Monthly Archives: May 2022

Purpose and expectancy

Caleb son of Jephunneh said to Joshua.. “Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years.. while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.”

(Jos 14.6,10-12)

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

(Ps 92.12-15)

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as ever Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me..

(Phil 1.20-22)

Do you sometimes struggle to believe that there is still purpose in your life? That sounds rather dramatic, but is perhaps a more common thought than folk like to admit. A change in our circumstances can leave a sense of dislocation, emptiness, and often intense weariness of life, so that we long for our heavenly home as a means of escape. 

And yet Paul, writing from prison was eager and willing to continue in his mortal life, as God willed, anticipating fruitful and purpose-filled days. If I am still here, it is because the Lord has something for me to do, or to bear in such a way that Christ will be exalted – honoured and glorified both by human onlookers, and also the spiritual realm. Job’s continued faith and submission to God under excruciating loss and agony brought great honour in the courts of heaven, and we are assured that all who follow that example of fidelity and trust are welcomed home with the words “Well done, good and faithful servant, come and share your master’s happiness!”.

Whether it is advancing years, physical challenges and limitations, or other devastations which are leaving us feeling useless and worthless, we can learn much from what we read in the bible about purposeful perseverance. 

Caleb is a glorious example of a man who – after 45 years of waiting and what may have seemed pointless persistence – finally came into his inheritance. He claimed a promise from long ago, and not only that, he acted by faith in the God who promised, to enable him to take full and peaceful possession of that inheritance. He didn’t let his age restrict his expectations – he looked to the God who had made the promises and said, “Yes! we can do this!” Caleb encourages me to go on asking God to fulfil his word, not growing bitter over perceived delays, and willing to put my effort where my faith claims to be – in doing the work which is involved as God leads me. 

The psalmist speaks of those who grow into old age like trees rooted in a place of fertility and security. Their nourishment comes from the Lord, faith flowing through them to keep them hope-filled and expectant, bearing fruit in good deeds, praise to God and service of others – praying, encouraging, testifying to God’s power, giving of time, talents and money as they are able. I am blessed to have many examples of such people in my life, and pray that as I grow older, I might grow sweeter, more wholesome, more Christ-centred and therefore more fruitful, even as they are!

I was pondering these things as I toiled up this hill, and thinking what a good example it was of how life can feel like a steep and challenging climb, with little rest in sight. How do we tackle such a challenge in a way that will exalt Christ?

I take small steps – I choose to do the next thing which the Lord has placed in my way, no matter how small it may seem, trusting that I will be led right.

I put my feet on the smoothest spot I can see – I ground all my living in the truths of God’s love and salvation, in his character. This is a solid and safe foundation from which I can live each day and face each challenge.

I don’t look to the top of the mountain! If I look too far ahead, I am overcome by the scale of the challenge, but if I look to each step as it comes, I keep moving on.

Father God, give me grace for each tiny step upwards, give me hope to keep on moving, and may peace in Christ be the solid ground under my feet. May Christ be exalted, Amen

Dust and ashes..

God, my God, for You I search. My throat thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You in a land waste and parched, with no water…. Yes, I recalled You on my couch. In the night-watches I dwelled upon You. For You were a help to me, and in Your wing’s shadow I uttered glad song. My being clings to You, for your right hand has sustained me.

(Ps 63.1,7-9. translation by R Alter)

Jesus said to them, “…He [the devil] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding out the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

(Jn 8.44)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light…. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

(1 Pet 2.9; 5.6-9)

“How are you?”

Do you ever dread that question? I don’t like to tell lies, and sometimes, the honest answer to that question is not one which I think my listener really wants to hear, so I end up fudging it, answering with a question of my own.. anything to turn the focus away from my own unsatisfactory condition!

As one who has been following Jesus all her adult life, and been blessed to be in loving and nurturing church fellowships all that time, I have so much to give thanks for, and so many reasons to trust God and be zealous in sharing the good news, encouraging others, and generally engaging in gospel labour. However, as a human being I am also as vulnerable to emotional disturbances, hormonal upsets, physical ailments and stressful life-events as you are. These things colour my days, as I am sure they do yours. At the moment, for whatever reasons, there is little zest for faithful living and obedient, expectant labouring for Christ. All my allotted tasks are like so much dust and ashes – dry, unappealing and lifeless.

I say this not to evoke pity, or to brag about my ‘sufferings’. There is nothing uniquely painful about my state, and I am not proud of it. But I do believe that as christians we must not pretend to be other than we are – never with God, and preferably also not with each other.

When the accuser of God’s children is at work to obstruct the divine purpose, then discouraging those children is an obvious and devastatingly effective means of doing it. If the evil one can persuade us that our labours are in vain and that we might as well stop trying, then we become useless to the Lord and a danger to our fellow believers. Our christian family is weakened by our arid and inert condition – in exactly the same way that a human body is weakened when any part fails to partake of the life-giving flow of blood and oxygen.

I thank God for the painfully acquired wisdom of years which has helped me to recognise that my perception is not a true one – that the father of lies is at work to distort my understanding and paralyse my faith. I thank God for the faithful friends who are willing – yet again – to come alongside me in prayer and encouragement as I share my need and predicament with them.

Above all, I thank God that as I follow the example of the psalmist – recalling truth and reaffirming past blessing – I am strengthened. I bring the weapon of the word of God – what does He say about me? – against the lies of the accuser. I measure my thoughts against God’s revelation of grace and mercy and redemption, and see where I am being deceived and misled by my enemy.

I am one of God’s chosen people, I belong in his holy nation and am called as a priest to proclaim the praises of the One who brought me out of darkness into light. None of these things depends on my feelings, my health or any other factors which influence my daily living. They are based entirely in God’s character and finished work in salvation. I can serve him regardless of how I feel about my fruitlessness. I can praise him regardless of how barren our labours as believers seem to be – because he is always worthy of honour.

