Monthly Archives: October 2014

Just hanging on!

P1020103Jesus draw me ever nearer as I labour through the storm.                          You have called me to this passage, and I’ll follow, though I’m worn.

(Margaret Becker)

The stormy weather we have experienced in Scotland this week has to an extent mirrored my inner life, a time of weeping and weariness, of uncertainty and fear. Faith in my experience is not some kind of external armour that protects me from these storms, which are part of the human experience and arise from our frail bodies, the darkness which lies in every heart, and the brokenness at the heart of creation.

While I confess to being shaken, to being weary and filled with melancholy, I can also testify to the continual reminders of my heavenly father’s love and provision for me. I have sung songs of praise with tears in my eyes, contemplated beauty and been filled with adoration for the Creator who is endlessly inspired and so generous in sharing his bounty with us. I have been reminded again of the cross, of the empty tomb, and the soul-salving grace which is offered to me in Jesus Christ. I have rested in the truth of God’s firm hold on me, regardless of how feeble I am in my own eyes.

But in the stormy days, these things do not always change my feelings. And this is where faith comes in, where wordless prayer comes in. I do not know how to diagnose my own weaknesses for my heavenly healer – he can see my heart and spirit and knows my need. He takes the merest breath, the wordless longing, and knits it into effective prayer which he already is moving to answer.

What good will it do  me to sit and nurse my melancholy alone? None, and faith tells me to bring it to my beloved Lord, as the only thing I can offer at this time. Time and again, the psalmist comes to worship with words of woe and lament, so surely I may do the same? When I  hold back from sharing the sadness and difficulty of life with my Saviour, what am I saying? Do I think He is not interested in me except when I am happy and content? Perhaps there are people in my life like that, imperfect and frail as we all are, who can’t cope with my moods and lowness of spirit. But the Lord and lover of my soul is perfect, never out of patience, full of grace, and He delights to receive me even when I am more of a wet blanket than a ray of sunshine!!

So whether I feel the benefit of it or not, my safest course in the storms is straight for the arms of Jesus, and every time I feel myself drifting, to turn back and cling on again. In faith, we lean on him, and so through these storms we find that our faith is tested, and strengthened, and in turn we may encourage others to lean and find him trustworthy.

What joy, to know that in the midst of storms, we may find rest here, and that even our very small personal troubles can be something we offer in worship to God. The opening quote this week is from a particularly helpful song which expresses this desire to let every experience of life be used by God to his glory, and I will close with the chorus, which is a beautiful prayer in itself.

May this journey bring a blessing, May I rise on wings of faith;

And at the end of my heart’s testing, with your likeness let me wake.

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Let’s be honest…

P1020172Lord, it is my chief complaint that my love is weak and faint;

Yet I  love thee, and adore; O for grace to love thee more!

(lines from the hymn ‘Hark my soul, it is the Lord’, by William Cowper, 1731-1800)

Don’t get the wrong impression. Don’t think that because I choose to write about faith, that I am in any way different from every other christian. If we are honest with ourselves, there are times when believing, delighting in and obeying our Saviour is as easy and natural as breathing. But there are also many times when the urgency of normal, routine life crowds out the sweet call of Jesus to be keeping him company.

The clamour of the demands made on us by other people – usually quite legitimate demands – deafen us to the echoes of private worship, and we find it so hard to listen for God’s voice in the midst of our responsibilities. I cannot control many of the events which affect my daily life, and which so often kill off my good intentions by starving them of time and energy. Schemes and ideas which might have brought blessing to others – as well as to myself – are simply washed away by my circumstances. All that remains is a plaintive lament for a lost opportunity or thwarted plan.

The temptation is condemn ourselves for our ‘failure’, to cast ourselves down in regret and refuse to be comforted….As if our good works – no matter how well-intentioned – were the only thing about us which God valued!

This is a lie, and a dreadful trap for conscientious folk. It is a rope of false pride which binds and imprisons us in the comfortless dark.

