Category Archives: Comfort

My baby!!

Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones..”Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; 

(Isaiah 49. 13&15)

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, and his righteousness with their children’s children – with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

(Psalm 103.13-17)

When my first child was born, it was as though a whole new world of understanding and experience opened up before me – all of a sudden the miracle of the incarnation became something more profound, more deeply mysterious and moving; the burden of Jesus’ mother as she watched her son on the cross became more excruciating; and the tenderness of God towards his wayward children became even more awesome!

Now, I am launching my little one, the baby, upon her next stage of education, which means leaving home to study at university – the same institution at which my parents launched me a good many years ago!

Does this mean that because I have no one at home to look after, that somehow all this love, the mothering that has been a huge part of who I am suddenly ceases to exist?! As the apostle Paul would say – By No Means!! What it does mean is another transition in life, another change of circumstances, and another opportunity to lean hard upon my God, depending upon him and clinging on to the identity I have in him.

I believe that God created humankind in his image, and that in mothers – and by that I mean all those who nurture the lives of others, whether those to whom they gave birth or others – we see a huge part of God’s character. When we see the lengths to which a mother will go to protect, nurture and obtain what is best for her child, we see the heart of God for us. When we see the joy and delight a mother takes in watching her child, in noticing all the little details, in listening to the endless chatter, then we see the heart of God for us.

Because this is true, I believe that in God, I have one who understands fully what I am going through and will face in the days ahead, as I learn to live day-to-day without the presence of my baby. There will be times when her absence may be like an open wound – my God is a great and tender physician, he can bring the right balm and comfort to me. There will be times when I find myself questioning whether I have any purpose in life now that she is gone – my God is the lover of my soul, he delights in who I am, and has enrolled me in his great plan of redemption; he can show me that my life matters even though this chapter is closing.

His heart for me has been mirrored, however faintly, in my heart for my own children. I matter to him as they do to me; he cares that I get tired and sad, he will listen and encourage me from his own store of tender, compassionate love. He will share my joy in my children, and also my concerns for them – because they matter even more to him than to me. He will not ask me to take on a burden or task for which I am not fit – although he may show me that I am stronger than I think!

My children are the children of believing parents, they were brought before him as infants and God’s promises claimed on their behalf. If I care that they should commit their lives in faith to Jesus, how much more does my loving Father care! I have a faithful God, or rather, he has me. And I will choose to entrust my children to him – releasing them to the care of one who knew them before they were born, and who gave me the inestimable privilege of raising them to live for and with him.

My immediate task is finished, and a new relationship lies ahead. May God enable me to fulfill that faithfully, that I may be a blessing to my children, and bear witness to the steadfast love of God as my strength.

From everlasting, to everlasting, He is God, and He is good..Hallelujah!

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Leaning hard..

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.

My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help. This I know: God is on my side!

I praise God for what he has promised; yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?

(Psalm 56.8-11)

O Israel, trust the Lord! He is your helper and your shield. O priests, descendants of Aaron, trust the Lord! He is your helper and shield. 

All you who fear the Lord, trust the Lord! He is your helper and your shield.

(Psalm 115.9-11)

Do you ever find yourself wondering what exactly some familiar phrase means? This happens to me often in my life as a follower of Jesus – sometimes in the middle of a sermon – so that I want to stand up and ask the preacher to unpack the expression, explaining what is meant in hard daily life by the familiar words! If we cannot translate the phrase into meaningful action and understanding, then it is no use to us, and may even be unhelpful. The attempt to understand and grapple for myself is one of the motivations behind this weekly blog – if I can articulate it, then I have in some measure begun to make it my own and put it into practice.

“Lean on God”, is one such phrase, and I have been wrestling over recent days to work out what it means – because it sounds attractive, comforting and something I want to do very much!

Recently, I was part of a group who went out to climb a mountain, on a day when the weather was less than friendly, greatly adding to our difficulty in scaling the steep slopes and navigating the sharp ridge at the top. I walked with my poles, occasionally finding that they were in my way, but more often finding that they were giving me confidence and some measure of security as I struggled along the hillside, trying to resist the gale force winds which were continually threatening to topple me over. Here was an example of leaning in action! I was literally putting all my weight on these slim rods, trusting that they could bear it and would keep me moving safely in a very dangerous situation.

The words of Psalm 56 had struck me sometime earlier, where the writer declares that he is praising God for what has been promised – NOT what has been already received! Is this what trust is? For the follower of Jesus, we are called to look to the promises, and to put our faith in them, because we put our faith in the God who makes them.

Promises may seem slender and feeble when we are in the midst of a storm of life, and our own promises are often compromised by our circumstances. But our God is not one to break his word, and the revelation of his character in the stories of the bible encourage us to trust him – literally, to allow all that we are and treasure to be held by him, because we know that of ourselves, we cannot keep them safe.

