Monthly Archives: August 2016

I can’t hear you Lord!

At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

The tempter came to him(Jesus) and said, “If you are the Son of God….” Jesus answered, “It is written:…”

(Matthew 3.16,17; 4.3,4) 

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

(Mark 1.35)

The voices around me are deafening. They tell me that I am foolish, irrelevant, an irritation and a waste of space. A woman who has made nothing of herself, who has wasted opportunities and squandered abilities. They whisper in my ear that there is no hope of joy or fulfillment, that I am a doormat, weak and without courage or self-respect. Where is the career, the salary, the validation of self through work? Where is the assertion of self, and the fulfillment of goals which rightly belong to this stage of life?

They are silent voices – does that make sense? No one physically speaks the words, and yet by their actions, attitudes, and the way they treat me and talk to me, the message comes through loud and clear – tried, and found wanting…

It is my experience that the voices of those far off are never the loudest, and it is those around us every day, those closest to us whom we hear most clearly, and find it hardest to resist believing. The resulting chaos of our thoughts can be exhausting, nothing comes through except a weary resignation, an acceptance of this loudest and most urgently present message. Our own voice begins to say the same things, and we give up resisting.

But is it necessarily the truth? In all the muddle and confusion, I find a desire to believe that it is a lie, that I am neither hearing nor seeing reality as God sees it. Somewhere, beyond the cacophony, is a place where there is peace, health and wholeness, a place where I am worth something.

What did Jesus do, when immediately after his very public validation by his Father, he was taken away from all support, and exposed to a relentless attack on his identity by Satan? The loudest voice in all those weary days in the wilderness was that which cast doubt upon his very being, the truth which God had affirmed so clearly. And what did Jesus do? He turned to scripture, to the words given by God to his people for their instruction and foundation of faith. I have access to that same resource, if I will only use it! Three times, it is recorded that Jesus dismissed the attack on his identity with a rebuke from the words of the Old Testament. He knew his bible, and knew that it was his weapon for attack and a shield for defence against just this kind of assault. Do I?

The bible teaches so much more than the bare mechanics of our salvation – glorious as that is! We find there all the resources we need to understand who we are made to be, to grasp our identity as new creatures in Christ. When I am feeling worthless, I remember that the Son of God considered me worth leaving glory for, worth clothing himself in human flesh for, worth dying for! When I am tempted to consider my life of no account, I remember the promise that God has prepared good works for me to do, and that my faithfulness in small things will not go unnoticed. When I am forcibly reminded of my weakness and failures, I cling to the promise that God will finish the work he has begun in my life, and that I am being made into the glorious new creature who will be fit to share eternity with her Saviour!

It seems to me that if I am to hear the voice of my Lord through the turmoil which is so loud and close every day, then I need to make the effort which he did – so often it was recorded that he withdrew to a solitary place to pray, to restore his ability to hear his Father’s voice. Praying – the deliberate sharing of my thoughts with my Father all the time – is a sure way to discern truth from lies, and to break the power of those insidious and undermining thoughts. It is always hard to hear a single voice in the midst of a crowd, so if even Jesus felt the need to be alone, how much more do I?!

May I learn to hear his voice more clearly than any other; to let his truth about me be the foundation of my identity – then I will be able to hold up my head, as a daughter of the King of Kings, dressed in clean and beautiful robes, with a future brighter and more glorious than any ‘happy ever after’ can imagine!

What does it look like?

I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.

(Leviticus 11.44)

As, therefore, God’s picked representatives of the new humanity, purified and beloved of God himself, be merciful in action, kindly in heart, humble in mind. 

Accept life, and be most patient and tolerant with one another, always ready to forgive if you have a difference with anyone. Forgive as freely as the Lord has forgiven you.

And, above everything else, be truly loving, for love is the golden chain of all the virtues. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, remembering that as members of the one body you are called to live in harmony, and never forget to be thankful for what God has done for you.

(Colossians 3.12-15: JB Phillips “The New Testament in Modern English”)

My life is a small one. I have no great public platform on which to command an audience; I have no authority to interfere in the lives of others; not even any paid employment to take me into a workplace regularly where I can witness to my faith in the living Lord Jesus. I am not being persecuted for my faith, nor called on to defend it against opposition.  I live free and disregarded, of little significance in the eye of the world.

