Monthly Archives: February 2015

The joy of the Lord

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, O my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. 

(Psalm 146. 1&2)

Do you ever lose sight of glory? Of just how much you are loved by an eternal, almighty, joyous and wonderful God? Of how amazing it is that we should be noticed, let alone delighted in by the Creator of universe upon universe? I do.. and I know it has happened when I begin to take myself terribly seriously, to feel each and every slight like a major offence, and every failure to love like a death wound. I get distracted from the eternal realities, and instead see only the little things that make up daily life – irritations, the failings of others and my own, the bad weather, poor health, the messiness of living in a fallen world. All these are real too, and some are very serious issues which we rightly struggle to live with.

Nonetheless, when I read the following words earlier this week, they rang in my head like a clarion call, a defiant statement of a crucial truth:

Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul.” (GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy)

When I can bring my forgetful soul back from wandering among small troubles, and into the presence of my dear Lord, then I know the deepest satisfaction – in spite of what ails me, what irritates and gives me cause for grief. If I could only carry this awareness with me all the time, keeping this true perspective on life at all times, then perhaps I would be a more faithful, joyful and effective witness to Jesus in his love and saving power!

At this time of year I have snowdrops and hellebores in my garden, producing exquisite blooms which hang their heads down, as if hiding their glory from casual gaze. When I bring them into the house, and can get up close, I am astonished by the detail and beauty they reveal. An unobtrusive rendering of glory to their Creator, not held up for all to see but shyly suspended, a private delight. Like the rest of the natural world, their glorifying of the maker is not a willed thing, it is part of how they grow and flourish. Perhaps, if I could cultivate the attitude of continual praise – of being conscious that I am always in my Lord’s presence, adoring him and being loved – then my life too would become a thing of natural beauty, because at the heart would be this steady pulse of joy.

When I take myself too seriously, I miss the joy of knowing that I am forgiven, that every minute of every day of my life is a gift, and that there is a continual outpouring of goodness and grace into my life from God. When I take myself too seriously, I begin to act and feel as though I have to be perfect in order to be loved and accepted. This is a wicked and dangerous lie, it creeps up on me so subtly, and I long to become more alert to it. It robs me of joy in receiving each new day; in each person whom God has brought into my life; in the outrageous beauty all around me; and above all in the transforming truth of forgiveness in Christ, union with him, and the promise of eternal life.

Here for a little while, we walk in shadows, our ears deaf to the great hymn of joy and mirth which rolls continually through creation, as God rejoices in his making, and pours love out upon us. Just occasionally, we seem to catch glimpses of glory, hear snatches of the eternal ‘Alleluias!’, and we catch our breath, caught up into wonder and awe. When I deliberately cultivate a spirit of praise, counting every grace gift as I find it, then these moments come more often, and my life is more joyful, my strength renewed, as I lose myself in the Lord. When I am more caught up with him than myself, I can laugh at myself, accept my failures with the compassion God shows me, and live in the freedom which is my birthright as the daughter of the King.

May God help us in the coming days to remember that we are but dust, that He requires of us praise, not perfection, and in that joyful awareness to grow strong.

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Return to Sender….

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.

(Matthew 23. 37)

As human beings, the bible tells us that we are made in the image of God, the Three in One, whose existence is a perpetual delight in relationship and loving. We are made to connect with others – ultimately and most wonderfully with God himself! But while we strive all our lives to make and enjoy these relationships, we know that our flawed humanity conspires against us, undermining our ability to love, to receive love, and to delight in one another without a thought of self.

It is an unhappy position, to be made for something, and yet unable to ever truly find it, no wonder our world is filled with dissatisfied people. As Christians, we have the wonderful knowledge that our relationship with God is restored, and nothing can ever come between us again. But even there, the remnants of pride, selfishness and the baggage of broken lives can rob us of the full measure of peace and delight which are ours as children of God. He is always willing and glad to receive our love, but we often fail to give or to recognise as love what he gives.

