Category Archives: confidence in God

An unlikely asset in our mission..

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

(Matt 28.18-20)

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

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

(Jos 1.5-9)

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

(Matt 6.33&34, the Message translation)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons from history..

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever.

(Isa 9.2,6&7)

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no-one deceives you. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of the birth-pains.”

(Matt 24.4-8)

“..The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you want. “

(Mk 14.7)

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

(Jn 18.36-37)

One of the things which most bewildered Jesus’ followers was his insistence that he was not a warrior or freedom fighter, that his mission was not the removal of Roman rule from Israel. It was not until after his death that they began to glimpse the truth, the glorious reality of an eternal freedom – not from mere human tyrants, but from the greatest enemy of humankind – death, and its handmaid, sin. Jesus always had his sights set on something greater than they could possibly imagine.

We are saved from sin and death in order to enjoy citizenship of God’s kingdom – and crucially, that kingdom surpasses every human kingdom that has ever existed, in glory, justice and duration. When human beings dream of a world without fear, oppression, suffering and sin, they are tempted to believe that if only we could fix ourselves – through education, through better technology, through justice and equality – then we would realise that dream.

This has never been possible – that is why Jesus came to die for all who would believe and accept his remedy for the blight of our brokenness and rebellion. The kingdom of which we dream will one day be realised, when God winds up time, and ushers in a new creation, where his children are welcomed in to live with him forever.

In the meantime, we should listen to Jesus’ words to his disciples, as he warned them of the darkness that would continue to haunt human life until he returned. Wars, natural disasters, political upheaval, and all the poverty and suffering that goes with such things – all these things dominate our media, and people react as though they are somehow surprising, new and in some way avoidable! They have been part of human history for as long as it is recorded. Our species spends itself, in every age, in conflict, in oppression, in exploiting the world’s resources and its people. These open wounds in the experience of our race are – according to Jesus – normal. They are the inevitable consequence of sin. And we are not to be alarmed, but to hold fast to his promises, obediently working and praying for his return and the final elimination of all that lies at the root of suffering.

Please don’t misunderstand my words. I am in no way saying that suffering doesn’t matter. But, we are not to be unsettled by these things, not to allow them to unseat our faith and make us doubt God’s goodness. He is working on a bigger stage and scale than we can possibly comprehend, and one day, when he reveals the new kingdom, we will no longer have to trust, but will see for ourselves. And then, our response will be to worship in fear and trembling – that we should be loved and saved and adopted by such a God, for such a purpose! Then we will join with the numberless throng in praising our King, resting in his love, and all the pain and darkness will be swallowed up in light.

Living is a messy business

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.

(Ps 130.1-5)

But [God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. My feet have closely followed his steps; I have kept to his way without turning aside. I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.

(Job 23.10-12)

Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me; all day long they press their attack. My slanderers pursue me all day long; many are attacking me in their pride. When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?

(Ps 57.1-4)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

(2Cor 4.6-9,16&17)

The saints of the Hebrew scriptures – the psalmists, prophets and faithful servants like Job – lived before the full revelation of God’s great plan for dealing once and for all with the consequences of sin. Their confidence in God’s love for them, and their conviction that somehow, their personal sin was dealt with and could not cut them off from the God whom they trusted and worshipped is astonishing to us, living as we do on the other side of the Cross. But their words show that in spite of the consequences of personal sin (Ps 130), or of the sins of others against them (Ps 57), or even the inexplicable tragedies of life (Job), yet they trusted God and rejoiced in Him as Lord.

Life in this world is a very messy business. History teaches us that every era brings its own experiences of war, natural disaster, human exploitation and oppression. Each human who has ever lived, bears the seeds for sins against others, against themselves and ultimately against their maker. We live with the consequences of all those things. In the same way that each generation can build on the prosperity and success of previous ones, so also it reaps the harvest of their bad choices, destructive behaviours, and inherent sinfulness.

The miracle of our salvation is that not only are we to be ultimately delivered from this messy, often painful, and seemingly inevitable progression, but even in the midst of it, we have hope and confidence that our lives matter, and that God is not wasting the small things we bring in response to his overwhelming gift to us.

