Monthly Archives: June 2016

End of chapter…

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.

Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.

Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

(Matthew 6.19-21)

Moving house is a time when the quantity of stuff one possesses is frighteningly visible, being gathered onto a large lorry by a whole squad of people. It is  good to take stock and think about what is really necessary before adding to the heap of stuff to be packed, and we have given a good deal of time recently to doing just that.

There have been trips to charity shops, the recycling facility and the local dump, but also opportunities to help local organisations with things that we don’t need and they can use. It is a great blessing of our era, that social media and the internet allow us to find ways to make sure resources can be reused as often as possible. But some of the things are hard to let go….

The treasures I am reluctant to lose are largely connected with the raising of my children – books, toys, games and craft materials, all bearing witness to hours spent together and reminding me of their growth and development. But if the children – now both young adults in reality – are willing to let these things go, why am I struggling? We are passed those stages now, the colouring books and magnetic puzzles, the model-making kits and boxes of brightly coloured beads are redundant.

They are not perhaps the treasures that Jesus was particularly referring to, but I feel that his words here do apply to my situation as well. I have a choice here: I can cling on to the relics of childhood (telling myself that one day, someone else might come and use them, which is a delusion), or I can accept that this chapter of life is now closed, the story has moved on, and I must too. If I refuse to let go of these things, I am placing too much importance on what has been, instead of embracing what is, and looking to what will be.

My Father in heaven knows my mother-heart, he made it, so that I might love and raise these young people for him. He knows that I have many good memories, of simple days and the glorious free laughter and love of young children. Those were sweet to my spirit, and I am right to treasure them. But he has new blessings for me here, now, with the teenager and the young man who are increasingly independent, who laugh more at their little mother than with her, but who I am proud to call my own.

So what does it mean, as a mother, to store my treasures in heaven? Perhaps it is the literal and continual committing of my children into God’s hands, reminding myself that they were his before they were mine, and that his love for them is so much greater than mine. The love I bear for them, and the joy they bring me, are treasures which I can only keep sweet, healthy and clean by continually bringing them before God, to cleanse me of selfishness and the desire to control or manipulate their lives according to my own will.

I must also guard against allowing love for my children to become an idol, so that unless God gives them what I want for them, I cannot trust him. I have seen that happen, and it is such a painful situation, when God’s dealings with a child become the wreck of a parent’s faith. Ultimately, my treasure in heaven must be Christ alone, and my allegiance to him cannot be conditional upon my children’s prosperity, health or happiness.

So I will get rid of the stuff that my daughter is happily throwing out, to make room for her new life in our new home, and then the exciting adventure which will lie ahead after that. I will seek to walk gladly with her into the next chapter, thankful for the past but not clinging onto it, and trusting our loving Father for all our futures.

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On saying farewells

My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the good news about the wonderful grace of God.

So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood.

And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.

(Acts 20. 24,28,32)

Last weekend, we said farewell to our congregation here in the city, and there was so much to be thankful for and to rejoice in. Our church family are generous, open-hearted, willing to try new things, and over the years we have seen so many grow in their faith as the word preached bears fruit in their hearts. Financially, spiritually, and in the quality of the facilities available in the church building, they are in good heart, and will present an attractive package to any prospective new minister.

But before that new appointment can be made, they have to let us go, to make the break in their minds from a leader and pastor who has been there for 22 years, and to search and wait together for the person whom God has already planned and identified. They are indeed a little like sheep without a shepherd, afraid and uncertain, and there were many tearful hugs. I was reminded of the passage in Acts which records the final exhortation by Paul to his friends in the church in Ephesus, from which these verses come.

His words express our own situation so clearly, and I have found myself saying similar things time and again as our departure draws closer and I have more people to say goodbye to. It is very encouraging to see that my own thoughts have at least in some degree been the same as those of the great apostle himself – God is slowly but surely shaping my thoughts and words to do honour to him!