When I am using the walking poles, they do not transport me out of danger, but enable me to move through it. When I lean hard on them, I am held up, stabilised, made stronger than I can be alone. So it is as I ‘lean on God’. My circumstances do not change; the storm rages, my emotions threaten to derail me and events to overwhelm me. But I trust in a God who is greater than these things, who has promised to be with me through all my life and to bring me safe home at last.

When I turn to this God, when I deliberately contemplate his works and praise him for who he is; then I am choosing to trust myself to him, in other words, I am leaning on him for the strength I do not have in myself. When I call to mind his promises, turning my thoughts in spite of my feelings, to consider the truths which never change, I can move(albeit slowly!) forward through the troubles and trials, always towards him, sustained by his word.

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth.

Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

(Isaiah 46.3-4)

What a faithful God we have; Alleluia! and Amen.

 

Praying from the shadows

How long, o Lord, how long?

I stand here in the shadows, looking at the light of your power and might in creation; your boundless inventiveness and artistry; your generous provision for the physical needs of all that you have made and the sheer mind-blowing scale of your works. I consider the great dance of the planets in their galaxies, and am crushed by a sense of insignificance and transience. You, my God, are beyond telling great, and your works praise your name.

I stand here, in the shadows, looking at the light of your salvation in the lives of millions around the world today. I see hope restored, purpose bestowed, forgiveness received, and the beauty of Christ shining in faces of so many races, tribes and tongues. Your power to save is marvellous in my eyes, and I join with all the redeemed in worshipping you.

I sit here, in the dark shadows, considering all the ways that I fall short of perfection in Christ, the good things I have not done, and the wrong things I have said or thought or done. I take hold of the forgiveness freely offered in Christ, that blessed washing away of stain and blemish, so that even as you forget my wrongdoings, I also may not be haunted and burdened by my past. I throw myself on your mercy, and for the sake of Christ, you declare me blameless.

I sit here, in the dark shadows, looking at answers to my prayers in the lives of others, and thanking you for them. Your hand is mighty to work all things together for the good of those who love you and who trust in you. It is a mystery and a comfort, this praying, this beseeching for and sharing of all things with you, our maker and Father.

I lie here, in the cold, dark shadows, wondering if I will ever feel the warmth of the sun and see the light upon myself again. I see it on others, and know that they feel the warmth, strong and healing, life-giving and sustaining, but I do not.

You know all things Lord, you know what it is that comes between me and your light, like a moon eclipsing the sun and causing darkness to fall upon all under its shadow! You know and see the things that blot out the warmth and while I know your power and your love are undiminished, yet I cannot seem to receive their benediction.

You are almighty, all-knowing, eternally good and loving to your children. I believe this, and believing it must somehow make sense of my darkness.

You promised never to leave me alone – therefore you are with me here and now, in spite of the deadness at heart which cripples me.

You promise to hear and answer my prayers – therefore you know what I am asking and what troubles me, and are chosing to answer in ways which I cannot see or understand. I must believe that you are planning blessing for me or other people through this, and that is why I must remain in the dark.

O Lord, give your word power to comfort me in the darkness, that I may have courage to remain.

Let me see that your strength is made perfect in my weakness, that you are a real refuge and fortress to your children when they are weary and sad.

Let my words come to you from the shadows, Lord, and be swift to answer me!

……………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness in stead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. 

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.

(Isaiah 61.1-3)

Amen, Lord let it be..

 

For my children..

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

(1Timothy 6.6-12)

Nearly twenty two years ago, I was safely – and belatedly – delivered of a son, a precious gift and source of great joy and contentment, as well as not a little grief and anxiety over the years of his growing! Four years ago, he left home, first for a gap year, and then to university. There he thrives, and we have had the pleasure of watching him relish every opportunity to learn; every friendship which has come his way; and above all, of seeing him grow in faith, seeking to reach his community with the gospel. He is a man made by and for God, and he knows his maker – a blessing which cannot be quantified, and one which every christian parent craves for their children but cannot guarantee.

I say these things not to boast – it is none of my doing, and even as I give thanks for the blessings he has received, I yearn over the children of christian friends who as yet are choosing to walk through life without putting their faith in Christ, sitting lightly to the question of their salvation. So why talk about him at all? Because this  morning, after a week of holiday with friends here, he left me again…

Does it never get easier, this parting from the one who once was utterly dependent on me? Does the raw place where my heart was ripped from his never really heal over? I have no fear for him, and yet how sore it is when he leaves, returning to the larger life he now enjoys with friends who are so dear – in which I barely play a part – and all of life ahead of him.

The bible regularly uses the imagery of a father – or mother – to describe God’s yearning over his children, and I believe that this longing love is something that human beings experience in smaller degree. In our parenting; our nurturing of new life and raising for independent living, we experience a little of the passion with which God loves us, his beloved children, driving him to seek after and bring us to himself again. The very pain which is part of letting our children go, is a window into the heart of a tender God. How are we to use it?

