When the foundations are shaken

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire. “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

(Ps 46)

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord… that you have brought me this far?.. What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign Lord. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant. How great you are, O Sovereign Lord! There is no-one like you, and there is no God but you… And now, God, keep for ever the promise you have made concerning your servant.. Do as you promised, so that your name will be great for ever. Then men will say, ‘The Lord Almighty is God!… O Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant..

(2 Sam 7.18,20-22,25&26, 28

Our instincts, when life becomes turbulent and frightening, drive us to ‘fight’ the situation in our own strength, or to ‘fly’ from it in order to protect ourselves. The bible instead calls us to the discipline of stillness in God’s presence – to the imitation of David who went and sat before the Lord. This discipline is our worship, because by it, we claim that God (and not us) can save us in, from or through the particular trouble we face. This discipline is our worship, because by it, we ascribe or formally hand over to God all power over our lives and the circumstances which beset our world. Only the Lord Almighty has the power, and wisdom, and authority to deal justly and perfectly with what is happening. Human understanding and capacity are simply useless in the face of the realities of a sin-sick, and weary creation.

While God has created humankind with astonishing capabilities, He alone remains enthroned as King above all.  As Sovereign Lord he has the right to do as he wills with what he has made, and if we believe what Jesus tells us about God, what Jesus reveals about God, then we can and must trust that what God wills, no matter how incomprehensible and painful it may seem to us, is ultimately just and good and right.

How then, do we behave as the world shakes around us, and as so many mock our faith and refuse to believe in a loving God? We find examples throughout the bible of God’s people praying his own promises back to him as requests, steadying and standing firm on that sure ground of his faithfulness to himself.

For those facing life-limiting diagnosis, bereavement and loss, we remind God that He has promised to be with his people always, to be their strength and refuge, to glorify his name in their lives as they live by faith through the trials he has permitted.

As we look around at a God-less nation, we remind God that his name is to be exalted, and that he is calling people to himself from every nation and tribe on earth. We ask him to fulfil his promise in our day, in our land, that we might see his name lifted high and honoured.

As we recall that God has promised to bless all nations – to be passionate about what is really good for them, which is knowing Jesus as Saviour – we can pray that God will do this in every place where humanity is at war, where oppression and exploitation are leaving a trail of devastated lives and lands. Ultimately, the salvation of his people matters more than anything which they may suffer during their mortal lives – and those who know and love Jesus as Lord, are totally secure in their eternal hope and promise of a richer and fuller life than we can currently imagine.

Those who know and love God, understand that the meaning of life lies rooted in a power too great and good to be overcome by the momentary anarchies of history.

(Reinhold Niebuhr: 1892-1971)

Sovereign Lord, help us to be still before you and to pray for your name to be honoured, for your will to be done, and your kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Be glorified in us, and by us, and in our sight in this day, for you are Lord above all, and you have said you will do this. By the power of Jesus we pray and hold ourselves still in your presence, looking to see your hand moving in power. Amen

Finding my voice…telling his truth

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures for ever..

to him who alone does great wonders, His love endures for ever..

to him who led his people through the desert, His love endures for ever…

and gave their land as an inheritance, His love endures for ever…

to the One who remembered us in our low estate, His love endures for ever….

and freed us from our enemies, His love endures for ever…

Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures for ever.

(Ps 136.1,4,16,21,23&24,26)

You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.

(Jos 23.14)

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

(Rom 1.16&17)

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

(2 Cor 1.20-22)

We were challenged at bible study recently to consider how we might answer someone who asked, ‘What have you gained since coming to know Jesus Christ?’

I didn’t find it easy to answer, and I think there are a number of reasons for that. The first one, and perhaps the most significant, is that I have been a follower of Jesus virtually all my life, having grown up in a genuine Christian home, and made a commitment early in my teens. I simply have no ‘before-and after’ experiences by which to assess the difference which knowing Jesus as Lord has made. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must feel like to try and live without him. 