So what does it look like for me to live a ‘holy’ life, as I am commanded to do? What does it mean for me to ‘be holy’ as I find my feet in this new community to which I am called, as a wife, mother, neighbour?

I think it can be hard at times to transfer what we know in our heads, and hear about in church, to our daily living. We read of preachers and prophets, of those who laboured for God under difficult circumstances, or who faced great crises with courage, and it is all very impressive and encouraging.. But our lives are so different!

The entire book of Leviticus, from which the first quote comes, is an exhaustive exposition of how the people of God were to order their lives, to reflect their separation from other nations – they were to be distinctive in every way. The purpose of all of this, was driving home to them the unique qualities of the God who called, delivered and sustained them. God was not only interested in the way that they gathered to offer sacrifices or sing praise; but in every thing they did being consciously in His presence and according to his character.

So also for us, as the new testament letter writers make clear, our whole lives ought to reflect the character of God – as Christ is formed within us day by day under the patient labours of his Holy Spirit at work in us. It clearly matters then, how we behave in the small details of our lives, even when the situation is most mundane!

How is Christ being seen in my actions as I go about the village which is now my home – am I open and friendly? Do I make an effort to learn and remember names and personal details? And in the manner of my driving, now that I have single-track roads and tight bends to navigate – often hampered by straying sheep or toiling cyclists? Am I patient and thoughtful, even when there is no one in the car with me to be impressed by my restraint?!

As my family and I make the massive adjustments to our new life here, am I making the effort to be loving, forgiving, patient and tolerant with them – even as I need them to be with me?

The challenge of living in a way which consistently reflects the holiness of God is huge; and we will spend the rest of our lives pursuing it with varying degrees of success. Praise God that he is so understanding of our weakness, and forgives our many failings. Of course we do have to live with the consequences of our failures: the fractured relationships, lost opportunities to witness, all the bitter ‘might-have-been’ thoughts. But I believe that God, in his gracious love for us, can also use our mistakes to bring blessings, and his forgiveness means that we are not to be weighed down by the past.

Praise Him, who is so much greater than we can imagine, for his forgiveness, gracious enabling, daily mercies, and patience with our frailty. May we be blessed to see the fruit of his spirit in our lives, and in the lives of those before whom we seek to be holy, even as he is.

Honestly…

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

(Matthew 7.7-11)

I love to read and hear of answered prayer, of those wonderful stories of healing, deliverance, divine provision for financial and physical need which we find in the bible but also in the stories of many believers down through the ages.

We are rightly encouraged to pray for one another, to ask God to heal, provide, direct and work in and through us as we seek to obey him and work together for the increase of his kingdom. Jesus, in these words is telling his disciples – and through them, us – to ask, expectantly and with faith, and then to await the good gifts which God will give us.

In obedience therefore, I pray for friends, for missionaries, for the work of preaching and evangelism, discipling and serving which is going on all the time. I pray for the growth in faith of my children, for God’s leading and directing of their lives according to his will. I pray for my own life, that I might bear faithful and lively witness to the love of God for me and the power of his spirit to transform and make beautiful that which was marred by sin.

And yet, am I the only one who sometimes reads those words of Jesus, and wants to cry out in agonised response that God’s answer feels like a stone instead of bread, like a vicious, stinging snake instead of a nourishing fish?

What of those prayers of faithful Christian parents for children who are steadfastly walking away from Jesus, choosing to reject the Lord who loves them? What of the spouse praying earnestly for the healing of a diseased partner, and watching instead as the life of the beloved ebbs away? We surely all know of believers who have watched livelihoods vanish through no fault of their own, families crumble under economic strain and physical trials. How does Jesus’ command sound in the ears of parents watching their children suffer and die as a result of war, famine and displacement? Where are the good gifts of God then?

