Author Archives: eps992014

About eps992014

a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, a mother, wife, sometime runner, singer, gardener, and proud Scot

Looking through..

In that day the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.. He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel.. There will be a highway for the remnant of his people …

In that day you will say: “I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. In that day you will say: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you .”

All you people of the world, you who live on the earth, when a banner is raised on the mountains, you will see it, and when a trumpet sounds, you will hear it.. At that time gifts will be brought to the Lord Almighty from a people tall and smooth-skinned, from a people feared far and wide, an aggressive nation of strange speech, whose land is divided by rivers – the gifts will be brought to Mount Zion, the place of the Name of the Lord Almighty.

In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the Lord at its border. It will be a sign and witness to the Lord Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors, he will send them a saviour and defender, and he will rescue them. So the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the Lord…. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed by Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.

(Isa 11.10,12&16; 12. 1-6; 18.3&7; 19.19&20,25)

Our ladies’ bible study is currently reading the book of the prophet Isaiah, and recent weeks have seen us immersed in foretelling disaster, destruction and suffering – grim stuff indeed. And yet, we have found much to encourage and inspire us as we get a better understanding of Isaiah’s double vision – of the immediate future for Judah, and also the long-term future of God’s purposes in the world. The realism of the prophet is comforting – echoing the world in which we live now, with human pride and power dominating the stage, and resulting (as it always has and always will) in misery. Isaiah never pretends that bad things are not going to happen to God’s people in this world, but what he does time and again is to remind them that what they are seeing is but a tiny glimpse – and a distorted one at that – of what is really going on.

God gave Isaiah many opportunities to intimate coming events which would validate his prophecy as from the Almighty. This encouraged the faithful in Judah to believe the bigger prophecies too, and to put their whole trust in God. In our turn, these prophecies encourage us to discern God’s purposes at work behind human actions, and the dazzling of power or the darkness of destruction. What is promised is wonderful beyond our imagining, a blazing vision of true power and authority wielded for good, by a perfect and just ruler, under whom all can dwell in perfect peace and fullness of life.

The One through whom God has appointed this deliverance to come is the Messiah – whom we know as Jesus, son of Mary, born into Joseph’s family and raised in Nazareth. He came to suffer and to die for us, to remove all the barriers that cut us off from God and to defeat the power which drives us continually away from God. BUT one day he will come again, this time as the Judge and King, as the banner to whom all the nations will rally and whose place of rest will be glorious! It is this future to which we look now, as we live between these first and second comings. And Isaiah’s prophecies still encourage us in this interim period, to look through our history and by faith to discern God at work.

We pray for the nations – like Egypt and Assyria – whose regimes resolutely oppose the revelation of God’s authority and power, because we see from the prophecies that their people too are God’s beloved handiwork, that they will worship him and find in him their salvation. There is no race or tribe or tongue which is excluded – not even our own godless nation!

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, let us take courage from Isaiah’s prophecies. Let us press on in endurance as the darkness deepens in a world besotted by human power. Let us believe in that darkness that divine light has dawned, and cannot be extinguished. Let us pray and work for the sharing of the gospel with everyone and rejoice that it was given even to us. Our songs of gladness and thanksgiving are our witness to the hope we have, so let us sing them loudly and stand firm!

Unchanging but never unfeeling…

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep…How priceless is your unfailing love!

(Ps 36.5-7)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

(Jn 13.34&35)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

(1 Cor 13.4-8)

As human beings, we are prone to allow our moods to colour our interactions with others. If we are tired, worried or upset, it so often comes out in short-tempered interactions with others who have nothing to do with the problem! and if we realise later what happened, and go to apologise, it can be hard to restore the relationship which was damaged – because the other person is as flawed and sinful as ourselves, struggling to forgive and unable to forget. Our fluctuating moods can have serious and permanent consequences.

What a relief then to turn to the most faithful friend we have, to Jesus, who in his perfect love and insight into our hearts and minds can always see the root cause of our behaviour, and in his compassion, forgive us when we repent and return to him in sorrow. I may start the day distracted, sad, frustrated and even angry with God as I wrestle with unanswered prayers, disappointments and grief. But he meets me every morning with fresh supplies of love, and is never too busy or preoccupied to share those first moments.

