On feeling very, very small…

[God] spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing. He wraps up the waters in his clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight. He covers the face of the full moon, spreading his clouds over it. He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters for a boundary between light and darkness. The pillars of the heavens quake…By his breath the skies became fair;… and these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?

(Job 26.7-14)

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain…How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.

(Ps 139.1-6,17&18) 

Can you spot the boat in the picture? It is almost invisible, lost in the sheer expanse of the horizon as the sea opens beyond the mouth of the loch. Every wise sailor knows that they must go carefully into open waters, the forces arrayed against them are huge and must be reckoned with. How then do we – as tiny craft upon a great ocean of life in this world – venture with confidence?

Many years ago, a dear saint in my congregation gave me a little card, a bookmark and remembrance which I still have, bearing the words, “My boat is small, your sea so vast: Dear Lord protect me.” We do well to be lost in admiration and worship as we consider the scale of God’s creative powers as displayed in our world and the unimagineable reaches of space beyond. We do well to feel how very small and insignificant we are on this little green planet, lost among billions of other human beings, present for a tiny moment in time and then lost to sight and memory, leaving no trace of our passing.

This sense of our transience and irrelevance is one of the things that God uses to call people to seek him – since the eternal likeness to himself which is implanted in every person cries out against it. Somewhere deep within, we believe that we matter, that we have purpose and value, and yet…behold how great the ocean, how unmoved by humanity are the mountains and the great winds. 

This is one of the many blessings we receive in the gospel, as we join God’s covenant family and share in his promises and purposes in the world. We discover that while our sense of inadequacy and smallness remain, we now know that God the creator and sustainer of all things knows and cares intimately for us. We have been brought into a personal, loving relationship with the one who keeps the stars in their courses, who sees and rules the great beasts of the deep and who holds our planet in its life-supporting place in the universe. How marvellous to realise that although we are as dust on the ground, yet we belong to the awesome, holy and good God who made all things. Our frailty no longer defines our future – He does. Our past sins, and present failings no longer define our future – He does. Our tiny efforts to please him, to labour for his glory and the building of the kingdom do not define our future – He does. 

My friends, as we today consider how small we are, how easily lost within the vastness of creation and humanity, let us rejoice that we are never lost to the God who made us, who saved us in love to live for and with him. Let that knowledge bring peace and freedom to venture out with courage into the smooth or turbulent waters that lie ahead, trusting the great navigator to keep us just where we should be, right under his eye and in his hand.

Pray for your enemies….

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises…In his pride the wicked does not seek the Lord; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.. He says to himself, “God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees.”… But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand.

(Ps 10.1,2,4,11&14)

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ but I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?…Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(Matt 5.43-48)

As it is written: “there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless….There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says, it says…so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his sight.. But now a righteousness from God.. has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

(Rom 5.10,11,18-24)

Two years ago, I was privileged to visit New York and to stand beside the two great holes in the heart of that city which mark the foundations of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre. Sombre, dignified, heart-breaking.. the sound of the ever-falling water and the sight of name after name, after name inscribed on the surrounding walls combine to stir up powerful emotions.

What do we do in the face of such devastating – for so many people, life-shattering – events?

We rightly lament for and with those who are directly affected, and we commit to their welfare over the long haul which will lie ahead for them – practical, emotional support and courage to walk with them even though we cannot enter into or carry the pain for them. We commend them to the God who loves them and who longs to bring comfort and hope back into their lives, and ultimately to bring them home to himself.

We seek to discipline our own reactions, and to reflect God’s truth in our words and attitudes. While we may – with the psalmists and prophets – cry out in lament and wrestle with God’s providence, yet we also hold fast to the truth of his justice and holiness. We proclaim a God who cares about injustice and evil, and who has not abandoned the world he made to its own self-destruction. The sacrificial death of the perfect Son of God – the payment for evil for all who will believe – was the sign of just how much God DOES care about us, the people fashioned in his likeness.