In human relations both parties are flawed, and we are further compromised both in our giving and receiving of love. While it is true that we need to receive love, we also need to give it, to express affection and care for others in the ways that come naturally to us. Sometimes when my children were younger I recall being overwhelmed by the desire to express my love for them, and hardly knowing where to begin! In those days, they didn’t really mind if their mother hugged and cried over them, or played silly games and read and talked to them – how times change! The same applies to our parents, spouses and close friends. We want to show our love, and yet the gesture or word is firmly rejected – sent back like an unwanted gift.

How do we cope when those whom we love so dearly reject our loving? When our desire to be good for them can barely be expressed, because they have made it clear that our ways of giving love are unwelcome to them? It is this struggle which led me to Jesus’ yearning over the city of Jerusalem – and symbolically over all the nation of Israel, in its long history of rebellion against and rejection of the faithful love of God.

I know that when I do not express the love I want to give, I become sad, and somehow imprisoned – since I cannot express my loving, I cannot be myself. What is my right and proper response, the Christ-like loving response? How do I love people who do not want my love in the way I long to give it?

It seems that I have a choice, either to focus on my own rights – to express myself and be ‘fulfilled’ – or focus on them, their characters and needs, and to love them as far as they will allow me, in the ways that they can receive. Am I willing to trust God to look after my needs in this situation, to believe that I can experience this frustration and yet still go on living and giving joyfully because I am perfectly loved by Him?

What did Jesus do? He loved the world so much, and we would not receive or honour that love in the way he desired to give it. But he loved us well enough to give himself to save us – from all our broken bitterness – and trusted God to ensure that all would be well, that his utterly sacrificial loving would finally be received by his people. He gave what we desperately needed, and did not insist on his rights as Messiah, the Anointed one, the Judge and Ruler of the world. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul encourages the believers to ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ’ – Ephesians 5.21. The word submit can also be read as ‘do not insist on your rights’…

Is this my answer? To acknowledge before God what I desire to do, to offer what I can do to him in love, and do what I may for those whom I love. In the name of Jesus, and only by the power of his spirit within me, I will tailor my loving, and bring the frustration of unexpressed affection and pain of rejected love to God for relief, healing and comfort. He is faithful, will I not trust him?

I believe..

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. AMEN

I belong to a church where we do not have much of a liturgy, so to attend an Anglican service while on holiday last week was a great treat, although it can be a challenge to know whether one is meant to be speaking or singing at times! One of the things I love best about the liturgy of the Anglican church is this recitation of the Creed, our statement of faith. In the earliest days of the church, Christians were known simply as ‘believers’, because their salvation depended solely upon belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the atonement for sins, and their future in  eternal life with God. In reciting the Creed, we are reminded of our total dependence on Jesus, and that of ourselves we bring nothing of worth to God.

These brief words contain sufficient material to keep us thinking, praising and adoring our precious Saviour, and the working out of them in practice is the employment of a lifetime. Today I am thinking particularly about that little phrase ‘ the communion of saints’, and what it can mean for us in practice.

In his great prayer the night before his death, Jesus prayed for his disciples, and for all who would come after into the family of believers, asking ‘ that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.‘ (John 17 21-23).

This, this astonishing unity and intimate connection, is what we mean when we talk about the communion of saints. It is not mere friendship, but a profound union, arising out of our union with Jesus himself. As we believe in Jesus for salvation, he dwells in us, we live by his life; and because our fellow believers also live by that same life,  we have bonds at the deepest level of our being with them. We have the same Father, and the same great elder brother, and we see in one another evidences of his life working to transform us into his likeness. Our ultimate desires and ambitions are the same – the glory of God, the saving of souls, and the blessing of the church family – and our means of receiving from God are the same – reading the bible, praying, taking communion,  practising baptism.

The apostle Paul explores the implications of this unity many times in his letters to the young churches of Asia, including his assumption that believers will pray earnestly and intelligently for one another, even though they may never have met, share no cultural or language experiences, and have only their faith in common! It makes sense… when we are all part of the one body – with Christ as our head – then the suffering of one part calls for the support of the rest, and any practical help which may be given. Similarly, the joys of one part bring gladness to the whole body, so that everyone may be encouraged in their faith and hope.