My moods do not deter my faithful friend, and he waits patiently until I sit still long enough to hear his loving voice and know that all is well with my soul because he has it in safe-keeping. His love revives my spirit if I will only sit with him and let him speak to me, soaking away the bitterness of my troubles and inviting me to load them onto his strong back instead of trying to carry them alone.

While the issues may remain, the answers not yet come, still I am comforted, cleansed and restored as the Lord ministers to me, and I gratefully recognise that I need bring nothing in return. He has chosen to love me, and that is enough – the best thanks I can give is a daily joyful and humble embracing of that love and continual praise of the giver. His gift to me then becomes my gift in his name and for his sake to others. His perfect love and constant presence so abundantly meet my need that I am free to pour into the lives of others what they need. Thus I may, in small measure, be a channel of his peace and love, a source of blessing and help, a scent of Christ in my home and community. This pouring out of what I have received is a fitting expression of thanksgiving and praise, a fitting act of worship to God, who is love eternal.

I don’t have to generate some spiritual feelings before I come to my Lord’s side for comfort; I don’t need to add up some piety points before I may be bold to pray. What sweet and utter relief in knowing that he calls me in love to come – broken, tired, feeling ugly and out of sorts with everyone and especially myself, sick with disappointment and raw with grief. Anyhow, and any way, he calls me to come and to receive what he has in abundance to give me. Lord, I come….

Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

(C Elliott, 1823-1871)

A renewed vision

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous: it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skilfully and shout for joy.

For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.

By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him.

For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm for ever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance. From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling-place he watches all who live on earth – he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.

We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

(Ps 33)

When my heart is troubled, and my mind filled with anxious thoughts about my life, and my loved ones, or about the distress of the world in these days, it is always good to return to the biblical perspective, to regain the larger vision.

The Hebrew scriptures reveal a creating, loving, powerful and just God; a God who desires to know and be known – in so far as any created being may know its creator! We find there glimpses of a mighty being, beyond our comprehension in character and eternal existence, who nonetheless claims to be intimately aware of each and every one of his people. It is clear that we cannot begin to grasp the magnitude, might and holiness/otherness of this God who makes himself known, and yet he invites us into a relationship with him, based on what we do see and can know.

The scriptures also reveal and ruthlessly detail all the ways in which we, the creatures, have departed from what we were made to be. Our realm is now so full of the rebellion we choose, and the evil, pain and destruction which are the consequences of that choice, that to believe and depend on the possibility of innate human goodness and progress seems to me utterly naive. It is in these ancient texts that we find a convincing, clear and relentless analysis of what is wrong in the world, and why humankind is as far as ever from dealing with the root of the trouble.

There is so much that we do not understand about the ways of God in addressing the brokenness of his creation – but he asks us to trust him because of what we do see and know. We see his power revealed in creation, and in mighty deeds of deliverance and preservation. We see his faithfulness to his promises, in preserving the people whom he called to be his special possession. And ultimately, we see in the good news about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the plan that God has to address the malady once and for all. It may seem odd to us, but the whole agonising ancient problem is so deep, so real and so far beyond our solving it that I find relief in letting God know best, and trusting that when he acts, it is because there is no other way.

I will therefore join with the psalm writer and all who sing; I will put my faith in God, the one who spoke – and it was. I will ‘urgently wait’ for the Lord as one translation puts it – making him my refuge in trouble, the only recipient of my praise and thanksgiving, my foundation of trust and dependance.

A perennial blight

My heart cries out over Moab; her fugitives flee…weeping as they go; they lament their destruction. Their waters are dried up and the grass is withered; the vegetation is gone and nothing green is left.. the wealth they have acquired.. they carry away. Like fluttering birds pushed from the nest, so are the women of Moab at the fords of the Arnon.