We also remember and acknowledge with trembling, that before a holy God, no one is righteous. The basic sin of rebellion against God, as God, lies behind the actions of every human being who ever lived – apart from Jesus – and the need of every human being is to be transformed from rebel to beloved child. The astonishing thing about God’s offer of salvation, is that anyone may accept it and find forgiveness. Ultimately, this is what we are to pray for all those whom we may be tempted to view as our enemies – that they may come to saving faith in Jesus and be forgiven. Yes, forgiven, even as we trust to be forgiven, and for the same reason – the blood of Christ which was poured out for the cleansing of sinners.

Please, do not misunderstand me. This in no way reduces or dismisses the scale of their offences, nor the pain, destruction and long-term consequences of their actions. But it does mean that we commit the whole business of eternal justice and judgement into the hands of God, who alone is able to do right in such circumstances. When we pray for our enemies to be saved, we are loving them as Christ loved us, seeing the desperate condition in which we languished, and showing mercy.

Father God, who loved this world so much that you sent you Son to die for us so that we might know you again and be whole, we pray for those who might be called our enemies today. Deliver us from the bitterness of unforgiving hearts, and make us tender like Jesus, to love those who have not loved us.

For those who, through culture, poverty, trauma and radicalisation, have come to believe so passionately in their own creed that they will, in turn, inflict unimagineable suffering upon others – Father God, we pray that the love of your Son might come with healing and cleansing power and they might find peace.

For those who, in pursuit of wealth and power, have come to feel nothing for the suffering of the poor and marginalised, exploited and abused by the wealth-creating system – Father God, we pray that the love of your Son might break through and break their hearts to show compassion and to use their power for good.

For us all, Father God, may we see afresh our desperate state when we choose to live without you. May we never regard anyone as beyond your grace – since you have shown it even to such as we know ourselves to be. Your grace is truly amazing, and it is the power that we need to see at work in our world today. May each of your children be a grace-bearer and mercy-giver, a speaker of truth and the good news of forgiveness in Jesus, so that we might see your kingdom come and your will being done in our world as it is in heaven. 

What gets my ‘thumbs up’?…

Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees. with my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statues as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.

(Ps 119.12-16)

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else and not your own lips….As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart….The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but people are tested by their praise.

(Pr 27. 2,19&21)

These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…

(Isa 29.13)

..store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also….No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

(Matt 6.19-21,24)

We know – because we are continually being told – that the great internet companies succeed in part through their ability to gather information about us, their customers. This enables them to target what we see every time we engage with our social media – stimulating our desires and generating (as they hope) more spending to keep the great money machine ticking over. By diligent monitoring of our habits, viewing activities, previous purchasing and ‘likes’, they build up a picture of what we are like, of our preferences, even our likely political opinions. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to see the ‘profile’ created for me by these companies, would I recognise myself? Would I see anything that would suggest that I am – as Christ instructed me – laying up treasures for myself in heaven?

It is relatively easy, when in the company of other believers, to say the ‘right’ things and give an impression of devotion and commitment to Jesus, but the Lord sees my heart and knows just how far those verbal affirmations go in telling the truth about me… He knows what really makes me glad, or sad. He sees when I am bored of being holy and instead choose self-indulgence, laziness and conformity to the society around me. Who am I trying to fool when I make the right noises, but live a lie? Shame on me, if I am trying to fool my fellow believers – surely it were better that I admit my struggles to remain faithful, and ask for the help of my sisters and brothers in Christ?

The choices I make, in doing and spending, in speaking and remaining silent, all add up to a clear picture about what really motivates me in daily living. As a new creature in Jesus, forgiven and transformed by the indwelling of his Spirit, the potential to be driven by love for my Lord and a desire for his glory is already in me. Do I choose to harness that potential, to ask for his help in setting my heart on heavenly treasures? Sometimes I do, and sometimes, I don’t have to ask! Just occasionally, I am blessed by the realisation that Christ is indeed at work in me, and the desires of my heart – the things that I value and praise – are the things of God, of eternal value, the glory of the Saviour himself. Thank God for such occasions in your life, for the encouragement they give to your perseverance and the testimony to his power at work in you.