I can resent the ways that God has chosen to ordain my life, separating me from my children and leading them away from me..or I can rejoice that for a little time, I was privileged to be in their lives, loving and caring for them on his behalf. They were his before they were ever mine, and if I remember that, then I can take comfort even as I watch them go – God’s love for them is so much greater than I can ever imagine, and they can be in no better place than the centre of his will for them.

I can follow the example of Paul, who though not the human father of Timothy, yet wrote tenderly to that young man, calling him a dear son, and addressing many earnest and loving words of advice to him. Paul does not caution Timothy to look out for his own interests, but challenges him to the highest calling – a life devoted to God, in which those qualities of godliness, love, endurance, faith, gentleness and righteousness are always growing stronger.

Who knows what this will look like in real life? A calling to full-time christian service; to overseas mission or ministry in this country? A life lived in an increasingly secular and hostile society, bearing faithful witness to the rebuke and challenge as well as the offer of the gospel? A life of single chastity, or marriage and parenthood? A life blessed with good health, or plagued by illness?

I cannot tell, and I thank God that I do not know. But I can and do pray for my children – and for their friends, the precious young lives which come into contact with mine – that their faith will be in Christ alone; that their will to obey might be fixed; and that they might live to glorify and serve the God who made them for such a time as this.

Not of my choosing..

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”

(Luke 9.23&24)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

(Matthew 11. 28-30)

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long O Lord, how long? Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love…The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.

(Psalm 6.2-4,9)

When my late father was undergoing treatment for cancer, he discovered – much to his chagrin – that a great deal of the good temper and exemplary patience which he had enjoyed all his life had been due to his excellent health! When that health was undermined, he discovered that perhaps it was not so easy to be gentle, forbearing and always cheerful, and found a new sympathy with those whose health had never been good.. In the same way, a person who has never experienced real deprivation may lack sympathy for those who truly suffer from it, may not have compassion for their anxiety and may even judge them for a lack of hope and confidence..

God sees clearly those areas of our lives where we are most proud of ourselves, where our self-esteem is most deeply rooted, and where we are least dependent on his sustaining power. I believe that at times he permits those very dear things to be undermined, in order that we might learn to cling to him alone in a new and closer way, accepting that EVERYTHING we have is only ever a gift, which may be withdrawn, and which cannot be relied upon for our peace of mind and sense of worth. These things are in danger of becoming idols in our souls, displacing Christ from the place of pre-eminence which is his right, and weakening us in our life of faith and witness. It is grace when God in his wisdom chooses to uproot them.

I do not have permission to choose the cross which I am called to take up daily, and which requires me to deny, to silence those voices which cry out against God’s will and clamour for my own way in everything. Will I trust my God for this trial, this cross? Do I believe him, when he promises to sustain me through it, even to glorify himself in my life as I lean hard on his arm for strength? Am I willing perhaps NEVER to see how God uses my experience for good, but to believe that he will because he has promised it?

At the moment, I am experiencing a particular trial – a gentle undermining of my health which has gone on for over four years now, in various guises, preventing me from doing things which are important to me. My estimation of myself is diminished, I am tempted to despise the rather feeble person I am become, as I try to live within the limitations imposed by my body. Is God any less delighted with me as his daughter, because of these things? NO! Am I in any way less able to pray for his work, to witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ? NO! And yet, and yet, I fret and mourn for what cannot be, tempted to despair instead of rejoicing in all I am and have in Christ.

As my running shoes remain unused, and mountains remain untrodden, I am drawn to cling to my God, to pour out my regrets and fears to the God who knows and loves me so tenderly, who gave me a desire to run and climb in the first place! He knows the burden which he is asking me to bear at this time, he knows how much it is costing to pick up that cross daily and then to walk with it cheerfully.

When we bring our crosses into that loving presence – whatever they may be – we find one who knows how we struggle, and who himself bore burdens beyond our imagining . And he comes alongside to bear us, to draw the sting of anxiety and dread, to give us for every pang the sweetest assurance of his presence and love.

In our daily carrying of our individual crosses, may we find the fellowship we enjoy with Christ so dear, so sustaining, that the burden does indeed become light, since we bear it for his sake and with his strength. In our weakness, may his power be made abundantly plain, and our delight in his grace towards us grow ever greater!

We are the Resurrection people!

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I , and not another.

(Job 19.25-27)

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him…and so we will be with the Lord for ever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.

(1 Thessalonians 4.13,14&18)

How wonderful it is, to have such incredible good news to celebrate and to share on this Resurrection day! We have a saviour who died, yes, and who was raised from death. God demonstrated with great power that the divine plan for dealing forever with the forces of evil and their hold on humanity had succeeded.