Another reason is that I think as Christians, we are so determined not to get full of ourselves, but to remain aware of what Jesus did for us on the Cross – as sinners, we had to be died for – that we struggle to articulate benefits of faith beyond forgiveneness! Of course, that is important, but if we are trying to witness to our faith to people who barely believe in sin, then forgiveness isn’t an easy thing to start with.

As we go on in our lives as Jesus followers, we often find ourselves becoming ever more aware of residual sins, pet habits which we cherish, or weaknesses which we abhor but cannot overcome yet. These things rightly loom large, because they show us how we still grieve the Lord whom we love and truly desire to honour. But in witnessing to non-believers, is this a place to start? How many of those around you will be impressed with your faith if it appears to drive you to continually bemoan and wrestle with faults which they regard as ‘natural’ and unimportant, and certainly not worth making life a misery over!

I want to be able to say, with Paul, that I am not ashamed of the gospel and yet I know that all too often I don’t take opportunities to boast about my Lord. I am praying – and would encourage you to pray too – that He will prompt us to see more clearly all the good things which we have as believers, things which our world badly needs and desires, so that we might make others want to come and find out more about Jesus.

Heavenly Father, I want to thank and praise you for all the many good things which I have because I am your child. I have significance, and an identity which cannot be taken from me – I am your beloved daughter, a royal princess, and priest in your name. I have a purpose, and the ability to fulfil that purpose, because you will enable me to do the job which is appointed to me in being part of building your kingdom – whether like Tabitha it is small, quiet acts of kindness, or like Peter in teaching and leading your people. I have a security which nothing in life or all creation can take from me, which allows me to face life with peace, and to give it up with anticipation.

Let my words as well as my deeds speak of your goodness, power and love, so that others may see and hunger after Christ, and in finding him, may find life, Amen.

 

When life gets holes in it….

Lord, God of my rescue, by day I cried out, by night, in you presence. May my prayer come before you. Incline your ear to my song. For I am sated with evils and my life reached the brink of Sheol..

You put me in the nethermost pit, in darkness, in the depths. Your wrath lay hard upon me, and all your breakers you inflicted… My eyes ache from affliction. I called on you, Lord, every day. I stretched out to you my palms..

As for me – to you, Lord, I shouted, and in the morn my prayer would greet you. Why, Lord, do you abandon my life, do you hide your face from me?

(Ps 88.1-3,7,8,10, 14&15)

I know someone who describes their existence since the experience of early widowhood as being like ‘life in black and white’. She is one of the most godly women I have ever known, and her life as a widow has been full of service to others and relative peace and contentment. And yet… all the colour and joy has gone.

Are you mourning today? The death of a spouse, the death of a sibling, the death of a child? The passing of a parent, or a close friend? The loss of health and autonomy? The loss of satisfying employment or a precious relationship? The loss of a dream? The loss of hope for reconciliation and renewal?  What do we do when life seems to be ripped apart by loss, when the reality of our fragile hold on health, well-being and life itself has been forcibly demonstrated and we are weak with grief, dazed with loss, stunned into dumb agony?

Our culture shies away from recognising the incredibly limited control we actually have over our lives, so that it is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, and any experience of loss becomes un-natural and outrageous.

Dear friend, loss is not only natural but inevitable in our fallen world. The question is not will it come, but rather, how must I prepare myself to respond to it? What does my God require of me, his all-too-frail creature, that I might rightly glorify him and be sustained through this experience. What do I do with my pain?

The topic is far too significant to be addressed in one short conversation, but today I would point you to saints who have shown the way for us, leaving words that we can use, and wisdom that we can learn from. First in this great hymn..

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly, while the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide, till the storm of life is past; safe into the haven guide;
Oh, receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on thee; Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on  thee is stayed, all my help from thee I bring; cover my defenceless head with the shadow of thy wing.

Wilt Thou not regard my call? Wilt thou not accept my prayer? Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—
Lo! on thee I cast my care.
Reach me out  thy gracious hand! While I of thy strength receive, hoping against hope I stand, dying, and behold, I live.

(Charles Wesley: 1707-1788)

Wesley invites us to ditch our pride and all pretence of competence – fling yourself upon the Lord, plead recklessly and constantly for his aid in full confidence that he will supply your need.