Yes, I may have failed to complete some good work which I had planned. But God loved and chose to save me before I had done anything in his service! My place in his presence depends always and only on the complete salvation achieved by Jesus. It is his works, not mine, which are the key. And on the cross, he cried ‘It is finished’ – all has been done, nothing remains for me to fill up.

When the messiness of daily life engulfs me, and I wonder where God was in my day, I choose to remember this.. that I am not loved because I have achieved anything, but because I am loved. God’s grace means that he sees my heart, sees my desire to serve and love him – no matter how feebly I sometimes express it, or how much I mess up – and is delighted.

Let my pride in my own achievements be crucified, and my God’s amazing grace to me be exalted. Here is my comfort on the down days.. it is all grace, freely given, without limit or ration. All glory to our astounding God and, as we contemplate his grace, may our love grow ever deeper.

Doing it all… Or not!

P1020171Breathe through the heats of our desire thy coolness and thy balm,

let sense be dumb, let flesh retire, speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,

o still small voice of calm!

These words are the climax to a well loved hymn by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-92) , which is a heartfelt prayer for God to be present and speak to us so clearly that we recognise and are thrilled by his voice. The reference to earthquake, wind and fire are from the story of Elijah, who in a time of great personal weariness and despair was  blessed by an encounter with God which would invigorate him and direct his future. It was not the terrifying fire from heaven, nor the invisible power of the wind, nor even the shaking of earth’s foundations which conveyed God’s presence in this instance, but rather a ‘gentle whisper’ as the bible tells us in the nineteenth chapter of the first book of Kings.

Sometimes, it is through great signs of power that we perceive God’s presence and are reassured, but at other times, we need a tender and intimate touch. Elijah was utterly at the end of his resources, and which of us has not felt this way? Firstly, God had provided food, and sleep, so that the body was nourished – a lesson for all of us who stay busy when we perhaps ought to stop. Next, came this astonishing visitation by God, as he takes time to question the disgruntled prophet, and tease out exactly what is going on in his mind! Elijah was utterly discouraged, convinced that he alone was on God’s side, and that the task ahead was simply too much for him.

Do we fully realise just how intimately our God is concerned with our thoughts? This is such an encouragement to share all that is in our hearts, the sorrows and joys, discouragements as well as triumphs. Our own thoughts and emotions can easily become a storm, bewildering us, leaving us unable to see the best way to act or decision to take. Here we see the way that God quiets Elijah’s personal storm, and then, once he has the prophet’s attention, speaks clearly. He speaks truth into Elijah’s confused understanding of the situation, and gives instructions which indicate very plainly that God remains very much in control and there is every reason to keep on believing in and serving him. Far from everything depending on Elijah, God tells the weary man that he is one of over 7000 faithful servants, among them the young Elisha, who would become Elijah’s successor! God was on the job, and it did not depend on the ability or strength of one frail human being.

What a wonderful God we have, what a relief to know that we matter to him so much, and that his care is so personal. May we learn to recognise his voice more and more clearly as we listen for it and bring our storms to his calming presence! There, we find that we are not alone, and are reminded that it is not our strength which matters, but that of the almighty God whom we serve. All praise to Him!

the little things

P1020087Sometimes, it is the little things that just fill me with joy – the smell of fresh bread, the feeling of a warm, wild wind on  my face or the pleasure of kicking through great heaps of crispy bronze autumn leaves. They remind me that each day I get to wake up and live is a gift, not earned or bought, or deserved in any way, but a free gift.

The crows tumbling around the sky in quarrelsome groups, the red berries ripening on the shrubs in my garden, and the exquisitely beautiful thing which is an acorn perched neatly on the twig of an oak tree, all speak of an intricacy of design and boundless creativity which fill me with delight. I am formed in such a way that I can perceive and respond to beauty, I have senses which thrill to different stimuli and a brain which can hold certain times and experiences in memory like jewels for me to revisit again and again. My eyes are a miracle of creation, and through them, I receive not simply information but pleasure, as I look at the world in which I live and the people who share it with me.

