Category Archives: acceptance & rest

Are we nearly home yet?

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.

There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am .

(John 14.1-3)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away.”

(Rev 21.3&4)

For as long as I can remember, I have been conscious of a longing for another place, a place of which our world is only a pale imitation. CS Lewis puts it beautifully in ‘The Last Battle’, when one of the characters cries out in delight as he gazes around his new home:

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this..”

I love the world in which I live, and have always responded deeply to the power and beauty of creation, delighting in the grandest and the tiniest details, rejoicing in my own powers of appreciation, the senses I have to receive and respond to my Father’s artistry. I love knowing to whom I owe an unpayable debt of gratitude for the joy which beauty brings to my life – the great original himself, from whom all our human creativity is derived and to whose glory it should be exercised.

And yet..I still find myself looking beyond, longing for more: a deeper, richer experience and also some sense of home-coming, of final and utter belonging. I believe that when God in his good time finally ushers in his new creation, then I will find that ultimate fulfillment, because the thing lacking – his glorious presence with me, undimmed by my sin – will be abundantly and eternally mine. I will enter into beauty, and be satisfied, lost to myself and found by him.

There is another reason that I long for the home which is promised by my Lord so tenderly in his words to his apostles, reassuring them as they were fearful and unsure and would face severe trials for his sake in the days to come.. I am just plain tired of myself and of the struggle to make a decent attempt at living for Jesus in this fallen world. I know it is not so that we will give up striving in this world that Jesus shows us a glimpse of the Father’s house, but it is so good to know it is there.

When I am weary, stricken by disappointment – with myself and with others – conscious of persistent sin and convinced that there is much about myself of which to be deeply ashamed, it is sweet relief to remember that my place in that final home is not dependent on my perfect life here! I think my Father is more compassionate and tender with me than I am with myself, but I also know that all his love is directed towards encouraging me not to give up, but to persevere.

Yes, I am not what I should be – given all the blessings and privileges of faith I have enjoyed. But, I am a daughter of the King of Kings, and my citizenship in his eternal kingdom is assured. God looks not at my weakness, doubting and pathetic track-record in his service; but he looks at Jesus, my Lord, my Saviour, my Champion, who has fought the fight for me and won it, for me! In him, I am entitled to claim a place in my Father’s house and to know that even I am eagerly awaited.

Is it not enough to make us long for the day when all will be made new, and our faults and failings will be forgotten? When we will stand with heads held high and no more trace of sin to stain our vision; no dragging grief or disappointment to embitter our joys, only complete freedom to forget ourselves in joyful service and worship of our Lord.

No, we are not home yet, but each day I live brings me nearer..May God give me patience and courage to live the time that is allotted for me, allowing that glorious promised future to inspire me with hope for each day, and an urgent desire to share the riches I have with those who do not know Jesus!

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.

May I come in?

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth…you know him for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you….. If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

(John 14. 15-17 &23)

Human beings are made in the image of God, made to reflect creativity, strength, compassion, love, to one another and the world. We are made by a God who is three-in-one, a God who is community and endless loving communication. We are made for community, to give and receive, to speak and to listen, to exist in relationships of such trust that we have no need to hide anything of ourselves. That is what lies behind the picture of Adam and Eve walking naked in the Garden of Eden, sharing with God in the cool of the day.

And when we rebelled against God, we broke the image; we all now live with the curse of needing community, but struggling to create it because of the ways our fallen nature has twisted us. We project images of ourselves which we hope will give us a peaceful life, protect us from abuse or ridicule, enable others to accept and like us. But so often these are not the truth, rather a facade behind which we hide – longing to be known utterly, but afraid to be known, full of shame and fearful of rejection.

So we live, even within the closest human relationships, behind closed doors, locked away and unable to enjoy that sweet ease which comes from being with one who accepts and loves us unconditionally. We cannot make and keep the connections which create deep relationships without exposing our secrets, trusting another flawed human being to be gentle with us, willing to forgive them when they hurt us – as those closest to us surely can. How many of us truly manage to do this?

What hope is there then for meeting this deep need within our beings, for finding that soul food of fellowship and acceptance from which we can then give unconditional love and acceptance to others?