Then Elisabeth Elliott – twice widowed and thus purified through extreme suffering – says this: offer up your pain to God, to do with it as he will. Make it your offering to him and then give thanks that he can – and will – work in it for your blessing and his glory. For her, widowhood became ‘ a gift, a call and a vocation, not merely a condition to be endured’. Having received it from the Lord, she then offered it up for his use, and chose acceptance and trust. (Eliott, E. The Path of Loneliness, 1988)

None of this takes away pain; it doesn’t replace what is gone: but it may transform our thinking and attitude to the losses which we will inevitably experience. The missionary Amy Carmichael learnt this lesson over many years of suffering, and pressing hard to bring it to God in the darkness of grief. Her poem ‘Nothing in the house’, is a meditation on knowing God in the midst of it. May it speak comfort and encouragement to you today.

Thy servant Lord, hath nothing in the house, not even one small pot of common oil;
For he who never cometh but to spoil hath raided my poor house again, again,
That ruthless strong man armed, whom men call Pain.

I thought that I had courage in the house, and patience to be quiet and endure,
And sometimes happy songs; now I am sure thy servant truly hath not anything,
And see my song-bird hath a broken wing.

My servant, I have come into the house – I who know Pain’s extremity so well
That there never can be the need to tell His power to make the flesh and spirit quail:
Have I not felt the scourge, the thorn, the nail?

And I, his conqueror, am in the house, Let not your heart be troubled: do not fear:
Why shouldest thou, child of mine, if I am here? My touch will heal thy song-bird’s broken wing, and he shall have a braver song to sing.

(Amy Carmichael : 1867-1951)

A position to live up to..

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, an how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’..”

(Ex 19.3-6)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

(1 Pet 2.9&10)

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…

(Eph 1.18-20)

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…  I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do; forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press onwards to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus….Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

(Phil 3.10, 12-14,16)

..and what have we already attained, what do you and I have to live up to? My friends, take thought for who God has made you today, now, through faith in Jesus Christ. We are those to whom Peter writes as the chosen people of God; those who have received mercy and are now a royal family with a mission to show God’s love and character to all nations.

Hold up your head, you bear a crown and a royal name. No one can take that from you, ever. No one can cut you off from the King of Kings, your elder brother, or from God on high, your heavenly, holy, and eternal Father.

Hold up your hands, you lift on high the glory of a risen Saviour, a perfect and complete Redemption and victory over sin and death. You can never praise him too highly, or too much. Your calling and privilege as his priest is to make him known in all you do.

Hold up your courage, you are indwelt by that same power by which Christ was raised from the dead; that same power which God now exerts for you, at work in and through all your circumstances to bring you to his side in glory and to fulfill all his good purposes for you.

Your daily life is God’s daily invitation to live in the full power and glory of who you now are, by faith in Christ. Your duties and responsibilities, your leisure and your service, are equally part of what delights him when it is offered up in praise and thanksgiving. Nothing is left out or unwanted, nothing is too small or insignificant to be valued by our God, when we direct our minds daily to live for his pleasure.

Past failures and regrets; past triumphs and achievements – all are equally put behind us each day as we come to the Lord and offer up all we have – the day before us and the breath in our bodies today. Sins are forgiven and cannot hold us back, victories are to be thankful for and to fuel faith for the future.

Father God, enlighten my heart to grasp the hope which is mine in Christ; the wealth which I inherit together with your people; and your incomparably great power at work in and for me. You are transforming me so that one day I will come home to new life with you in the new creation – sinless, painless, deathless. For the glory of Jesus my Lord, keep me pressing forward and living up to all that he has done for me. Amen

Father, it hurts..

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. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent for ever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. for you have heard my vows, O God; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name. 

(Ps 61.1-5)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

(Jn 13.34)

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a person’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage, … if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully… Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer… Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn

(Rom 12.6-12, 16)

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.

(Gal 6.2)

Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission is reported to have said this, “The Lord’s work, done in the Lord’s way, will never fail to have the Lord’s provision.”