Jesus had cried aloud upon the cross in his obedient agony, “It is finished!” There was absolutely nothing else needed, no human endeavour to be added to this divine passion for justice and mercy. And so God, in his loving kindness to us, knowing that we are weak and frightened easily, raised Jesus to life, showing the way that is now open to us as his followers, into eternal life in a resurrected body, like and yet unlike any we have known.

This is the point which Paul makes as he writes to reassure the Thessalonian believers, who are grieving for fellow christians who had recently died.. Look, he says, see what Jesus has done, and be comforted because this will be our experience too! We may not understand the mysteries which unite our temporal reality with an eternal future; but of this we can be absolutely sure – we will enter into that future with bodies; with hands to serve and voices to praise and eyes and hearts to adore our Lord.

The experience of death in this world, dreadful though it undoubtedly can be, is not the end, the power of the grave is broken. It can no longer hold those who call upon the name of Jesus, and we are sure of being gathered into his arms and of seeing him, with our own eyes. I was privileged to see for myself the power which this hope gives to those facing death, power to yield themselves up in peace and confidence to the Lord who has gone before and has promised to carry them through this last trial. For both of my parents, their steadfast faith was the anchor and joy of their last months, making it so easy for us as their children to release them to a future which they longed to see.

As I rejoice at the empty tomb, sharing in the soul-shaking joy of Mary at her master’s feet, I repent of my frequent bouts of despair, and ask God’s help to live more and more in the light of this sure and certain hope which that empty tomb gives me. I believe in the resurrection of the body – so why do I fear anything at all?! I believe that I shall see my adored Saviour with my own eyes – so why am I not overflowing with this good news to all those who are in my life?

My God has given me so much in this world already, out of his goodness pouring blessings one after another into my life – and I can relish each one to the full, knowing that there is an eternity of even better to come..This life is NOT all there is, I need NOT resent the passing of youth, health or wealth, because EVERYTHING good and glorious is already stored up for me in my Father’s house, and as I fix my eyes upon my Jesus, following him down into the shadow of the valley of death, so I will surely be led after him out at the other side.

Slow..to the point of immobility!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every thing that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

(Hebrews 12.1-3)

If my life were to be pictured as a race, what kind would it look like? A sprint? – fast, strong, utterly focussed? Or a steeple-chase, with obstacles over which I leap gracefully, recovering my stride and moving smoothly onwards? Or even a marathon – not very fast, but nonetheless dogged and relentless, without swerving from the allotted course?

Alas, my life as a race would resemble the progress of a blindfold athlete, who had forgotten to put on the proper clothes, and who was carrying most of their belongings on their back in a pack. My progress would be uncertain, without direction, with frequent periods when I simply sat down wherever I happened to be and cried for a while out of sheer frustration and self-pity.

At the beginning of a new year, we often make promises to ourselves about a new start, fresh commitments. I have been here often enough to know that is a recipe for despair and self-loathing by the end of January at the very latest! Instead it seems to me healthier to focus for a time on the ways which God has kept me through the previous year, to see more clearly his provision and all the ways he has brought good for me- and perhaps others – out of times of pain, and difficulty. But, in racing terms, that only counts as a breather! And I am called – as a follower of Jesus – to follow, which implies movement, forwards in a given direction..

So how can I realistically face this new twelve-month, knowing that I have no way of preparing for the unknown events ahead; that I may not even live to see the end of it? Paul’s exhortation to the readers of this letter are like the encouraging – and bracing – words of our coach and mentor..

Look who is watching, who has completed this race before you! They are witnesses to God’s power to keep you and transform you and be glorified through even such frail creatures as we are. You can do this, because God is with you!”

On the one hand, I remember those heroes of the faith who were commended in chapter 11, all of whom were frail and sinning people like me – and God, through the writer of this letter, calls them his faithful servants. If they can be commended, after trying and messing it up, then I can too!

Seeing this, I can take courage to commit myself to the ongoing effort to become more like Christ – letting him dominate my sight and thought, recognising and letting go (or cutting out), those things which distract me from him, and distort his image in me. This is God’s work in my life – but I know I can choose to hinder it, so I pray for a submissive heart and willing attitude to co-ooperate with that work, knowing that God can and will complete what he plans.

I am a slow learner in this following life; I never know what to say when asked earnestly, “So,what is the Lord trying to teach you at the moment?”. I think God knows what he is doing, and I prefer not to look too closely for myself – but rather to do as Paul exhorts his readers…to fix my eyes on Jesus, to consider him and let nothing else get in my way.

This I know, that if my heart is fixed on obedience to Christ; and my desire is to become more like him, then whatever else happens in 2017, I will be given grace to persevere, and to glorify God in it. I may not see any progress, but He will, and that will be sufficient.

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me, all his wonderful passion and purity.

May his spirit divine all my being refine, Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.

(Tom M. Jones)