The saints of old trusted in God, often in spite of the evidence of their lives, and clung to him as their rock and the one who would declare them righteous in his sight. We, who have the Cross and the resurrection of Jesus as the ultimate declaration of God’s love for and commitment to us, surely have so much more reason to trust him with all that we are. Our own sin and its consequences; the sins of others against us; and the tragedies of life: all of these are opportunities to choose God’s glory, to cling to him by faith and to stand firm on his goodness.

With Paul, we can say that the treasure of Christ in our hearts is displayed most fully as we increasingly recognise just what dull and unworthy material we are made of – His light illuminates our shabbiness. With Job, we can say that we will come forth from our trials refined like pure gold, as we persevere through them in an attitude of dependence on God and a refusal to ascribe evil to him. I think that Job would have recognised himself in Paul’s description of the refining and purifying work of the Spirit in a believer’s life.

All praise and glory to the one who redeems and forgives us, who weaves our small, messy  lives into his glorious plan of redemption, and in the process, makes us into his treasures – pure and beautiful, reflecting God’s own character back to him.

Trusted to be truthful..

And Job continued his discourse: “As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty who has made my life bitter, as long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips will not say anything wicked, and my tongue will not utter lies… I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.”

(Job 27.1-6)

Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry…

(Ps 34.11-15)

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us… Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.

(2Cor 1.8-10, 12)

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

(Phil 2.12)

Can I be trusted to be truthful? Can God have any confidence that his reputation and character, the great narrative of his work in creation and redemption, are honoured by me in word and deed?

When Job came under extreme trials, he clung to his belief that God was good, was just and righteous, and also that Job himself had not committed sins which ‘deserved’ the judgement under which he suffered. In all these things, we are told that Job did well, speaking truth and not lies. Job proved himself trustworthy under his sufferings, honouring and rightly fearing God.

In fact, it is Job’s integrity which holds him right in the centre of the storm, wrestling with the unanswered questions, wondering what God is doing and why, longing for a chance to argue it out but never doubting that there is some hidden purpose. Such mature faith comes only as we in turn wrestle with our circumstances, refusing to speak lies about God – his holiness and justice, his love and mercy – or about ourselves, as his people and those on whom his favour rests.

In his letters to the churches in Corinth and Philippi, Paul speaks truth about his trials too – both their severity and also his conviction that they were part of God’s work in  spreading the gospel and in glorifying his power through his servants as they depended on him for deliverance and hope. Paul reassures the suffering saints in Philippi that as they ‘work out’ or discover in practice, what it means to be saved by Christ in the midst of trials, their experience will be of God working in them by his Spirit to fulfill his glorious purposes.

Job did not know that the advocate in whom he trusted was Jesus Christ, the eternal Son, but he clung to that hope and was sustained through his trials. We have the great revelation of the Son, of our loving Saviour who always lives to intercede for us and the Spirit who minsters to us continually. Why then should we not find that whether prosperity or trials come, we can be trusted to speak truth about our God, in all his holiness and the mysteries of his providence?

In plenty or in want, in sickness or in health, in time of peace or time of war, I am in Christ. I am redeemed, justified, and adopted into the family of God. My circumstances do not define me; my sins no longer define me; my own strengths or weaknesses do not define me. By grace, I am a child of the Most High, and whether he appoints my path to peace or troubles; to bright calm days, or the darkness of suffering, I will speak truth about him, and about what he has done for me.

May God grant each of us grace to accept prosperity or trial from his hand with humility, and with the desire to use all that he sends as means to glorify him and serve others.

When there is no (obvious) happy ending..

But the Lord said to me, “.. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you… See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.. Today I have made you a fortified city.. to stand against the whole land – against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you”

(Jer 1.7,8&10,18&19)

“O remnant of Judah, the Lord has told you, ‘Do not go to Egypt.’…when Jeremiah finished telling the people all the words of the Lord their God.. all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are lying!.. Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you to hand us over to the Babylonians, so that they may kill us or carry us into exile.” So.. all the people disobeyed the Lord’s command .. and all the army officers led away all the remnant of Judah.. and Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah. So they entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord.