(Isa 15.5-7; 16.2)

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

(1 Cor 11.23-26)

I saw heaven open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war…. and his name is the Word of God…On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

(Rev 19.11,13&16)

Many other and more discerning writers will put pen to paper this weekend, to comment and lament and analyse the appalling addiction of humankind to war and violence as a means of resolving difference and apportioning resources. I only want to reflect for myself briefly on the pattern, on its devastating consequences, and on the solution which is revealed in the good news about Jesus.

One of the earliest consequences of human rebellion was the resort to violence as a means to an end, and a response to the fear of others which sin breeds in us. Cain took his brother’s life, and within a few generations, his descendant Lamech was boasting about how many he had killed for trivial reasons and with impunity.

The picture of destruction and of fleeing refugees in all their vulnerability has changed little since Isaiah wept over the plight of the neighbouring land of Moab – human distress in war is not new, although perhaps the means of inflicting it may be. 

Left to ourselves, this expression of the destructive power of sin might have quickly wiped out humankind, and I believe that it is only the ‘restraining power of common grace’ (with thanks to the scholar Alex Motyer*) which has enabled our race to continue to exist and to grow in numbers and sophistication of technology and culture down the centuries. 

The bible tells us that God is not willing that any should perish, and his hand of final judgement is still withheld, even though sin in all its ugliness and destructive power dominates our lives. He is preparing a people for himself, with whom to share a life eternal, and for this reason, he waits. And that means that war goes on, violence continues to shatter lives and devastate communities and countries. Humanity left to itself is incapable of breaking the cycle, because it springs from the blight lodged in deepest recesses of all our hearts. We must not hide from the evidence – is the 21st century looking more peaceful and harmonious than the 20th did? No! This seems to be another lesson from history which we cannot learn.

The good news about Jesus is that he came to win the ultimate fight – against the power which enslaves humankind to wrong and destructive choices, to rebellion against God. He won through surrendering to violence – undeserved death, alienation from God – and his resurrection demonstrates his victory because sin’s ultimate weapon is death, and Christ defeated it.

When his followers remember Jesus’ suffering and death, they do so in anticipation and in thankfulness. We remember that sin has been defeated, that we are on the winning side, and that one day we will enter into a life where death and suffering have no place – where war and weeping are no more.

As a Christian, I believe that I am called to be a peacemaker – to live and interact with others in ways that promote love, generosity, forgiveness and healing. I also believe that until God’s time of waiting is finally over, there cannot be true peace in the world, because only when all human hearts are healed and made new will there be an end to those things which cause wars. 

I remember the fallen, the broken, the displaced and the haunted-living whose minds are so traumatised by violence that their lives are detestable to them. I pray and speak and move for healing peace between individuals and nations. But I do not put my faith in human effort, or education, or any other possible tool. I put my faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, whom I also remember, with gladness and profound humble relief, as the one who has defeated the enemy of all our souls, and has promised that one day we will live with him in perfect, fruitful and lively peace.

[Alex Motyer; The prophecy of Isaiah, IVP, 1993]

Just… tired

You pushed me into this, God, and I let you do it. You were too much for me and now I’m a public joke.. all I get for my God-warnings are insults and contempt. But if I say, ‘Forget it! No more God-messages from me!’, the words are like a fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer.. Oh, God of the angel armies, no one fools you. You see through everyone, everything… I rest my case with you.. Curse the day I was born! The day my mother bore me – a curse on it I say!… Why, oh why, did I ever leave that womb? Life’s been nothing but trouble and tears, and what’s coming is more of the same.

(Jer 20.7-9,12,14&18, the Message translation)

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

(Matt 13.44-46)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

(Matt 16.24-26)

I cannot unsee what I have seen. I cannot unbelieve what I have believed. I cannot undo a life of willing and glad surrender to a loving Father. I do not want to do these things, in the deepest places of my spirit, I am bound absolutely in love to my Saviour, and worship with gladness. And yet, I am so tired. I never realised properly before that this is what it means to bear a cross daily – to live as one belonging to another kingdom, who must yet be fully alive to all that is wrong here and now, and suffer all the evils of this broken world.