While I am sure this applies to global mission movements and great developments in church outreach and evangelism, I also believe that it applies to my own small life. It could be translated to read, “As I obey God’s call to offer my life in his service – whatever circumstances I am in and whatever resources are available to me – I may be sure that He will enable me to fulfil that particular and unique calling.”

I have been working out just what that means in this current season of life – and being a slow learner and a forgetful soul, I find I am treading familiar ground with a sense that I should have been here a while ago!

My life does not involve many responsibilities, I have much personal freedom to structure my time, and that brings a challenge in knowing what God wants me to do with my availability… Recently, I have felt overwhelmed with the sheer number and range of burdens being carried by my friends and family, let alone those further afield to whom I am committed in prayer support. As I wrestled with the discouragement and sense of my own futility in face of such need, I was helped by the love of friends and some wise counsel. The Spirit has been working mercifully to open my eyes to a new understanding.

This burden of sharing in the lives of others, which is also a privilege of course, is my particular calling in this season. I have time when I can be alone and without distraction, when the Lord can take me through the names and needs of many, to obey Christ’s command of love and bear them before him in prayer.

I want to bear this burden honourably. I want to glorify my Lord as I give myself in this way – not grumbling or complaining about the list of names, nor becoming cynical and weary of the work. I want to remain hope-filled and quietly rejoicing in the goodness and faithfulness of God, even as I contemplate suffering or loss. My dear Lord knows my heart, and promises to meet my daily needs in order that I may fulfil this desire to serve him worthily; as my heart is permitted to feel a little of his great heart, sorrowing or rejoicing, over all his beloved children.

Today therefore, I embrace this calling and thank the Lord for it. I do not need the answers to the trials of others – this is his business. Instead, I come in humble and glad faith to the ONLY one who can bring relief. I bring those my heart loves to the Father by whom they are even more beloved. I lift these precious people up for his love, even as a child comes trustingly to a parent for the fixing of a broken toy, or comforting of an injured sibling. If I am tempted to fix them myself, or to try and wrestle God into a solution of my own making, I will only become distressed and weary.

Father God, I come in love and thankfulness for those whom you have given me to pray for. I rejoice in all that they are, and all that we share as your children. Above all I give thanks that you know their need and are already at work to meet it. I thank you that your will is more glorious and generous in its outworking than I can begin to imagine, so that I don’t need to try to find the answers but simply lift them to you and cry, “Father, it hurts!”.

 

 I ask Thee for a thoughtful love, through constant watching wise, to meet the glad with joyful smiles, and to wipe the weeping eyes: and a heart at leisure from itself, to soothe and sympathise.

(Anna Laetitia Waring, 1823-1920)

 

Purpose and expectancy

Caleb son of Jephunneh said to Joshua.. “Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years.. while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.”

(Jos 14.6,10-12)

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

(Ps 92.12-15)

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as ever Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me..

(Phil 1.20-22)

Do you sometimes struggle to believe that there is still purpose in your life? That sounds rather dramatic, but is perhaps a more common thought than folk like to admit. A change in our circumstances can leave a sense of dislocation, emptiness, and often intense weariness of life, so that we long for our heavenly home as a means of escape. 

And yet Paul, writing from prison was eager and willing to continue in his mortal life, as God willed, anticipating fruitful and purpose-filled days. If I am still here, it is because the Lord has something for me to do, or to bear in such a way that Christ will be exalted – honoured and glorified both by human onlookers, and also the spiritual realm. Job’s continued faith and submission to God under excruciating loss and agony brought great honour in the courts of heaven, and we are assured that all who follow that example of fidelity and trust are welcomed home with the words “Well done, good and faithful servant, come and share your master’s happiness!”.

Whether it is advancing years, physical challenges and limitations, or other devastations which are leaving us feeling useless and worthless, we can learn much from what we read in the bible about purposeful perseverance. 