(Jer 42.19; 43.1-3,5-7)

‘This is what the Lord says [to Baruch]: ‘I will overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the land. Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’

(Jer 45.4&5)

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for… These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

(Heb 11.1&39-40)

So I finished reading Jeremiah: at 52 chapters it is quite an undertaking and full of fearful prophecies of judgement. As a follower of Jesus, who would have known this book all his life as part of the Hebrew Scriptures, I must trust that there is truth here for me as a disciple, wisdom that can help me to live in the world as a faithful witness and remain steadfast.

There is much that grieves, as we read Jeremiah’s deep lament both for the way his people reject him and the message that God has given him, but also for the wayward people themselves as they face a dreadful reckoning at the hands of the Babylonian armies. There is much to bemuse, as slaughter, starvation, humiliation and the destruction of the temple come to Judah because they have broken their covenant with God over and over again. I am not able to unpack the whole business of God’s judgement on his people in this time, so instead I have been reflecting on what I can learn from Jeremiah.

God takes sin very, very seriously. His covenant people cannot break their pledge to him without consequences, and the price to be paid is so high.

God is full of compassion towards his people, and the grief which their rebellion and subsequent sufferings cause him is unspeakable. He views separation from them with horror, and yet cannot dwell with their sin.

God is sovereign over all the nations, and in holiness and justice will act to fulfill his purposes in and through them. His ways are beyond my finding out, and I am called – like Jeremiah and the people of Judah – to trust that when it looks as though all is lost, yet He is still at work for good and for His glory.

God calls us to faithfulness in difficult places, among rebellious people, where we may experience rejection, mockery and persecution.

God goes with us when – like Jeremiah and Baruch – we are unable to resist the tide of history around us and are carried off into the land where God had commanded the people not to go.  In such days of judgement, it would be counted a great blessing to escape with one’s life, a sure sign of God’s favour and protection.

It is our personal faithfulness, so far as we are able to live it out, which matters most. Our relationship with the living God, and not our geographical location, or the trappings of ‘religion’, are what keep us safe in the ultimate things.

God calls his servants to apparently fruitless ministries, to death in exile, to suffering and hardship endured in faith.

There is surely much here from which we can learn in these days for the body of Christ which is the church in our world, a world where the gospel and its messengers are often rejected and mocked, or else actively persecuted and attacked. We can pray for those who are called to lead and teach, but also for one another as believers.

Heavenly Father, let us be like Jeremiah, living by faith, trusting in your love and provision for us in what appear to be fruitless situations. Encourage us to be faithful in the places where we are called to live, blessing our communities in Jesus’ name, whether they want to hear of his love or not. In obedience, may we be content, trusting that very soon, we will hear the trumpet sounding for your return, and the dawning of the day when all your faithful servants down all the ages are made perfect and united in your presence. In Jesus’ precious name and for his glory, we pray these things. Amen

Quiet confidence

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws…. you will be my people and I will be your God.

(Ezek 36.26-28)

“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… The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. 

(Jn 14.15-17,25-27)

“.. but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.. you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses..

(Acts 1.4&8)

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

(2Cor 1.21&22)

So I say, live by the spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature… but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control..

(Gal 5.22&23)

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

(Eph 2.10)

How good and gracious is our God, and how abundant his provision for the people he has called into his family and his great work of redemption and re-creation!

As Jesus prepared his disciples for their future after his ascension, he told them that the great prophecies of God’s anointing and indwelling Spirit were shortly to come to pass. By that spirit, God’s people throughout all time to come could live in intimate fellowship with God, dwelling in joyful harmony and unbroken communication with him.

The Spirit is within us is a guarantee of our inheritance as beloved children – a first taste of what awaits us. The Spirit within us is our teacher, taking the words of scripture and applying them, making the book live to us and feeding our faith for the journey. The Spirit within us is our constant companion, bringing Christ alongside in every situation and interceding for us in our praying. The Spirit within us continually reminds us and points us to Christ, to his love, sacrifice, power and glory, so that we might grow in love for the Lord. The Spirit within is our counsellor, prompting us in our thoughts and actions to be obedient to God’s will, and to discern where and how we might join in God’s work. The Spirit within is also our power, divine enabling and provision for every good work which is prepared for us to do.