On the one hand, I know myself beloved, redeemed, securely bound for an eternity and fulness of life beyond my dreams – free from burdens of guilt, free to love and forgive others, free to spend myself for them knowing that there is one who cares for me more than any human creature ever could.

On the other hand, I live with a weight of knowledge – of sin and judgement to come; of the impending departure of so many precious souls to eternal exile; of just how badly broken this world is, and how there is no hope for it apart from Christ; above all, of my own failure to be what I desire to be for him. I live with the reality of prayers which appear unanswered; of the disastrous consequences of human sin, and the deafening noise of suffering on every hand.

I am near to be crushed by the guilt which comes over me when the burden of daily realities is so much more present in my mind, so much more effective in setting my attitudes and influencing my feelings. I am ashamed that I, for whom life has been so smooth and easy, should be finding faith such a struggle. Where is the victorious life of the disciple? Where is the ability to rejoice in trials; to fix my eyes on God’s promises and thus to find joy and hope in the present? The disconnect between how I ought to live, and how I actually live is so great. I could find it in myself to envy the birds, the dumb beasts, all the lively creatures which glorify God by being, and have no spirit to discipline and subdue, no will to wrestle back into obedience. I know that I do sometimes wonder at the cheerfulness of unbelieving friends who seem to navigate life – and often troubled lives – with a spirit of optimism and lightness, unburdened by faith. Why should faith be such a heavy weight to bear, when it is also such a blessing?

Lord, I am just so tired of fighting to be faithful in face of grief, and loss; to be hopeful in the face of profound discouragement; to believe in the teeth of denial that you are at work and doing good things.

I am ashamed of this weakness, and yet convinced that you – who walked this earth, bearing in your body all our human experiences – do indeed understand and have compassion on me. I do not want to dishonour you, but to learn how to walk humbly and fruitfully through this shadow place in trust and obedience. Show me ever more clearly what is mine in my Saviour, that I might value him ever more highly as my treasure beyond price and infinitely worth persevering for. Stir up my desire for a closer walk with you, may your Spirit within enable a cheerful and persevering spirit, to cast out the weariness and lassitude which drain hope and joy. Have mercy Lord, Amen.

a lament for the lost

 

“I have surely heard Ephraim’s moaning: ‘you disciplined me like an unruly calf, and I have been disciplined. Restore me and I will return, because you are the Lord my God. After I strayed, I repented; after I came to understand, I beat my breast. I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’

Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him, ” says the Lord

(Jer 31.18-20)

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

(Rom 5.8)

A mother waits; no word comes. Promises are broken, excuses made and the days of silence become weeks. Love and hope are mute in her heart, only endurance is heard. She is continually braced for bad news, for more pain, another hammer blow to her hope.

A father prays; nothing seems to change. Money flows through the child’s hands to self-destruction, to profligacy and risk, to endanger the lives of others and leave lifelong scars. Disappointment threatens to spill out into words of condemnation and anger.

A child grows into independence, into a self-absorbed and reckless adulthood, where pleasure rules, and anything that hurts is drugged into silence by substances, by adrenaline, by noise and constant activity… anything rather than hear the quiet voice of loving forgiveness, the persistent whisper of regret and shame, or the weeping inner child crying for hope and love and belonging.

Lord, we live in such fear for our lost sheep. Terror shoots through us in the night as we wonder where they are, who are their companions, what is happening to them? Behind the bravado of their words, and the facade of a smiling face, we hear and see the child we loved who is lost to us, seemingly forever. We guess at the risks they take; at the damage they are doing to themselves and – we fear – to others and are convulsed by grief.

You made them beautiful in your image, gifted them with compassion, creativity, energy and insight. You made them loving in your image, destined to give and receive in trust and generosity. So many gifts being squandered in a far country, on worthless things that will not last. So much energy and ability being devoted to finding fulfilment and meaning in created things, instead of the Creator. You made them above all to know and be known by you, finding their identity, security and purpose in being your beloved children. Surely, as we weep over them, your tears fall too?