The transformation of our characters into the likeness of Jesus doesn’t lead to a bland, half-lived life. Rather we enter into a fuller life, because our passions are now godly and can be expressed strongly and safely, they are all under his command and direction. We learn to love justice as he does – so we can be rightly angered by injustice, oppression and exploitation. We learn to see his power in creation, to realise the privilege of sharing in stewardship of this great gift, and so we can be passionate about looking after our planet, its ecosystems, and all the people whom God loves so much that Jesus died for them. We know the value of each human life, so we can be passionately interested in our neighbours, in what is good for them and our wider communities – we learn to love as God loves, appreciating each individual in all their unique glory. We see the devastating effects of sin, throughout creation, and so we long passionately to share the good news of Jesus and the defeat of evil which he achieved.

Our Father in heaven, stir up in our hearts all those desires for heavenly treasure which you have imparted to us. May we burn more steadily and more brightly for you, so that it is clear for all to see just where our hearts are. We pray this for the glory of Jesus our Lord, and for your work in the world. Amen

A strong and relentless love..

O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee. I give Thee back the life I owe, that in Thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.

O Light that followest all my way, I yield my flick’ring torch to Thee. My heart restores its borrowed ray, that in Thy sunshine’s gaze its day may brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to Thee. I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not vain, that morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,I dare not ask to fly from Thee. I lay in dust, life’s glory dead, and from the ground there blossoms red, life that shall endless be.

(George Matheson, 1842-1906)

There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides across the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms…Blessed are you, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword.

(Deut 33.26,27&29)

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn and settle on the far side of the sea, even there. Your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for the darkness is as light to you.

(Ps 139.7-12)

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

(Jn 6.66-69)

When I am dazzled by the wonders of the world, by its riches and glories, until I nearly forget that they are only a shadow of what is to come, of what you have in store for your chosen ones…O Love, do not let me go.

When I am bewildered by the disintegration of moral order, by the strident voices preaching a gospel of self-determination and individuality at all costs, O Love, do not let me go.

When I am sinking into a rut, losing my zest for the life you daily renew within me; when my appointed tasks seem dull and pointless and I grow weary of persevering, O Love, do not let me go.

When the violence, evil and cruel indifference of the world to the suffering of millions threatens to overwhelm me, and I feel as though the light is going out, O Love, do not let me go.

When the agonies of my family and beloved friends surge up under the feet of faith until I am like to be thrown down into despair and the temptation to abandon my God’s service, O Love, do not let me go.

When my own years of unanswered prayers mock me, when your promises seem empty and vain, when the evil one is lurking close to steal my peace, O Love, do not let me go.

Your love, my God, holds firm through all my storms of anger, fear and disappointment. The tantrums and sulking silences are met equally with the outstretched arms of love that reach from Calvary to measure the immeasurable, to demonstrate the unimagineable depth and breadth of the love of God in Christ Jesus….even for me.

Your love, my God refuses to entertain the idea of abandoning your children. Your grace and mercy absorbs all that we throw at you, and like struggling toddlers, we are held firmly and lovingly while the storm passes. 

O Love, that will not let us go, we rest our weary souls in Thee. We are tired of fighting, we long for peace in the midst of bitter sorrow, fierce temptation, paralysing prosperity, wearisome warfare against the indifference and even hostility of our culture. We give Thee back the lives we owe – bought by the blood of Jesus, saved for a glorious future – that in closer fellowship and deeper dependence, we might live more fully. 

May we walk in the light of Christ, not by our own feeble, imagined illuminations; may we know his joy, in spite of the griefs that dog our steps; and may we never stray far from the cross, where our new lives began, and by which we receive all the treasures of grace.

  

It’s not always spectacular

A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?……..To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

(Prov 18.14;21.3)

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

(Matt 6.9-13)

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him… Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

(Jas 1.12; 5.10&11)

I wonder if you, like me, sometimes fall into the error of thinking that greatness of faith must be demonstrated by miraculous events, or church-shaping and mission-launching endeavours – the work of people like Hudson Taylor in founding the China Inland Mission for example. We consider such people and look with regret on our small lives and – as we may think – small faith.