I believe that we do ourselves no good if we ignore such troubling questions, and I also believe that our God knows we must wrestle with them, because he made our minds to question and enquire. We must face the reality that the answers to our prayers are not always what we think are good for us, and we struggle to see how they can possibly be the will of a good and loving God. Honesty compels us to bring our doubting and bruised hearts to God, who has commanded us to pray and to ask in confidence.

When I do this, I am acknowledging that although I do not understand, I am submitting to the mystery of God’s infinite understanding. Jesus sought for an answer to prayer which was denied him, as he asked in Gethsemane for the cup of suffering to be taken away. He got the very thing he most dreaded, and chose to trust and embrace that answer because he knew the one from whom it came. How we struggle with mystery, and strive by any means to make God do as we desire!

Consider Paul, who asked three times for his particular ‘thorn’ to be removed, but God instead said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. Consider Ezekiel, who was unable ever to fulfill his heart’s desire and serve God as a priest in the temple, because he was born and lived all his life in exile. Consider Hosea, who was called to be faithful to an unfaithful wife, living with the open wound of her adulteries. These men never got the answers which they longed for. Instead, they received grace for their need.

Am I willing to go on trusting God when he consistently answers my prayers for good things in ways which cause me continued grief?

I must, because the death of Jesus for me – like a solid foundation – proves conclusively the lengths to which God will go to show his love. If that death is true, and I believe it is, then no matter my struggles, I must accept that I am loved, in and through all that happens to me, and that His grace will be sufficient also for my weakness.

Just be gentle…

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain”, the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

(1Kings 19. 11-13)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. the Lord is near.

(Philippians 4.4&5)

My father was a ‘gentle-man’, it was one of his outstanding qualities. He was strong, physically and emotionally, stubborn and loyal, but very gentle. He had big hands, but would delicately cup a rose bud or seedling as he transplanted it. He never shouted or snapped at us as children – and I don’t think I have just forgotten it either! I have no memory of him talking about others to demean or mock them, but sometimes he would express regret that their actions and words had unfortunate consequences.

As I go on in life I increasingly appreciate gentleness, and thank God that in my father, I was shown such a clear example of God’s own gentleness in his dealing with his children. I will always be a child of God. I will always need my Father’s love and provision, and part of that provision is for the balm of gentleness.

When a child is frightened, hurt or astray and worried about coming home in disgrace, they need above all to be met with gentleness. That quality speaks of a love which understands our weakness, and knows that we need above all reassurance, not a brisk reprimand or exhortation to ‘get over it and get on!’ Perhaps in due time, the reprimand will be given – gently – or the exhortation to continue on the way will come. But first and foremost is the comfort, the healing of a forbearing love.

True gentleness is hard to fake, and easy to recognise. It is a quality which draws people towards itself, as moths to a flame, as cold hands to a warm glowing fire. Jesus had it, and so drew to himself so many wounded and rejected, worthless and despised people. They knew that he was different, that he would not add to their pain but would recognise, respect and minister to it.

Jesus valued everyone as a child of God, created to know and love and be loved, to add their own unique voice to the eternal song of glory to God. When we fail in gentleness, we are failing to demonstrate that same awareness of the priceless value of each person. Surely that is part of what Paul is driving at when he exhorts the church in Philippi to be known for their gentleness, by reminding them that ‘The Lord is near.’ This Lord who crafted each person in his own image; who longs for each one to come into a loving relationship with him; who longs for each one to know life in all its fullness within the community of God’s people here on earth.

I know what it is to crave gentleness from those around me, in times of distress and even in times of gladness, I find it hard to be handled brusquely and feel somehow diminished and irrelevant. A lack of gentleness tells me that I do not matter, that my feelings don’t matter, and I am of little value. This is not what the story of God’s love tells me, and I cling so closely to his gentle arms, listening for that gentle whisper which speaks his presence and his constant love. He tells me that I am special, beloved, worth everything to him, and that gentle voice brings healing.

Let me minister this healing to others, since I know how precious it is for me. Let us all seek to grow this Christ-quality in all our dealings with one another, so that we may build one another up, and not cause any to fall down or become discouraged, thinking that they do not matter to us – or to God.

Let our gentleness indeed be known to all, that God might be glorified and his people blessed!