God of the lost and broken, hear our prayer for our lost sheep. We know that you see them, that their ways are not hidden from your sight, and no matter how far, fast or purposefully they run from you, they cannot outdistance your love. We know that the pain we experience is a mere echo of your loving heart for the lost of this world, so determined in rejection of you and in seeking to assuage their desperate need with other things.

God who sees, who meets the exiles in distant lands, meets the despondent in the wilderness, meets the proudly independent at the peak of their achievements, we are glad to know that you will meet our lost sheep in their chosen places. Those who have quietly walked away from faith; and those who have left a trail of destruction in their going – both are equally in need of your power to restore them to life and hope. They are astute in avoiding your people; adroit in avoiding conversations about faith; resolute in their rejection of Christ who loves them, quoting a multitude of ‘reasons’ which chime with their culture. But your Spirit is not bound, and your voice is not silenced. Speak to them we pray, loudly and clearly, persistently and tenderly. Break down their defences, undermine their arguments, make them profoundly dissatisfied with all that has mattered to them, so that their hunger drives them home to you. 

How long must we wait for them? How much damage must they do before they come to their senses? You see and know and love them, will you not lay hold upon them in power today, and deliver them from the spirits which bind them to darkness, rebellion and unbelief? Your Son died for them, rose to deliver them into your family as redeemed children with a place in glory, shall his labours not bear fruit in these lives?

Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.

Choosing…

In that day you will say: “I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song, he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.  

In that day you will say: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”

(Isa 12)

Meanwhile, we’ve got our hands full continually thanking God for you, our good friends – so loved by God! God picked you out as his from the very start. Think of it: included in God’s original plan of salvation by the bond of faith in the living truth. This is the life of the spirit he invited you to through the message we delivered, in which you get in on the glory of our master, Jesus Christ.

So, friends, take a firm stand, feet on the ground and head high. Keep a tight grip on what you were taught, whether in personal conversation or by our letter. May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech…. Because of the master, we have great confidence in you. We know you’re doing everything we told you and will continue doing it. May the master take you by the hand and lead you along the path of God’s love and Christ’s endurance.

(2 Thess 2.13-17; 3.4-5)

Against my fears, my doubts, my ignorance, I trust in thee, O father of my Lord!

The world went on in this same broken dance when, worn and mocked, He trusted and adored:

I too will trust, and gather my poor best to face the truth-faced false. So, in his nest I shall awake at length, a little scarred and scored.

(from: Diary of an Old Soul, by George Macdonald, 1905)

What will I do when my culture, my friends and some of those closest to me reject my faith and think me deluded? What will I do when the revelation on which my faith rests makes absolutely no sense in the thinking of my society – and in my heart I recognise how utterly alien it is? What will I do when my most earnest prayers, for God to glorify himself and transform lives, go unanswered?

I look over the brink at unbelief and tremble; I listen to assumptions of those who reckon it will all be ok, and wonder at how they get there. I turn again to the good news of Jesus, and find that he too faced mockery and unbelief, and yet held firm to his task, trusting absolutely in his Father’s love, power and purpose in and through his suffering and death.

I choose to hold fast – God helping me – to what I can know of Jesus; to what he told me about himself and his task; to what he told me about the character of my Creator and the place which is prepared for me in the age to come. It may seem nonsense to some, but it makes more sense to me than anything else has ever done.

I choose to believe, especially where I cannot understand and in spite of the mockery which such belief provokes in this sceptical age, that the God revealed to me through the Hebrew Scriptures, and affirmed as Father by my Lord Jesus, is absolutely just, loving, powerful and sovereign, and that when all things temporal are wound up and we enter into life eternal in glory, we will have no doubts left about him.

I choose to give thanks, for what I can know, can see, can experience here and now of all the good things which are poured into my life and which bring daily tokens of love from my Father’s heart. I give thanks for the revelation which I have in the bible, those parts which comfort as well as those parts which leave me baffled and uncomfortable – God forbid that I should ever think myself fully comprehending the mystery of his character, power and eternal nature! I give thanks for the global church, witnessing in so many places to lives transformed by Jesus’ love and sacrifice, which strengthens and encourages me to persevere in faith.