I would like to challenge this thinking today. I have the privilege of knowing many faithful Christians whose lives involve incredible challenges – but not in this strategic or miraculous manifestation. Instead, these are people who choose to live each day as God’s gift to them, in spite of the fact that they carry unimagineable burdens and face devastating challenges. They are living with partners suffering from degenerative diseases, and caring for them even as they mourn for what might have been. They are grieving the untimely deaths of family members – spouses, children and even grandchildren – and mourning for the might-have-been shape of life. They are living with the wounds of broken and even abusive relationships, and grieving for damaged offspring as well as for their own agonies.

For each one of these, the words of the proverb ring bitter and true – ‘ a crushed spirit, who can bear?’ 

James reminds his readers of Job, who suffered and yet refused to curse God and die in his misery. Job persevered. Job chose to keep on, to wrestle with God, to bombard heaven with his anger and pain. It was faith in a just, holy and loving God which kept Job engaged with life, in spite of the pain which weighed so heavily upon him. Job just sat there and talked, he didn’t stand up and rouse his ‘comforters’ with stirring or inspiring words about God’s goodness and kindness, he didn’t try to rise above what was happening to him. But he persevered. 

I believe that the faith which Job demonstrates for us, and which those friends whom I have mentioned above demonstrate so clearly, is ‘great’ faith. I would invite you to consider how we may best pray for others in such situations, and for ourselves when our turn comes – as it may well do – to endure great suffering. What does great faith look like when our lives are falling apart and our spirit is crushed?

Our Father in heaven, who knows our feeble frame, may your kingdom come and your will be done in the lives of your suffering saints. May their faith bring glory to your name.

Our Father in heaven, who knows the depths of suffering to which each one is plunged, and the individual agonies unique to each character and situation, may you provide each moment and each day just what is needed to endure and to remain faithful.

Our Father in heaven, we pray against the burden of a bleak future crushing the faith needed for today’s obedience. Let your saints look no further than this day’s duties, and may they be given the strength of will to choose your ways, to choose trust.

We thank you Father, that to do the next thing, to tackle those tasks which you have – in your providence – allocated to us, is in itself an act of faith. Thank you that we have jobs to do, people to serve, and when we choose to obey, we are living in faith that you will fulfill your promises and supply all our needs. 

Merciful God, when we walk through the valley of suffering, darkness and death, may we be granted this great faith which refuses to give up, and although unspectacular, may our lives testify to your power to sustain and bless your servants.

Thus far….

On 31st August, 2014, I published the article you see below. I found my voice as a follower of Jesus for the first time on a ‘public’ platform. I offered my experience of Christian living up to God and asked that in addition to helping me learn, these words might be a blessing to others.

Here I am seven years later, to testify to the sustaining and faithful presence of God through the intervening years and also to the ongoing need in my life for this process of regular reflection and personal articulation of what it means to submit to Jesus as Lord, and to seek to live for his glory. I celebrate the abundant provision of God for me and reaffirm my commitment to feeding upon his word that I might grow in wisdom and love, in likeness to Christ.

I know that my words have proved a blessing, you have told me so! And I am humbled and thankful to know my prayer is answered. May the days ahead continue to bring us closer to our Saviour in faith and dependence, no matter how dark or desolate our circumstances. May we be enabled to lift our voices in praise to the one who endures, and whose promises to us are all ‘Yes’ in Jesus.

A voice says. “Cry out.”

And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All men are like grass,

and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,

because the breath of the Lord blows on them.

Surely the people are grass.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,

but the word of our God stands for ever.

Isaiah, ch 40, v 6-8

So what do I forget, all too often? I forget who I am, and I forget what is true about the world I live in and the One who made and sustains it.

I forget that in the end, all human achievement and glory will count for nothing, and that the praise and admiration of men is not where true peace and satisfaction come from.

I forget that it is not my own busy-ness which dictates my worth as a person, and my possessions are not the source of my identity and security.