I was blessed to have grown to faith in churches where it was a matter of routine to pray for christians all over the world – missionaries, ministers, and those to whom they were sent; persecuted believers in troubled lands, churches which were experiencing great blessing and growth. It never occured to me that it was odd to pray so earnestly for people I had not met, and I was taught to pray for them with as much passion as I might for those nearest and dearest to me. It was a wonderful lesson to learn early, and continues to bring great blessing, because when we come before God in order to pray for our brothers and sisters, we forget our own troubles, and fix our eyes upon him. We are reminded, even as we remind God, of his own promises to bless his children, to glorify his name, to provide resources for his work and to guide his servants – all these things which we also desire for our own situations.

So let us give ourselves to prayer for our fellow-believers, rejoicing that when we pray, we are together in God’s presence, in a fellowship which will be surpassed only in the resurrection when we meet face to face. What a blessing is the communion of the saints!

the blessings of a slow wit!

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger…..A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue!

(Proverbs 15.1; 17.27,28)

I was reminded forcibly of these words this week when I found myself brimming over with anger and hurt after a particular conversation had upset me. They did not come to mind directly, but only as I took myself off into solitude to lay the matter – and my troubled feelings – before my Lord and Lover, and I realised in the quietness that I was very likely to blame for stirring up the situation. I am not very quick-witted, and can rarely come up with the counter-thrust to a hurtful comment, or the appropriate words to challenge what feels like a bad attitude. All the possible responses crowd into my mind much later, as I replay the situation, and try to understand what was going on – and by then it is usually to late to say anything at all!

It is frustrating when one is stirred up, hurt and angry, not to be able to find words, and the sense of being gagged adds to the pain! But, as I pondered last week, trying to calm down and see things more through God’s eyes than mine, I gave thanks for my slow wits, rejoicing that I had been delivered from making a small trouble into something potentially bigger. I had not perhaps responded as Jesus would have done, but silence was better than a vicious retort!

The book of Proverbs is full of warnings about how we use our speech, and of course in the letter of James in the New Testament we find the apostle taking a whole chapter of his letter to remind his readers of both the power and wildness of the tongue. It is sobering reading, especially for those who profess to believe in Jesus, to have yielded the throne of their lives to him. James challenges us to consider how as believers we can both praise our Lord and commune with him; while also using our words to criticise, gossip, and generally wound our fellow men and women. How often do I speak out of my own selfish agenda, instead of taking time to think whether my words are wholesome, helpful and loving?

So I was glad not to have lashed out with angry words, and thank God for restraining me and providing the space and solitude I needed to calm down and confess my desire to hurt back. It is only as we grow in likeness to Jesus, as love for him is stirred up within us, that our thoughts and habits are transformed and we become more able to respond to others with constant loving grace. Most of us will spend the rest of our lives in that learning process, and even as I need others to be patient with me, so I need to be patient with them!

Is it Christlike to take pride in my own self-restraint, while criticising another Christian for their occasional failures? How am I encouraging others to grow in grace if I will not extend grace to them when they stumble and need to be forgiven? In the same way that I thank God for his faithfulness in bearing with me, deeply ingrained faults and all, so I want to learn to be faithful in bearing with others. I am needy, and so are they! We are privileged to minister to one another by our love – which means always seeking the best for them, just as God our loving father always seeks the best for us.

May God deliver us from any false pride in our own meagreself-control, and help us instead to rejoice in his power at work in us to keep us from rashness and hasty words. May God help us even as we receive fresh forgiveness from him for our daily sins, to extend that forgiveness to others. May we be content to leave the business of their sanctification in God’s hands, and seek to do nothing to hinder it, even as we depend on him to transform us.

It is a long work, a slow work, but we can be sure of this;’that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 1.6).

Amen, and may all the glory go to him!