Master, take us by the hand and lead us along the path of the Father’s love and Christ’s endurance, by your Spirit at work within us day by day. May we glorify you, growing in faith and quiet trust, bearing fruit for Jesus, in whose name we pray, Amen.

I’m waiting…. God?

You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him. Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart.

(Ps 32.7,8,10&11)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.

(Pr 3.5-7)

Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

(Acts 16.6-10)

Things don’t always happen the same way twice; and we need always to be open to that in our life of faith.. Paul the great apostle and teacher is off on another missionary journey, bringing good news to people in need, hungry to make disciples for Jesus and to found new churches. He has experience and wisdom, he’s done this before and knows the pattern… but this time something different happens. The actual words of the account in Acts are frustratingly vague to us, we want to know just how the spirit kept him from preaching in Asia; how did he know that it was Jesus who was guiding and restraining him from doing what he had always done before? But the effect was to drive Paul and his companions right to the edge of Asia, where at last they received a clear and direct call to ‘come over’ into Macedonia, into the European continent, to preach the good news. 

Do you, like me, find yourself rather envious of this account? How good it must be to have such absolute conviction about God’s leading in one’s situation – this strong constraint, followed by a vision, not even just a hint or an inclination but a person standing there saying, “come!” Many of the characters whose stories are preserved for us in the bible have experiences of being led in dramatic ways, by dreams and direct messages from God, and yet for many of us, nothing like this ever seems to happen and the whole business of guidance can become a real testing-ground of faith as we wait and ask, and ponder and ask, and wait again…. how long can one wait?

Life can’t be put on hold, decisions and plans must be made about future commitments and current responsibilities. While we live day to day in God’s providence, we have to make plans for the future as a basis for decisions now. How do we do that when there is a sense of total uncertainty about what lies ahead? At some point, choices must be made, and a path taken or not taken, which will have implications for us and other people.

I believe the Lord knows this, and that in these small immediate decisions, we must trust him to be at work directing us even when we are uncertain about the big picture. As our hearts seek to serve him, will he not honour that desire in us and straighten the path out before us as we take the small steps right in front of us? We do need to be aware that God may call us in unexpected directions – are we open to the possibility that our previous experience and expectations are to be overturned as God restrains our effort to go in the ‘sensible and likely’ path? Paul was not wrong in desiring to preach in Asia, it was sensible and good, and fitted his own expectations. But God had bigger plans, which required Paul to be humble enough to set his own expectations aside and to refrain from good works in order to do the best work at that time, which was to go to Macedonia. 

Father God, thank you that you have given me a desire to serve you. Thank you that I can know you have prepared good works for me to do for you. Thank you that you understand my longing for clear direction, and how difficult it is to live with uncertainty. Let my waiting on you not be a fruitless thing. Let me wait in confidence, give me wisdom to use the opportunities you give me now. Have mercy on my weakness and straighten the path under my feet, so that I might walk according to your will and glorify you in my life. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

The reality gap ..

God spoke strongly to me, grabbed me with both hands and warned me not to go along with this people. He said: “Don’t be like this people, always afraid somebody is plotting against them. Don’t fear what they fear. Don’t take on their worries. If you’re going to worry, worry about the Holy,

Fear God-of-the-angel-armies. The Holy can either be a hiding place or a boulder blocking your way….”

I will wait for God as long as he remains in hiding, while I wait and hope for him. I stand my ground and hope…

(Isa 8.11-14&17, the Message)

God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterise us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you … and May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!

(Rom 15.4&5,13)

Forgive me Father, for my faith is weak and small; a poor thing too dependent on outward supports and habits and starved of real vitality. Your child is easily frightened, and all her prayers and entreaties just now seem empty and faithless, the hope is drying up in her veins. Her labours seem pointless, her life fruitless and shallow – a thing of show and hypocrisy.

 Jesus said: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Forgive me Father, for every touch of your love in creation and the kindness of others lets loose a storm of weeping instead of thankful songs. My heart is weary and heavy and has forgotten the taste of real joy, numb to the warmth of your presence and yet desperate to be away from this dreariness and at home with you. I am appalled at my own lack of faith, filled with shame at my unfounded good opinion of myself, and conscious of dishonouring and failing you and those to whom you have given me.