I need to take time to remember the truth, the truth that sets me free to live in the light of eternity. I accept my insignificance, and transience, because the word of my God stands for ever, and that word tells me that I am a beloved daughter, one for whose freedom a great price has been paid, and who can never be torn from her Father’s side.

I take time to remember that the glory of the grass and flowers is the faintest echo of the glory that awaits God’s beloved children in the future He has prepared for us.

I remember that all my longings and desires are known to Him who loves me more than I will ever truly understand, and that He knows best how to fulfill those desires.

In remembering, may we find rest for our souls. May they be anchored in the truth of the word, so that no dazzle or distraction can take our peace away. In Christ, we are now and always, beloved, accepted, and sustained. Let us walk the days with him.

Wisdom for living…a constant prayer

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord. 

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant….The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare…Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you.

(Ps 25.4-10,14&15, 20&21)

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it its the Lord’s purpose that prevails…The fear of the Lord leads to life: then one rests content, untouched by trouble.

He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honour

(Prov 19.21&23;21.21)

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’s tales; rather 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 4.7&8)

I am not by nature a particularly confident person, which has proved a help to me in many ways as a follower of Jesus. In my diffidence, I readily look to others for advice and help, distrusting my own wisdom and abilities. I love to be taught by people whose wisdom and gifts unfold scripture clearly and effectively; I enjoy sharing my thoughts with experienced and strong believers whose advice helps me to understand and think clearly about a situation. The fellowship of believers enables me to gain from others gift’s even as I serve them in different ways, and this is a great strength.

I recognise however that I cannot shirk responsibility for my own understanding of my faith and the life to which I am called, in response to the love of God to me in Jesus. I am gifted to a degree, and must put those gifts and abilities to work for my Lord, trusting that while I may not achieve much compared to others, yet I owe him my best. For this reason, I have loved reading in Proverbs over recent weeks, with the continual exhortation to gain and grow in wisdom, and repeated assurances that this is pleasing to God and beneficial to myself but also to my fellow believers. Psalm 25 is a hymn to the God of wisdom, celebrating his gifts to us and praying for that teachable spirit which is humble and open to correction. It reads to me like a song for my life, a life-long learning of what it looks like to live as a forgiven and transformed human being.

In desiring wisdom for living, we seeks to grow in godliness, so that all we say and do are glorifying to our God, and beneficial to those around us. And as I grow older, I am aware that others might give my words more weight than they should, simply because they think I am wiser – let alone being the minister’s wife, which some seem to think gives instant spiritual discernment (sadly not!). I want to grow in confidence that as I speak and act, God is working in and through me to his glory and the growing of his kingdom. I want to grow in assurance that I am helping not hindering his work and that I am responsive to the Spirit within as I speak to others of Christ and the kingdom. 

Let us then continue to pray for wisdom, to trust that God is teaching us as we study the scriptures, and cheerfully speak and act as those who are saved and forgiven. As we cherish the love of God in Jesus, as we rejoice in the righteousness of the Almighty, we will live to honour him and prosper in his riches – the only ones that matter. We will know that peace which he alone gives, to those who depend upon him through every trouble and trust his plans and purposes to prevail.

 

Attitude, not achievement..my little can be enough

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification..

(Rom 14.17-19)

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come…So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body of away from it.

(2 Cor 5.1-5,9)

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see…[Enoch] was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists…

(Heb 11.1,5&6)

Today, I worship the Lord by whose sacrificial love I am brought into a relationship with the living God. Today, I choose to reflect on the completed task of Jesus Christ in fully paying my debt, taking all the judgement for my rebellion against God upon himself. Today, I see again the miracle which is my new life as a beloved child of a Heavenly Father, whose purpose in history is to embed me into his family along with a multitude of others, each one precious in his sight.

I  consider these things, and I give thanks with a grateful heart, astonished that one as insignificant as myself should matter enough to the unimaginably great Author of creation. To be thus beloved brings peace beyond measure and security beyond price.