Our hope is in our good and gracious God, who knows better than the greatest physician or psychologist just exactly what ails us! When once we have seen and loved Christ, acknowledging his mercy and majesty and accepting his forgiveness, we are made new, made fit for the most intimate fellowship with God. That is what Jesus was telling the apostles in his last conversations with them as recorded by John. We need never feel alone or isolated again, because Father, Son and Spirit are ever present with us. Every aspect of our character and experience is known and accepted in love. As we rest more and more in that heart of God’s love for us, we are able to give love without expectation of return, and no longer depend on the approval of anyone else for our peace of mind and sense of worth.

In this season of Advent, I will be celebrating the coming of Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’.

With me – here, today, in my mess and weariness:

With me – tomorrow, in the unknown future:

With me – in joy and triumph, as well as fear and doubt:

With me; loving me; listening to me; sharing his heart with me; taking joy in my joys and feeling my sorrows:

With me from now until the day comes when all things are made new, when all the remaining hindrances that hold my attention away from him are removed, when I shall see him and know even as I am known.

Alleluia, Come Lord, Come!

So it’s like this Lord…

If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

(Ps 37. 23&24)

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him..

(Ps 103.13-17)

There is a heaviness which comes on my body and spirit sometimes, not for any obvious reason that I can trace – that would make it more bearable, and somehow reasonable – which seems to leave me numb to the joy of being loved by God, blind to the beauty of his creation and deaf to his love songs. It leaves me in a dark place, vulnerable to storms of emotion and over-sensitive to the ways that life can wound me.

I have learnt that there is no help in trying to drag myself out of this by reason, or by rebuking myself for my weaknesses. All that happens is an increasing sense of guilt and failure, of being bound in a trap. And that is what I believe is really happening at these times. I am – as we all are – a frail human being, with a body and mind which operate so completely as one unit that physical weariness can depress my mood and stifle positive emotions with devastating effect.

What is the follower of Jesus to do in such situations? I find the passages with which I started today’s blog very comforting when I am flat on my emotional face so to speak! The Lord, the God of all power, holiness and wisdom, is also the God who created me, knit me together and knows better than any scientist ever will, just WHY the human machine operates as it does. This great God sees me in my distress and weakness, and what does he do? He has compassion on me, he is gentle with me, understanding and accepting all my distresses and not scolding me for being upset.

I was on duty in our church creche this morning, helping to care for our smallest people, picking them up when they fell over, sharing their exuberant pleasure in noisy toys and bouncing balls, reading stories and holding pencils and crayons as they scribbled all over the colouring page! We are like those little ones in God’s eyes: we wobble, we fall, we are one moment full of joy and the next heart-broken with grief. And what does he do? Like a father, he has compassion on us. We are gathered up into his arms and held, reassured and comforted, kissed and soothed, until the terrors pass, the shock wears off and we are strong enough to be put back on our feet for the next adventure. These children cannot explain their fears and grief, but a loving presence is enough to restore their joy, and so it is with me.

If I scold myself when distressed, rebuking my lack of faith and joy, then I simply add guilt to a toxic bundle of emotions which are keeping me face down in misery. So what I need to do is look up, lift my hands like a little child to the father who is always with me, for his great loving embrace to take me into safety and comfort. He is unchanging, always good, full of tenderness and mercy to me; and he is so much more patient with me than I am with myself! I desire to become holy all in a hurry, to get it all over and done with; but he knows that it is the work of a lifetime, and that steady progress is much deeper and more fruitful than a rapid, superficial transformation.

Let me sit quiet in his arms, remembering his goodness even though my heart is still numb to joy; let me listen to his voice of love and forgiveness, even though my ears can’t thrill to the music of his song; let me look at his beauty and be at rest, even though my eyes seem colour blind. In time, the joy will return, the music will ring out, and the colours will return to the world. For the moment, I can be at peace, trusting in his unchanging power to keep me safe and to ultimately work all things together for good – Praise to his holy name!

In the arms of his love, I find rest; In the arms of his love there’s sweet quietness, nothing can harm me, no reason to fear, safe in the arms of his love…

(Carl & Leanne Albrecht, 1989)

Let’s be honest…

P1020172Lord, it is my chief complaint that my love is weak and faint;

Yet I  love thee, and adore; O for grace to love thee more!