Friends, I do not think that this is a matter of feeling, but of fact. As those who have confessed Jesus as Lord, we are indwelt by the Spirit, God’s gift to his church so that we might live to glorify him and enjoy him forever. The gift is for our blessing, and for the growth of the kingdom, and as we live in faith that this is our reality, we can have confidence in God’s provision for every task to which we are called.

The apostles, after receiving the Holy Spirit, lived every moment of their lives in confidence that God would enable and provide for their needs. The handful of women and men who received that Spirit went on – in that power – to turn their world upside down, and birth the church of which we are the heirs. They were ordinary people, indwelt and loved by an extraordinary God – our God, who longs to work through us in the same way.

As we face the everyday, and also the extraordinary, things which God has put in our way, we can do so in confidence that we will have the help of the Spirit for every need. We do not start each task in fear, in case somehow the Spirit has abandoned us, but rather quietly commit ourselves to obedience and to glorifying our God as we go.

Am I living in fellowship with God? In so far as I know, am I obeying his commands and sensitive to his direction? Do I long to please him above all others? Then, let me go out in quiet confidence and thankfulness, rejoicing that I am living in the strength which God gives, that his power is at work in me, and that all I need to tackle each situation will be provided for.

A wider vision..

 

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us,

Selah

that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for you, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth.

Selah

May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you.

(Ps 67.1-5)

I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; before the “gods” I will sing your praise. I will bow down towards your holy temple and will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stout-hearted. May all the kings of the earth praise you, O Lord, when they hear the words of your mouth. May they sing of the ways of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord is great.

(Ps 138.1-5)

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

(Matt 28.18-20)

Pray.. for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

(Eph 6.19&20)

I grew up in a congregation which met weekly for prayer on a Saturday evening. It wasn’t the kind of meeting where we shared personal concerns, but rather an ambitious and confident gathering which every week prayed around the country and around the world. The focus was on what our sovereign God was doing through his ministers, missionaries and through the unfolding of history.

I am profoundly thankful for this background to my early christian life, which I was privileged to continue in other churches which I attended. Sometimes, it seemed a great effort to drag myself out on a dreich night, sometimes my own affairs pressed hard and I was tempted to give way to self pity. But I never regretted making the effort to overcome the temptation, to face the weather or my own weariness, in order to join with others in lifting God’s world up to him for his will to be done and his name glorified.

This discipline of entering into intercession for God’s people and the growth of his kingdom is such a privilege, but also a blessing! I would encourage anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by the issues facing their own congregation to get involved in the work of prayer for the world. It lifts us out of our own lives for a little and shows us something of the breadth of God’s vision for our planet and our race. God is working all the time to fulfill his purposes – raising up and casting down nations, just as he did in the time of the prophets. He is moving people around the world in order that they might hear the gospel and take it back home to their own tribe and tongue. He is sending the light of Christ into prisons and detention centres, as his persecuted saints witness in their cells to his love and the power of the cross and the empty tomb. He is using poverty-stricken believers in war-torn countries to show his love to their displaced neighbours, bringing healing and hope.

Our God is not chained, he cannot be controlled by border guards and oppressive regimes, or silenced by control of the media. Our God will be glorified in all the earth, and he invites us to be his co-workers in making that happen, as we pray for others and also grow in courage to witness ourselves to our neighbours. Let this work of intercession be an encouragement to you when you feel there is no future for the gospel in your neighbourhood. The God who has called you there is faithful, and has work for you to do – even if it is the silent witness of loving, serving and forgiving others who refuse to let you talk to them about your saviour.

Yes, the world has many troubles and sorrows; human rebellion against God continues to work itself out in pain and destruction, the degradation of both people and the planet we inhabit. But, our God is on the throne, and we are under his wing. We have his authority to preach good news, and to pray for others who are also reaching out in his name. Let us, like the psalmist, cry out to be made bold and stout-hearted that we might join with confidence in the work of growing the kingdom, and interceding for one another. 

Stout… but in a good way!

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for me. He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me. 

Selah

God sends his love and faithfulness. I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts – men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. They spread a net for my feet – I was bowed down in distress. They dug a pit in my path – but they have fallen into it themselves. 