Caleb is a glorious example of a man who – after 45 years of waiting and what may have seemed pointless persistence – finally came into his inheritance. He claimed a promise from long ago, and not only that, he acted by faith in the God who promised, to enable him to take full and peaceful possession of that inheritance. He didn’t let his age restrict his expectations – he looked to the God who had made the promises and said, “Yes! we can do this!” Caleb encourages me to go on asking God to fulfil his word, not growing bitter over perceived delays, and willing to put my effort where my faith claims to be – in doing the work which is involved as God leads me. 

The psalmist speaks of those who grow into old age like trees rooted in a place of fertility and security. Their nourishment comes from the Lord, faith flowing through them to keep them hope-filled and expectant, bearing fruit in good deeds, praise to God and service of others – praying, encouraging, testifying to God’s power, giving of time, talents and money as they are able. I am blessed to have many examples of such people in my life, and pray that as I grow older, I might grow sweeter, more wholesome, more Christ-centred and therefore more fruitful, even as they are!

I was pondering these things as I toiled up this hill, and thinking what a good example it was of how life can feel like a steep and challenging climb, with little rest in sight. How do we tackle such a challenge in a way that will exalt Christ?

I take small steps – I choose to do the next thing which the Lord has placed in my way, no matter how small it may seem, trusting that I will be led right.

I put my feet on the smoothest spot I can see – I ground all my living in the truths of God’s love and salvation, in his character. This is a solid and safe foundation from which I can live each day and face each challenge.

I don’t look to the top of the mountain! If I look too far ahead, I am overcome by the scale of the challenge, but if I look to each step as it comes, I keep moving on.

Father God, give me grace for each tiny step upwards, give me hope to keep on moving, and may peace in Christ be the solid ground under my feet. May Christ be exalted, Amen

Dust and ashes..

God, my God, for You I search. My throat thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You in a land waste and parched, with no water…. Yes, I recalled You on my couch. In the night-watches I dwelled upon You. For You were a help to me, and in Your wing’s shadow I uttered glad song. My being clings to You, for your right hand has sustained me.

(Ps 63.1,7-9. translation by R Alter)

Jesus said to them, “…He [the devil] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding out the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

(Jn 8.44)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light…. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

(1 Pet 2.9; 5.6-9)

“How are you?”

Do you ever dread that question? I don’t like to tell lies, and sometimes, the honest answer to that question is not one which I think my listener really wants to hear, so I end up fudging it, answering with a question of my own.. anything to turn the focus away from my own unsatisfactory condition!

As one who has been following Jesus all her adult life, and been blessed to be in loving and nurturing church fellowships all that time, I have so much to give thanks for, and so many reasons to trust God and be zealous in sharing the good news, encouraging others, and generally engaging in gospel labour. However, as a human being I am also as vulnerable to emotional disturbances, hormonal upsets, physical ailments and stressful life-events as you are. These things colour my days, as I am sure they do yours. At the moment, for whatever reasons, there is little zest for faithful living and obedient, expectant labouring for Christ. All my allotted tasks are like so much dust and ashes – dry, unappealing and lifeless.

I say this not to evoke pity, or to brag about my ‘sufferings’. There is nothing uniquely painful about my state, and I am not proud of it. But I do believe that as christians we must not pretend to be other than we are – never with God, and preferably also not with each other.

When the accuser of God’s children is at work to obstruct the divine purpose, then discouraging those children is an obvious and devastatingly effective means of doing it. If the evil one can persuade us that our labours are in vain and that we might as well stop trying, then we become useless to the Lord and a danger to our fellow believers. Our christian family is weakened by our arid and inert condition – in exactly the same way that a human body is weakened when any part fails to partake of the life-giving flow of blood and oxygen.

I thank God for the painfully acquired wisdom of years which has helped me to recognise that my perception is not a true one – that the father of lies is at work to distort my understanding and paralyse my faith. I thank God for the faithful friends who are willing – yet again – to come alongside me in prayer and encouragement as I share my need and predicament with them.

Above all, I thank God that as I follow the example of the psalmist – recalling truth and reaffirming past blessing – I am strengthened. I bring the weapon of the word of God – what does He say about me? – against the lies of the accuser. I measure my thoughts against God’s revelation of grace and mercy and redemption, and see where I am being deceived and misled by my enemy.

