self-confidence is laid painfully bare.

How necessary it is for me to return again and again to praising God for the gospel, to anchor my mind and heart in his unchanging nature, to rejoice by faith in what I cannot see – the steady completion of God’s kingdom-building work. Here is the only sure foundation for peace of mind in an increasingly troubled and God-rejecting world. How I thank the Lord for his mercy, and for his faithfulness to his people, and for the power by which I am held fast in Christ…’my heart and my flesh may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.'(Ps 73.26)

Learning to speak…fluently!

Then Abraham approached [The Lord] and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?…far be it from you to do such a thing…Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

(Gen 18.23&25)

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven….”O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name….”

(Neh 1. 4&11)

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.

(Ps 32.5&6)

Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I…

(Ps 61.1&2)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(Phil 4.6&7)

what is prayer?

Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will in the name of Christ with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.

(Shorter catechism, Question 98)

Jesus taught his disciples about prayer both in formal exhortation, and also through his own example – he gave them what we now call ‘the Lord’s prayer’, and they were present on many occasions when he prayed aloud. They could also testify to his habit of spending prolonged hours alone in prayer. They learnt that when they spoke to God, they came as beloved children to a Father who cherished them; they learnt that prayer could be short and confident – as when Jesus spoke before the raising of Lazarus – and also that it could be prolonged, agonised pleading – as in Gethsemane. They heard for themselves the final words addressed to God from the cross, prayers for forgiveness, of lament and cries of desolation.

It is clear from the record of the Acts of the apostles, and from their letters, that the disciples embraced prayer as integral to their lives as believers – and the foundation for the work which God called and anointed them to do. They prayed for one another’s faith and witness; for the work of God in far off lands and also close at hand; they prayed against the power of evil, and faithfully offered sacrifices of thankful prayer no matter what their circumstances might have been.

We don’t really need to know much about how they prayed – sitting, kneeling or standing; eyes shut or open; hands raised or clasped before them; aloud or silent; in a group or alone. The point is, that within a very few weeks of Jesus’ death and resurrection, these uneducated men were praying – fluently and confidently, in the face of attack and in times of rejoicing. We have much to learn from their example, if we too desire to honour God and bear fruit for him as faithful, obedient disciples.

If we have not learned to submit ALL our desires to God in prayer, and to share with him everything that is on our hearts, then we may find it hard to begin when we face severe trials. If we have never practiced prayer in the easier times of life, then the crises may find us woefully inadequate, unable to articulate our thoughts, and more seriously, unable to call to mind the promises of God, the teachings of scripture about his character and plan for kingdom building, and new-creating. We may find ourselves unable to echo Christ’s words in Gethsemane – “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”(Luke 22.42)

Cultivating fluency in prayer is not about eloquent speeches, but is about knowing by experience how readily we can bring all our thoughts, fears and hopes to God – and doing it. Prayer is not some emergency helpline for believers, which we call on only when we can’t cope ourselves, it is the language of the kingdom, and one of the primary means by which we grow in faith and dependence on God. Failure to grow in prayer, leaves us stunted and vulnerable as believers – with only ourselves to blame for the trouble that may bring upon us.

I fear that I have yet much to learn about persevering, faithful prayer; but I rejoice in the ways that God has taught me through godly friends and leaders. May I not give up, but rather press on earnestly, growing more fluent in prayer, that I might fulfill what God is calling me to be and do for his glory in our world. Lord, teach me to pray!

(photograph courtesy of Peter Geddes, 2019: Carloway, Lewis)