It is often only when saying goodbye that the depth of our affection for one another becomes evident, and all at once it becomes important that we say something significant and of long-lasting value. Often it is a person’s last words to us which remain in our minds with greatest force, colouring our thoughts and memories. So it is that I have found myself following Paul’s example, trying to make the most of that opportunity to encourage and build up.

As Paul affirms his allegiance to Christ and submission to God’s will, so I have time and again found myself explaining our call to our new church in terms of an order which it is both my duty and my delight to obey. To remain with those who love us would be easy, but disobedient, and would not result in blessing for any of us. To go, to bear the very real costs of upheaval and loss, is the only real option for a true disciple. To trust, that God who has called will provide both for our needs and those of the flock we leave behind, is our calling and God’s grace will be sufficient for us all.

As Paul exhorts his friends and fellow believers to fulfill their own calling, to obey in the place where God has put them for the present, so I have encouraged our church family to pursue God’s will for them in this place, not to drift away because we are no longer here. While they are still part of this church family, they can be good for one another, can love and work together to reach out with the good news of the gospel, even as we will be doing in our new place.

And finally, even as Paul did, I have commended my dear church family, the ones who helped me raise my children, who have loved me through the loss of both my parents, who have accepted and never judged me, to the keeping of the lover of their souls. They have helped me to prove God’s faithfulness in keeping his promises, because so often they have been the means by which he has done so. It is surely the most important thing that we can pray for one another; that we might rely utterly on God, in all things, to build us up and keep our faith in  him secure against all trials.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

(Romans 15.13)

Running on empty..

Just to be clear…. I do not feel that my life is quite the demolition zone that you see in the picture, but there is a definite sense of dismantling going on just now. Today sees our last service with the congregation to which we were called 22 years ago. How do you say farewell to people after that? In a month, we will leave the house which has been our home for 17 of the 23 years of our married life. The garden which has grown under my hands will be handed over to others to care for – it feels almost like abandoning a child to the care of others.  I will drive away from city life; from a rich network of friends and activities and work which have supported and encouraged and satisfied me, to …what?

I am continually being asked if I am excited about the new adventure which faces me? And if I am being honest, I have to say no! I am not temperamentally an adventurous person, but one who likes the familiar, the known and predictable. I deliberately avoid situations that take me out of my ‘comfort zone’, and only really relax where I am in control of my surroundings, timetable and food! What peculiar creatures we are, and how difficult we find it to truly trust God for all our needs..

The last few weeks have brought a steady stream of thoughts along the lines of ,’This is the last time I will..’ Over and over I am confronted with special people saying thank you, and goodbye, receiving gifts and cards, being prayed for and commended to God’s care. It is humbling and very sweet – in the nourishing sense of the word – to know that one has been appreciated and will be missed. But I feel very little in myself on these occasions, hardly knowing what to say, and only glad when I can slip away and brace myself for the next encounter. All the glory and thanks belongs to God, the one who made and saved me, the one who brought me into these situations and who was pleased – through me – to bless others. I am nothing, it is all Christ in me, and I praise him for his goodness and generosity to me, allowing me to be a channel of his love to others.

Perhaps, given all of this, it is not really surprising that I have this sensation of ‘running on empty’; that my spiritual flame is low and I am simply following on, obeying because I know that is what I must do, but lacking vigour and liveliness in my walk with God.

I am so thankful that we have had days of sunshine and heat to bask in, that my garden is full of beauty and life, that our plans for moving continue to work smoothly, and that we can have holiday before that day comes. I know that I am daily receiving loving mercies from my Lord, and that in his tenderness and compassion for my low state, he is patiently keeping company with me.

I know that he has plans for blessing others through me in the place to which we are called, and I will choose to trust him to reveal those people and situations to me in his good time. And knowing all this, yet I still find myself emotionally numb, in an almost dreamlike state, where nothing seems quite real and so nothing touches me directly.