I am one of God’s chosen people, I belong in his holy nation and am called as a priest to proclaim the praises of the One who brought me out of darkness into light. None of these things depends on my feelings, my health or any other factors which influence my daily living. They are based entirely in God’s character and finished work in salvation. I can serve him regardless of how I feel about my fruitlessness. I can praise him regardless of how barren our labours as believers seem to be – because he is always worthy of honour.

In obedience and trust, therefore, I labour on. May God be merciful to me, one of the least of his servants, restoring my joy in the service of the King and giving me a glimpse of his great power at work in this world to save sinners and bring them home to glory.

And when I pray…

Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses…Only be strong and courageous.

(Jos 1.17&18)

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus…. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what  is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.

(Phil 1.3-6&9-11)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

(Col 1.2)

It is always good to learn from others how we might serve the people of God more faithfully, and perseveringly – at least, I know that I have much to learn. The writings of Paul to his beloved churches give us a glimpse into the life of intercession which he followed so faithfully, and I was struck recently by the fact that he seems to start praying for people by being thankful for them! Perhaps this is not new for you, in which case, read no further..

What happens when we look at the prayer list, when the array of burdens and requests mounts up and it seems that all we are doing is bringing a shopping list of our demands to God? I think that I lose perspective, I become absorbed in the – important but not crucial – details, and forget that God’s overall plans and purposes are so much greater and so utterly other than my own. I begin to think that if I don’t see the answers I want, then prayer doesn’t work, or that I am somehow failing to ask properly.

But, when I start by giving thanks for God’s people, each unique, each beautifully crafted for his purposes and saved by grace through faith in Jesus – each one a beloved child and sibling of min in Christ – then my perspective shifts. They are no longer a duty to be ticked off, but a person in relationship to the Almighty – and to me. They are fearfully and wonderfully made and to be rejoiced in. Their salvation story is a reason to celebrate God’s goodness and power in transforming broken humanity – as is mine.

Their heart’s desire, like mine, is to know Christ and to make him known, to play their part in God’s great plan of salvation and new creation. While we may have our own human ideas of what that ought to look like in a given situation – healings, job opportunities etc – actually, we all know and ultimately trust in a God who so often confounds human expectation.

So, when I pray, I can use some of the great prayers of the scriptures like these:

  • that God would go with us in all we do
  • that the Spirit will make us courageous and confident in God to work ahead of us
  • that we might receive daily grace – God’s work in us to accomplish what we can’t do
  • that we might live in the peace which is experiencing the blessings of being fully reconciled to God hour by hour and day by day
  • that we might grow in love for Christ and for one another, a mature and self-denying love which builds community, and witnesses to the power of the gospel in our hearts
  • that we might bear fruit for Christ, the changed lives which result from continual re-orientation of all our thoughts and attitudes according to his word
  • that we might bring glory and praise to God

All of these are things that I long to see happening in my life, so should I not also pray them for others? These things all underpin the details of daily life, so that our attitudes and decisions are increasingly godly and discerning, and fully aligned to whatever God is doing in and through us. Each and every situation is an opportunity to chose to live for God, and to trust him to use that glad and obedient submission for his own purposes.

When I pray in this way for others, I am reminded all the time that God’s agenda is so big and that whatever the details of each life may be, we are together in fulfilling his plans. Our sufferings and struggles gain significance, and also are drained of their power to bind us in despair and half-heartedness when we remember the great story in which we are playing a part, and the adversary who seeks to thwart every blossoming of God’s work in human lives.

Friends, let us pray with joy, because the one who began this good work in us will bring it to completion, and in the meantime, he has promised never to leave us. Then let us pray with confident thanksgiving, and to him be all the glory. Amen!

An unlikely asset in our mission..

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matt 28.18-20)

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua… “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan river into the land I am about to give to them…

I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous.. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

(Jos 1.5-9)

Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

(Matt 6.33&34, the Message translation)

Strategies, visions, special training programmes and extra staff…are those what we think the church needs to fulfill the great commission of her Lord? Or is it simpler than that?