Jesus said: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Father, your child has seen once again what a poor thing she is; how undeserving the grace she has received and the continuing daily gifts of forgiveness and love which she receives. She has nothing of value to bring you, since all she has comes from your hand. Her worship is weak and her faith frail; her abilities limited and her tendency to stray after other comforts so dreadfully pronounced. Why do you bear with this one? She has no hope apart from you, and yet she cannot bear seeing the truth of her state – a lifetime of following Jesus, and yet so little to show for it.

Jesus said: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Father, you see and know and love your child. Her heart lies open to you in all its poverty and hunger that she might be other than she is. Oh, to be at peace, to be daily filled with joy in your presence! To be trusting you because of your character and promises, instead of doubting you because my prayers are not answered the way I want. Oh, to love you for who you are, not for what you give me, so that my peace and hope are not at the mercy of my circumstances but founded securely in you.

Father God, you know that the gap between where I want to be as your child – one honoured to bear your name in the world – and where I actually am, is so big. You know the shame that fills me as I see the gap, as I sense the aridity of my spirit and the numbness which dulls me to the glory and power of your truth, and the salvation which is mine in Christ. Lord God, have mercy on me and by your Spirit at work in me, restore life and hope and joy that I might glorify you and daily testify to your goodness.

Jesus said: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Bless me today, merciful God, for the sake of your Son my Saviour, Amen

Relationships, not rules..

..Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your god my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me , be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

(Ruth 1.16&17)

Therefore, I urge you, sisters and brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual or reasonable act of worship.

(Rom 12.1)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

(Eph 6.25-27)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds the all together in perfect unity.

(Col 3.12-14)

We recently completed a short study in the story of Ruth, and as I came to write this blog about sacrificial living, it struck me that she is the embodiment of what Paul wrote about. Ruth freely chose to embrace uncertainty, danger, poverty and alien status – why? She committed herself to loving Naomi, whatever it took. Her whole being was involved in that commitment, she left nothing behind in Moab, and so far as we can read in the story, never looked back in longing for her ‘freedom’. This was unconditional love in action, a rather one-sided relationship perhaps at times, where Ruth got virtually nothing in return. But she never seems to have wavered in her commitment and faithfulness, and as a result, her story is one of the most beloved of all scripture, her character held up as a pattern for us to follow and admire.

Ruth personifies for us the love of God, ultimately revealed in Jesus; the mercy which Paul speaks of in the letter to the Romans. It is a pattern of living which brings life and hope and love to those who need it so badly, and asks nothing in return but the privilege of serving. If our Lord and Saviour, who lived a perfect life which glorified God – and thus worshipped His Father- then why should not we follow that example. In this way, we too may worship God most acceptably. And this kind of worship has little to do with an hour in a building once a week, and everything to do with the kind of people we are every hour of every day in every place which we go.

What might sacrificial living look like for you and I today? There may be seasons in our lives where the needs of others will be clear – dependent children or relatives, neighbours who have a call on our time and abilities – and then out of love for them – not because somehow by serving them we gain credit with God – we give and serve in love. At other times it may be less obvious, but as we offer our gifts, money and time to God, he will show us where they are to be used – for the body of Christ in the church and in the wider world. We all have something to offer, and we can all receive from others as they serve us!

It can feel frightening to commit to unconditional love – and it goes against the grain of much contemporary culture. We fear being trodden underfoot, left behind in the race for self-fulfilment and success. But we are not called to measure success and fulfilment as the world does. When we look through God’s eyes, we see clearly that our human measures are false and temporary. True and lasting joy, fulfilment and success come as we follow the servant-King, looking to love, not merely obey rules. It is not in some ‘rub-my back and I’ll-rub yours’ sort of transaction that we live lives of worship and love. Rather it is as Christ lived – pouring himself out unstintingly, and trusting God for the outcome – for himself and for others.