Perhaps this is a blessing in itself, as I am being spared exhausting emotionally experiences at a time when I need to be able to keep functioning, sorting, organising and preparing for the move. Perhaps after it is over and we are settling into the new home, I will come back to life again and then the sense of being fully engaged with life will return – and as often happens when numbness wears off, it may be very painful!

Through it all, my Lord keeps asking,’Do you trust me?’ And my answer must remain,’yes, I trust you. Help me to keep putting one foot in front of another and moving with you, and not fret about what I cannot control.’

It is one of the hardest things I have yet had to face; and what a relief to know that it is his power in me which will make it possible, not my own effort. Praise God, that he never changes, never fails us, and his grace will always be sufficient for my needs.

I will!

Oh, praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, you who serve at night in the house of the Lord. Lift up holy hands in prayer, and praise the Lord.

May the Lord, who made heaven and earth, bless you from Jerusalem.

(Psalm 134)

I don’t know if you have ever noticed, but the Psalmist never says – “Praise God, because you are feeling good, and you want to.” The command is never conditional on our feelings, or our circumstances, but always the right and proper response to who God is. I find that a great relief, because so often my feelings are not particularly optimistic or buoyant, and if I had to somehow generate an ecstatic mood before coming to praise and spend time with God then I would be very seldom likely to do it!

The wonderful thing is that so often, when we obey the command – as loyal and covenanted soldiers ought to – we find that the act of praising, of considering God’s qualities and astonishing power at work in the world, does of itself lift our mood, out of pessimism and drab monotony to a lively appreciation and delight. This is nourishment to our spirits, food for our souls, and perhaps another way of understanding what Jesus meant when he said to his disciples that he had food which they knew nothing about!

There are times – surely in the life of every follower of Jesus – when reading the bible seems like an empty exercise, when the word seems dry and academic, when their walk of faith is through a drab and somehow colourless landscape. This is perhaps when our promise of obedience is most vital in sustaining us. If we continue to obey, in spite of our feelings – or even the lack of them – meeting with our fellow believers to worship, taking time to read the word, praying for others as well as ourselves, then we keep putting ourselves into a position to hear and receive from God.

If we choose to stop reading, stop meeting, stop praying, we damage ourselves, and make it much harder for God to speak to us, and how then can we find strength to endure the dryness? The deceiver of our souls would have us give up, shut ourselves away to grieve over the absence of feelings which we enjoyed in the past, nurse our anger against God that we no longer sense his presence. And when we manage to look carefully at this attitude, we see the reality of it, the danger of it. We are behaving like sulky children, resenting the absence of a particularly appreciated treat, and punishing our loving parents by refusing to enjoy the humdrum daily routine which is the foundation of our lives.

Jesus never promised that our walk with him would be easy, comfortable, trouble-free, nor that it would be a continual series of ecstatic experiences! He said ‘take up your cross’, and promised grief, sacrifice, and then he said ‘and I will be with you always, even to the ends of the earth’

So we can choose to persevere, obediently walking with him through the dry times, and the troubled times, knowing that regardless of our feelings, he is ever present, loving and cherishing us. Or we can act like sulky children, refusing to stir a step without an enticing bribe and wheedling words, never growing in stamina, never looking beyond our own feet.

Sometimes I have to listen very hard to hear beyond the immediate storm of resentful, or simply weary and disheartened thoughts, to hear the voice of my soul which says each day to her Lord and Lover, ‘I will’. But that voice is still there. I am ashamed that so often I choose not to listen for it, and instead indulge myself in self-pity, resentfulness, and even laziness.

Praise God, for he is good. He knows that voice in my soul is the truth about who I am, and he continues to keep company with me, in spite of my childish sulks, my indolence about spiritual disciplines.

Praise God, for he is good. He sees the desire to become more Christlike, that desire which is his own sweet gift to me, and he continues to work in my life to make that happen.

Praise God, for he is good. His love endures for ever!