In obedience and trust, therefore, I labour on. May God be merciful to me, one of the least of his servants, restoring my joy in the service of the King and giving me a glimpse of his great power at work in this world to save sinners and bring them home to glory.

And when I pray…

Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses…Only be strong and courageous.

(Jos 1.17&18)

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus…. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what  is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.

(Phil 1.3-6&9-11)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

(Col 1.2)

It is always good to learn from others how we might serve the people of God more faithfully, and perseveringly – at least, I know that I have much to learn. The writings of Paul to his beloved churches give us a glimpse into the life of intercession which he followed so faithfully, and I was struck recently by the fact that he seems to start praying for people by being thankful for them! Perhaps this is not new for you, in which case, read no further..

What happens when we look at the prayer list, when the array of burdens and requests mounts up and it seems that all we are doing is bringing a shopping list of our demands to God? I think that I lose perspective, I become absorbed in the – important but not crucial – details, and forget that God’s overall plans and purposes are so much greater and so utterly other than my own. I begin to think that if I don’t see the answers I want, then prayer doesn’t work, or that I am somehow failing to ask properly.

But, when I start by giving thanks for God’s people, each unique, each beautifully crafted for his purposes and saved by grace through faith in Jesus – each one a beloved child and sibling of min in Christ – then my perspective shifts. They are no longer a duty to be ticked off, but a person in relationship to the Almighty – and to me. They are fearfully and wonderfully made and to be rejoiced in. Their salvation story is a reason to celebrate God’s goodness and power in transforming broken humanity – as is mine.

Their heart’s desire, like mine, is to know Christ and to make him known, to play their part in God’s great plan of salvation and new creation. While we may have our own human ideas of what that ought to look like in a given situation – healings, job opportunities etc – actually, we all know and ultimately trust in a God who so often confounds human expectation.

So, when I pray, I can use some of the great prayers of the scriptures like these:

  • that God would go with us in all we do
  • that the Spirit will make us courageous and confident in God to work ahead of us
  • that we might receive daily grace – God’s work in us to accomplish what we can’t do
  • that we might live in the peace which is experiencing the blessings of being fully reconciled to God hour by hour and day by day
  • that we might grow in love for Christ and for one another, a mature and self-denying love which builds community, and witnesses to the power of the gospel in our hearts
  • that we might bear fruit for Christ, the changed lives which result from continual re-orientation of all our thoughts and attitudes according to his word
  • that we might bring glory and praise to God

All of these are things that I long to see happening in my life, so should I not also pray them for others? These things all underpin the details of daily life, so that our attitudes and decisions are increasingly godly and discerning, and fully aligned to whatever God is doing in and through us. Each and every situation is an opportunity to chose to live for God, and to trust him to use that glad and obedient submission for his own purposes.

When I pray in this way for others, I am reminded all the time that God’s agenda is so big and that whatever the details of each life may be, we are together in fulfilling his plans. Our sufferings and struggles gain significance, and also are drained of their power to bind us in despair and half-heartedness when we remember the great story in which we are playing a part, and the adversary who seeks to thwart every blossoming of God’s work in human lives.

Friends, let us pray with joy, because the one who began this good work in us will bring it to completion, and in the meantime, he has promised never to leave us. Then let us pray with confident thanksgiving, and to him be all the glory. Amen!

An unlikely asset in our mission..

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matt 28.18-20)

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua… “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan river into the land I am about to give to them…

I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous.. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

(Jos 1.5-9)

Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

(Matt 6.33&34, the Message translation)

Strategies, visions, special training programmes and extra staff…are those what we think the church needs to fulfill the great commission of her Lord? Or is it simpler than that?

When we read the story of Joshua, on the verge of entering into the land which God has promised to the people, and which it is their mission to take possession of, we expect to find God issuing instructions about military strategy and training, logistics and procedures. Instead, we find that Joshua is commanded to hold fast to the word of God, absorbing it into the very fibre of his being, so that his thoughts are coloured and shaped by it. This command lies at the heart of the great assurances of the first chapter of the book – and this means that they are the focus or highpoint of the chapter. God is effectively saying that if Joshua holds fast to all he learns about God in the book of the law, then he will be in exactly the right place to succeed in his mission. Nothing else matters as much as this foundational dependence.

Joshua’s commission came with the assurance of God’s presence. Our commission likewise, comes with Christ’s word that he will never leave or forsake us. He has authority to send us out – just as God’s authority sent Joshua into Canaan – to take possession of that which already belongs to him, namely all those for whom he died, the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ..

So, the challenge is to us to follow Joshua’s example. We have so much more than Joshua in terms of God’s revelation of himself through his word – we have the living Word himself! We have God’s authority, and his command, to go and make disciples, trusting that – as for Joshua and the people of Israel – God will go before, to fight the battles, break down the walls, and change the hearts of those whom we face.

It is as we live on, and by God’s word – committing every day and resource to him for his will and his glory; never assuming that he is following our agenda, but looking to be guided by the spirit; putting his interests before our own worries and preoccupations – that we find ourselves by the Lord’s side, on the victorious side, watching as he opens up the way and brings us into full possession of the kingdom which he has decreed will be our home.

May we be made bold and courageous as we fix our eyes on the Lord, so that as his word becomes our food and drink, our daily direction and focus is to be where he is working, loving those whom he loves, and believing that he will be glorified in our time.

Be strong and courageous my friends, for the Lord himself is with us and will never forsake us. In his name, let us live bold and obedient lives, for the battles belong to him, and the victory has been won!