I believe that the God who created this world, the galaxy and universe within which it is so miraculously positioned, is glad when I respond in joy to his handiwork. I believe that human beings are made to reflect his character, so that our pleasure in beauty is also his pleasure, and I know that in expressing thanks to the maker, my own joy is somehow enhanced.

For the beauty of the earth,for the beauty of the skies,

for the love which from our birth over and around us lies,

Christ, our God, to thee we raise this our sacrifice of praise.

This is a verse from a hymn which celebrates this sense that our appreciation of the good things we receive every moment of every day is only completed by giving thanks. It may seem an odd phrase – why should saying thank you be a sacrifice? But it is also really an offering – a presentation to God of something precious to us – and in that sense, our thanksgiving is a proper response to the giver of all good gifts. I often find myself singing it, adding my own voice to the song which is continually going up from all creation, in praise of the Father and maker of all. A modern setting of the words to music by the composer John Rutter, can be viewed online – have a look for ‘For the beauty of the earth’ on Youtube, and enjoy the way that someone has brought images alongside the words to enrich them even further!

May we find time in the week ahead to really see the beauty all around us, to smell, taste, hear and feel the incredible richness which make up our daily experience of life on earth, so that we can sing with the psalmist in Ps 150v6..

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!

‘X’ marks the spot

P1000328  Where do I find the source of the strength I need to face each day? Where do I find the joy in serving, and the refreshment to my spirit for each new task? Sometimes, our lives can seem so small, so full of trivialities, and we wonder if anything we do is worthwhile?

Last night, I was privileged to attend a meal and celebration marking the retirement from full-time employment in Scripture Union Scotland of a woman whom God has used mightily to advance His kingdom in our land. She has served SU for 33 years, involved in residential events, missions, development of new ministries, strategies for change and nurturing of countless leaders and young people along the way.

It was humbling to see the number and variety of people who assembled to pay tribute and express their love and appreciation to her. But it was glorious too, because ultimately, we were thanking God for all the ways He has gifted, sustained, led and enabled her in His work.

We are not all called to such high profile ministries, but we can be confident that this same God is our sustaining power, and take comfort from these words which were written to the Thessalonians:

So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honoured because of the way you live, and you will be honoured along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.”  (2 Thessalonians 1v 11&12)

What a privilege is ours, to be the means of bringing honour to the Lord who loves and saves us. It is not our strength or cleverness which achieves this by itself, but rather the power of God working through us. Our gifts and abilities are used most tellingly in His service when we surrender them to His direction, and engage in the “good works” to which our faith leads us.

Faith prompts us to believe that God loves and desires to save our friends, family and work colleagues – so we in turn love them, and by our actions, and words, seek to share that love and help them to encounter Christ. Faith tells us that this world is not all there is, but only rather the prologue to a grand adventure, beyond our imagining – so we can be content to serve, to put others first, to value the small and forgotten ones, knowing that we are not in any sense blowing our chances of a good time! Faith prompts us to believe that God provides for those He loves, and to see that everything we have is a gift – so we are free to share and give, not hoard and strive to acquire more.

And all this is possible because of the grace which is God’s endless gift to us, daily, hourly, minute by minute grace. Continually He loves us, forgives us, heals and comforts us, sets us back on our feet and on the road to walk another step closer to home. This is ‘X’, the spot where treasure lies, and not one which can be frittered away, but which is without limit, always sufficient for our needs. It is grace which fuels our labours, and enriches our pleasures, and helps us to see that nothing we do for God is ever wasted – whether that is on a small or a large scale. By grace, I am significant to the God of heaven, and He takes pleasure in my company – here is priceless wealth, and treasure indeed!

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be ours, now and forevermore.. Amen