(lines from the hymn ‘Hark my soul, it is the Lord’, by William Cowper, 1731-1800)

Don’t get the wrong impression. Don’t think that because I choose to write about faith, that I am in any way different from every other christian. If we are honest with ourselves, there are times when believing, delighting in and obeying our Saviour is as easy and natural as breathing. But there are also many times when the urgency of normal, routine life crowds out the sweet call of Jesus to be keeping him company.

The clamour of the demands made on us by other people – usually quite legitimate demands – deafen us to the echoes of private worship, and we find it so hard to listen for God’s voice in the midst of our responsibilities. I cannot control many of the events which affect my daily life, and which so often kill off my good intentions by starving them of time and energy. Schemes and ideas which might have brought blessing to others – as well as to myself – are simply washed away by my circumstances. All that remains is a plaintive lament for a lost opportunity or thwarted plan.

The temptation is condemn ourselves for our ‘failure’, to cast ourselves down in regret and refuse to be comforted….As if our good works – no matter how well-intentioned – were the only thing about us which God valued!

This is a lie, and a dreadful trap for conscientious folk. It is a rope of false pride which binds and imprisons us in the comfortless dark.

Yes, I may have failed to complete some good work which I had planned. But God loved and chose to save me before I had done anything in his service! My place in his presence depends always and only on the complete salvation achieved by Jesus. It is his works, not mine, which are the key. And on the cross, he cried ‘It is finished’ – all has been done, nothing remains for me to fill up.

When the messiness of daily life engulfs me, and I wonder where God was in my day, I choose to remember this.. that I am not loved because I have achieved anything, but because I am loved. God’s grace means that he sees my heart, sees my desire to serve and love him – no matter how feebly I sometimes express it, or how much I mess up – and is delighted.

Let my pride in my own achievements be crucified, and my God’s amazing grace to me be exalted. Here is my comfort on the down days.. it is all grace, freely given, without limit or ration. All glory to our astounding God and, as we contemplate his grace, may our love grow ever deeper.

Doing it all… Or not!

P1020171Breathe through the heats of our desire thy coolness and thy balm,

let sense be dumb, let flesh retire, speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,

o still small voice of calm!

These words are the climax to a well loved hymn by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-92) , which is a heartfelt prayer for God to be present and speak to us so clearly that we recognise and are thrilled by his voice. The reference to earthquake, wind and fire are from the story of Elijah, who in a time of great personal weariness and despair was ┬áblessed by an encounter with God which would invigorate him and direct his future. It was not the terrifying fire from heaven, nor the invisible power of the wind, nor even the shaking of earth’s foundations which conveyed God’s presence in this instance, but rather a ‘gentle whisper’ as the bible tells us in the nineteenth chapter of the first book of Kings.

Sometimes, it is through great signs of power that we perceive God’s presence and are reassured, but at other times, we need a tender and intimate touch. Elijah was utterly at the end of his resources, and which of us has not felt this way? Firstly, God had provided food, and sleep, so that the body was nourished – a lesson for all of us who stay busy when we perhaps ought to stop. Next, came this astonishing visitation by God, as he takes time to question the disgruntled prophet, and tease out exactly what is going on in his mind! Elijah was utterly discouraged, convinced that he alone was on God’s side, and that the task ahead was simply too much for him.

Do we fully realise just how intimately our God is concerned with our thoughts? This is such an encouragement to share all that is in our hearts, the sorrows and joys, discouragements as well as triumphs. Our own thoughts and emotions can easily become a storm, bewildering us, leaving us unable to see the best way to act or decision to take. Here we see the way that God quiets Elijah’s personal storm, and then, once he has the prophet’s attention, speaks clearly. He speaks truth into Elijah’s confused understanding of the situation, and gives instructions which indicate very plainly that God remains very much in control and there is every reason to keep on believing in and serving him. Far from everything depending on Elijah, God tells the weary man that he is one of over 7000 faithful servants, among them the young Elisha, who would become Elijah’s successor! God was on the job, and it did not depend on the ability or strength of one frail human being.

What a wonderful God we have, what a relief to know that we matter to him so much, and that his care is so personal. May we learn to recognise his voice more and more clearly as we listen for it and bring our storms to his calming presence! There, we find that we are not alone, and are reminded that it is not our strength which matters, but that of the almighty God whom we serve. All praise to Him!