Selah

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast: I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.

(Ps 57)

Humble yourselves.., under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith… And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong and firm and steadfast.

(1 Pet 5.6-10)

How often the psalmist gives us words, helps us find relief for pent up feelings and concerns, and the expression of the roller-coaster which happens inside as we face the ups and downs of life. In Psalm 57, David is in acute distress; on the run from Saul and in danger of losing his life. He has no power or authority in the situation, but clings for dear life to the promises of God, the God who has been his lifelong companion and in whose name Samuel anointed David as the future king.

David is quite realistic about the situation – and rightly estimates his enemies as ruthless men who would destroy him. But rather than simply bewailing the situation, David is enabled by the Holy Spirit to stand firm, calling his scattering and fearful thoughts back to focus on the God in whom his trust lies, instead of the threats which lie so close.

Here is the key for me, as I face major threats and discouragements, or merely the daily trials and disappointments which are the lot of humankind in a fallen world. Will I chose, like David, to ensure that as I bring my concerns and fears to God, I am continually disciplining my thoughts to focus on the strength, goodness and faithfulness of the One who hears me? Or will I instead turn my prayers into litanies of self-pity, continual recounting of my trials and a refusal to acknowledge that God is on the throne of my life, but also over the whole world, and is at work for his good purposes even if I can’t see them?

David prayed for help from God – in other words, he humbled himself and didn’t even pretend that he could deal with this situation safely alone. Will I follow that example? Will I ask God to help me exert the self control needed to stand firm in the face of troubles large and small? Without that divine assistance, I will surely fall into despair and fail to honour God. But if I follow David in casting my burdens at the feet of the sovereign who has given his life for me, then surely I will be able to face what comes stoutly, confident in His strength and trusting that my obedience is the channel through which His victory is realised in my life.

These words from the daily prayers of John Baillie are a monthly reminder to me of the absolute necessity to humble myself and depend upon God, may they help us all to pursue our way like steadfast followers, confident and uncomplaining, looking to Christ our leader and friend as we go.

Oh Lord my God… give me grace, I beg Thee, to understand the meaning of such afflictions and disappointments as I am called upon to endure. Deliver me from all fretfulness. Give me a stout heart to bear my own burdens. Give me a willing heart to bear the burdens of others. Give me a believing heart to cast all burdens upon thee.

(from ‘A Diary of Private Prayer’ by John Baillie,1936)

The greatest gift

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. How my heart yearns within me!

(Job 19.25-27)

Jesus said.. ” I am the resurrection and the life. One who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” [Martha] told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

(Jn 11.25-27)

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Rom 6.22&23)

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.

(1 Thess. 4.13,14&17)

O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth;

Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. 

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn; 

Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices! O night divine! O night when Christ was born.

(P Cappeau, translated by JS Dwight, 1855)

I don’t think I have ever been more thankful in my life that my Christmas celebrations are based on the historical person of Jesus, and on what He came to be and do for me. As I look around at a weary world full of pain and struggle, a society which is grasping vainly at ‘tradition’, family, or some nebulous ‘hope’ as the basis for a party, and see so many hurting people for whom the whole idea of ‘celebration’ is both insulting and painful, I grieve and pray God’s mercy.

But I also give thanks because as a follower of Jesus, I have a hope which is certain, based on something outside human fallibility, outside this broken but beautiful world; something which is more real than I can begin to understand. Christmas is not ‘just for the children’. Christmas is not some general season of goodwill and superficial cheer. Christmas – the birth of God as a human baby, come to dwell among us, to die and rise again – is for the lonely and desolate; for the abused and the abuser; for the tyrant and the oppressed. Because He came, everything can be different, every heart re-born into hope and humility, grace and generosity, praise and perseverance.

I can sing and be glad because Jesus came; came for me and for you; came to make a difference for ever, and it depends not on my feelings about it, but on God’s truth and love and power and faithfulness to His own promises. This greatest of all gifts comes to set aside all human striving and delusion; comes and says, ‘Believe in me, and stop chasing peace in all the wrong places.’