When we read the story of Joshua, on the verge of entering into the land which God has promised to the people, and which it is their mission to take possession of, we expect to find God issuing instructions about military strategy and training, logistics and procedures. Instead, we find that Joshua is commanded to hold fast to the word of God, absorbing it into the very fibre of his being, so that his thoughts are coloured and shaped by it. This command lies at the heart of the great assurances of the first chapter of the book – and this means that they are the focus or highpoint of the chapter. God is effectively saying that if Joshua holds fast to all he learns about God in the book of the law, then he will be in exactly the right place to succeed in his mission. Nothing else matters as much as this foundational dependence.

Joshua’s commission came with the assurance of God’s presence. Our commission likewise, comes with Christ’s word that he will never leave or forsake us. He has authority to send us out – just as God’s authority sent Joshua into Canaan – to take possession of that which already belongs to him, namely all those for whom he died, the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ..

So, the challenge is to us to follow Joshua’s example. We have so much more than Joshua in terms of God’s revelation of himself through his word – we have the living Word himself! We have God’s authority, and his command, to go and make disciples, trusting that – as for Joshua and the people of Israel – God will go before, to fight the battles, break down the walls, and change the hearts of those whom we face.

It is as we live on, and by God’s word – committing every day and resource to him for his will and his glory; never assuming that he is following our agenda, but looking to be guided by the spirit; putting his interests before our own worries and preoccupations – that we find ourselves by the Lord’s side, on the victorious side, watching as he opens up the way and brings us into full possession of the kingdom which he has decreed will be our home.

May we be made bold and courageous as we fix our eyes on the Lord, so that as his word becomes our food and drink, our daily direction and focus is to be where he is working, loving those whom he loves, and believing that he will be glorified in our time.

Be strong and courageous my friends, for the Lord himself is with us and will never forsake us. In his name, let us live bold and obedient lives, for the battles belong to him, and the victory has been won!

Deep and healing rest

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

How long will you assault me? Would all of you throw me down- this leaning wall, this tottering fence? Surely they intend to topple me from my lofty place; they take delight in lies. With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honour depend upon God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times you people; pour our your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.

Surely the lowborn are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie. If weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath. Do not trust in extortion or put vain hope in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: “Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”; and “You reward everyone according to what they have done.”

(Psalm 62)

Did you have a special secret place as a child? I had a place on the hill behind my parent’s house where the turf was short and sweet, where I was hidden from the paths and could lie looking straight up to deep blue sky, hearing only distant traffic, and the song of the skylarks.

This psalm conjures for me such a place. High on a hill, bathed in sunshine, a rocky outcrop is warm from the sun and hides me from any onlookers. I am hidden and yet fully visible to the heavens. My body is relaxed by the warmth and the utter quiet of upland air is about me. Yet I am not alone, because the Lord of my heart and my constant companion is with me. He is the creator of this place, of the heavens above me and of the tiniest particle of my being. He is both unknowable, and yet intimately known to me because he has revealed himself in his son to be my loving God. His love is immeasurable, fierce and tender, and he delights to share my days, to receive all that is in my heart, and to bear my burdens.

Those who would distress and harm me – human or spiritual foes – are known to him, and before him they are as nothing. It does not lie in their power to break this sweet and eternal communion. Even when God ordains for me  a path of shadows, suffering and pain, yet in my innermost spirit I am always here on the mountainside. I put my trust in his power and love, and in his plans for me. He is good, and always working for my blessing – no matter what happens to me. His power will surely accomplish all that he plans, and because of his loving-kindness to me, I can rest in quietness and wait for that fulfilment.

The psalmist affirms that God will exercise power and unfailing love, and by exhorting himself afresh to trust and depend on God in all things, above human or material resources, he models how I must face each new challenge of life.

Those who place their trust in God are never abandoned – but are cherished not for their good deeds and merit, rather for that humble and dependant attitude. God will indeed reward each according to what we have done, may we be given grace and faith to follow the psalmist’s example and find our rest in God, letting him guard our honour and provide our salvation.