Then I see the question that remains for believers…since Jesus has done everything necessary for our salvation, what is our purpose in remaining? The grace of God means that I already have everything I need, and don’t have to earn my salvation by a series of achievements; whether keeping rules, doing good works, developing a particular form of spiritual life, or anything else which I may feel I ‘ought’ to do. In a way, this is such a relief, as my powers are weak and my capacity for great works non-existent! But we all want to have some sense of purpose in living – and having formed us, God knows this full well. We fret for lack of direction and thrive on a sense of achievement and the satisfaction of fulfilling worthwhile tasks.

I rejoice with gladness then, as I see that God has asked me to do something for him – not to earn my salvation, but rather as an expression of my profound thankfulness for that priceless gift. I am not presented with some list of difficult tasks to prove my love to God, bur rather offered the opportunity to cultivate an attitude to life grounded in  faith. Will I take my homesickness for heaven, and offer it to God, letting it drive my worship and witness to others who also long for an eternal home and the forgiveness of sin? Will I accept that my hunger to be delivered from this mortal body (this tired and ugly tent, a thing woven through with doubt, prejudice and vulnerable to temptation), is a motivation to pursue Christ in all his beauty and perfection, and to co-operate with the work of the Spirit within me?

Dear friends, as believers, we have the privilege of choosing to live in ways which will bring gladness – pleasure – to the  Almighty God whose we are. We may feel that our own gifts and lives are so small and weak that we have nothing to bring him, but that’s not the point. The very fact that our desire is to gladden our Father’s heart is in itself a joy to him!

Perhaps today you feel that you are without purpose, that your life might as well stop for all the difference it would make. Please, dear friend, look up and consider the loving heart of the God who made you for this time and this place, and who daily delights in you. In continually recommitting ourselves to growing in faith, to this transformational attitude to our lives, we make the Eternal glad. You, me and all those who call him Father, bring him pleasure in our weakness and the small things that we are and do. Our little is enough, so let us take courage and go on into this week, this year, this life, focussing on our attitude not our achievements, and leaving Jesus to take all the glory, while we receive the blessings of his love and care.

With my own two hands…

Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.

(Ps 127. 1&2)

The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down..The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception. Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright. Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no-one else can share its joy..The faithless will be fully repaid for their ways, and the good[man] rewarded for [his]..

(Prov 14.1,8-11,14)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace And be thankful.

(Col 3.12-15)

We celebrated our wedding anniversary this week, and as I read in the book of Proverbs this morning I was forcibly struck by the relevance of the words in chapter 14, with their challenge to be a wise builder. Certainly, it takes two people to make a marriage, but God calls me to take full responsibility for my part and not to make any shortcomings or flaws in my husband an excuse for my own folly. 

I believe that God ordained marriage for many good reasons, and that it remains a unique type of relationship, quite apart from the blood ties of kinship, or the bonds of deep friendship – although these may play their part within the marriage. The deliberate act of two people to commit to living together for life, to forgiving one another, bearing with failure and weakness, supporting through thick and thin, accepting the changes of ageing and continuing to choose to love, this is – as one long-married pop singer recently observed – ‘an heroic act’. I agree whole-heartedly, and frankly have no idea how those who do not know the love and forgiveness of God in Jesus, can cope with the pressures of marriage!

There is so much in Proverbs which unpacks what the wisdom of God’s children in daily life should look like, and I have been appreciating the stimulating soundbites which cause me to reflect on my own behaviour. Do I build? Am I actively engaged in seeking the good of my spouse, regardless of his behaviour to me, of my own moods and circumstances? It is work, of course it is! But it is also what I am called to in marriage; called to choose forgiveness over revenge; to choose patience over temper; called to choose humility over assertion of my own rights and opinions; called to extend to another sinner that same grace which I have received from God – and to receive from them, the forgiveness that I need when I offend, fail and hurt them. Sacrificing pride is hard work; accepting that I sometimes deceive myself about my motives and actions is painful work; apologising can be excruciating work; believing the best about my spouse, even when I cannot begin to understand what is in their heart, can be wearying work.