Jesus is God’s hope for the hopeless; God’s healing for the broken; God’s forgiveness for all us sinners; God’s love for the unlovely; God’s home for the exiles; God’s light for the rest of our journey in this sin-darkened world.

Celebrating Christmas does not mean pretending that there is no pain, or that life is perfect. For some, and sometimes for me, Christmas has been viewed through tears, through a shadow of bereavement or other major source of pain and weariness. But I think that when we choose to give thanks through our tears, God is even more honoured than when we find it easy to be glad. No, we celebrate because the coming of Jesus makes all the difference to the pain and imperfection – we see their transience, see that under God’s providence they are not in charge. We are no longer alone in the dark, and it doesn’t all depend on us to make it right – what a burden that is, and how good to lay it down!

In Christmas, we celebrate the coming of the King, whose kingdom is now established among us in all who believe. I hope that for you and those you love, this coming King is welcomed as Lord and Light, Saviour and Friend, so that no matter what darkness is in your life at the moment, you can rejoice in Jesus and be encouraged and strengthened for the year that lies ahead. We do not know what the future holds, but – as the old song says – we know who holds the future, and we trust ourselves into his nail-scarred hands.

The gift of presence

Then Solomon… spread out his hands towards heaven and said…”But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! … May your eyes be open towards this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays towards this place. Hear .. your people Israel when they pray towards this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling-place, and when you hear, forgive…. bring them back to the land….teach them the right way to live…deal with each man according to what he does, since you know his heart…. do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you…. uphold their cause..

(1 Kgs 8.27-31,34,36,39,43&45)

How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you. In the shelter of your presence you hide them… in your dwelling place you keep them safe…Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.

(Ps 31. 19,20&24)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

(Jn 1.14&18)

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband 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 with them and be their God.”

(Rev 21.2&3)

The list of people to whom I want to send gifts isn’t getting shorter these, days, but longer! The number of people whose presence in my life is cause of deep thanksgiving grows as the years pass, and I appreciate them more, valuing each unique creation and the privilege of sharing in their time on earth. I find myself frustrated as there is nothing that I want to give them so much as my own presence – nothing else matches the weight and worth of what I receive from them. And for me that can never be possible! I cannot be with all whom I love all the time, so I have to find some token by which I convey the honour of being called friend, having a part in their story.

This ability to value people, wanting nothing as much as their presence, is something that reflects (perhaps feebly), the character of our heavenly Father. The nature of God as Trinity is a mystery beyond human comprehension, but it does show that our God is relational, and the Trinity are continually delighting in one another – presence matters and is at the core of the eternal joy of Father, Son and Spirit. Remember the agony of Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross, when that song of communion was broken?

The bible shows us through the great narrative arc beginning with the creation of people in God’s image, that it was always God’s desire to dwell in uninterrupted fellowship with humankind. In the mystery of divine love, we are made to thrive in his presence like nowhere else. 

And our fundamental rebellion against His Sovereignty has cast us out – carrying an unassuaged hunger for God’s presence always deep in our hearts, and seeking by all and any means to satisfy ourselves elsewhere. 

The tabernacle, and later the temple were symbols of God’s presence – appointed places, surrounded by rituals which reminded his people of His holiness and their need for rescue from sin. But it is only with the coming of Jesus that God’s full intention is revealed – for God once more to dwell among humankind, to know and be known, and by his presence to bring life.

In order for us to receive the gift of His presence, and in turn be able to glorify him by our presence – to be together as God always desired – something needed to happen. The price of rebellion had to be paid, and the brokenness of humankind healed and transformed into perfection. 

The incarnation of Jesus, the Son of God in human form, was the essential first step in that redemption, atonement (payment for sin), and transformation. God is giving us himself, so that we might in turn give ourselves to him, and one day, in the new creation, those gifts will be finally and fully realised. On that day, all our Christmas hopes will be realised, and we will be together with the one who has loved us best and longest, known and knowing, without shame and with no more to fear.  

Until that day comes, we live in hope, confident in Jesus’ redeeming work, loving one another and encouraging one another to persevere in good works and joyful, godly living. Friends, I wish you a Christmas celebration which speaks peace and love from God, and assures you of his presence with you by his Spirit, until there is no more need of faith, and we see Him face to face.