But this is the work of love, this is the central beam which holds the whole structure together and around which the building grows over time. For me, as a follower of Jesus, His love for me is what enables my love to my spouse to grow, to endure hard times, to keep on doing the work. The perfect love and acceptance offered by my Lord has set me free to love another human being – flawed just like me, forgiven just like me, but never in this life to be perfect any more than me! What a privilege, to have the opportunity to show one human being, over the course of years of intimate acquaintance, as much as I can of the perfect love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ – to dignify his feelings by respecting them, to put away into forgetfulness his flaws and failings, to publicly declare loyalty and delight in him as a person, and to choose to be present – in sickness and in health; in wealth or in want; in sorrow and in joy, for as long as we both shall live.

May the God who has brought us safe thus far, continue to enable and bless us in the days ahead, so that our work in his name, in this marriage, might glorify him and be a blessing to others.

If not me, then who?

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfil the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you – may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem…..” Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites – everyone whose heart God had moved, prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem….

Now these are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles..they returned..each to his own town, in company with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum and Baanah: The list of the men of the people of Israel: the descendants of Parosh, 2172; of Shephatiah, 372…the men of Bethlehem, 123; of Netophah, 56…

(Ezr 1.1-5; 2.1-4,21&22))

The great Hebrew Scripture narratives of exodus and exile are associated with lists….huge lists of names and numbers, relating to the people who were involved in these historic events. As modern readers, we are tempted to skip over them – we can’t pronounce most of them, and they mean nothing to us! But consider their significance to generations of Jews, who would trace their own family name back to one of these, and remember with awe that their ancestors were part of those hugely significant events. The inclusion of these names is a reminder that all of God’s work in history has involved individuals, real people like you and me, whose lives were caught up into his overarching purpose. 

As those called to be God’s people, we are pledged to obedience and faithfulness (as God enables us), and we are not free to dictate the terms on which we will follow where God is leading – we are slaves to Christ, not his employees and certainly not his employers! If all the exiled Israelites had responded to God’s prompting of their hearts by saying – ” returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple is a great idea…let someone else do it, I am quite comfortable here with the way things are and I don’t like change..”: then there would have been no return from exile. I wonder how those who chose not to go felt in later years? Did they regret their failure to be part of that work of return and rebuilding, or had their faith never been in God at all, but rather in the trappings of prosperity and security which they now found in Babylon?

It is our personal commitment within the body of Christ which leads to corporate obedience. If I choose to delegate obedience to another, what is to prevent them doing the same? It is entirely possible for us to miss out on being part of God’s work in the world – but we will be the losers, and our faith and spiritual health will suffer. Is my trust in Jesus as my Lord, or in the habit of meeting in a certain place at a certain time? Is my faith a matter of habit and laziness – of letting someone else tell me what to think and avoiding the difficult questions and self-disclosure which might prompt self-examination, confession, repentance and change? 

Most of us recognise that many formal church structures are collapsing, and that perhaps it is time for far-reaching change if we are to support local believers in authentic witness and outreach to our communities. What will my response be to change that hurts? Will I reject it and cling to my own comfort, or will I allow Christ’s love to compel me along the difficult path, trusting his provision and enabling? If each member of the church in turn says, “Change is good, but let other people change, I am comfortable here”, then there will be no corporate submission to God’s leading into new things.  We will have shown that even the abundant grace shown to us in Jesus, and all the lavish promises of God are not as valuable to us as our comfortable traditions.

Change starts within each one of us….

Do I worship Jesus as Lord of my life? Then I must at the least be willing to set aside anything which hinders his work – including cherished music, forms of worship, translations of scriptures – and also to make myself available to do things differently – perhaps to learn in new ways, to be more active in sharing with others. The pain or struggle of doing this will be real, but is his love not worth anything I can give? What does the old hymn say?

Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life my all.”

I hold my personal comfort in an open hand, I offer it to the Lord and say, take this and use it according to your pleasure. I will trust you to be with me, no matter where and when I meet with your people; no matter what we sing – or don’t sing; and to speak to me whether there is an ordained minister present or not! Lead me into whatever you have for me, and I will follow, all that matters is that Jesus is honoured and obeyed.

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