Category Archives: confidence in God

Just keeping going..

A thanksgiving psalm.

Shout out to the Lord, all the earth, worship the Lord in rejoicing, come before Him in glad song.

Know that the Lord is God. He has made us, and we are His, His people and the flock He tends.

Come into His gates in thanksgiving, His courts in praise.

Acclaim Him, bless his name. For the Lord is good, forever His kindness, and for all generations His faithfulness.

(Ps 100. R Alter translation)

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: 

a time to be born and a time to die, and time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…..a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace… 

I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning.

(Ecc 3.1-4,7,8,10-11)

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

(2 Thess 2.16&17)

As I write this week, I am conscious of the shadows cast by heavy burdens in the lives of many dear friends, and also of the national and global challenges which we face in these days. It would be so easy to give in to despair. But, as those for whom the gospel of Jesus Christ is truth and light, we must cultivate a different reaction – a lived outcome of faith in a sovereign God, which is a steadfast heart.

We believe that our God is on the throne, and that his plans for creation and for his people are being fulfilled. We believe in his promises to save us from sin, and through all manner of suffering which life in a fallen and sinful world must involve. Therefore, we look expectantly for daily blessings and tokens of divine love, the signs of his presence among us and his power at work. We trust they are there, and then look for them! The testimony of God’s people down through the ages is that even in their deepest sorrow, and fiercest trial, they have seen his hand and heard his voice – when our time comes, we too will surely know this care and provision.

We choose to act responsibly, taking up the duties which are part of our place in life and community – trusting God to be at work, using them in us and for others, no matter how small or trivial they may seem. We keep on reminding ourselves that life will always and inevitably involve pain and loss, so that we need not fear these things, because our God knows our frailty and has provided for us.

We choose to worship God by persevering, and continually affirming God’s power and glory. We worship by enjoying God’s good gifts of life, creation, family and friends, culture and creativity, fun and laughter as part of our daily bread, things that he wants us to appreciate and use well.

We worship by praying for ourselves – and others – the perspective which he alone gives, to see our troubles in this world as light and momentary in the face of eternity and the promised glory which awaits. This in no way diminishes these trials, saying they are nothing, but by his help we refuse to let them dominate and overshadow our lives. We pray for ourselves – and others – that we might recognise God’s provision against our troubles when the occasion arises. We do not anticipate and dread these things, but rather in trusting, and realistic faith, we daily commit ourselves to our Lord, Saviour and God. Humankind is born to trouble; we will have struggles and pain, death will come to us all. But as believers, none of these things should be able to paralyse us on a daily basis and rob us of joy.

Heavenly Father, worthy of our praise and the adoration of all creation, we come before you in our frailty, praying that we might not dishonour your name by living in fear and mistrust. Grant us courage to live each day well, however insignificant our lives may seem, that we might worship you by our trust and cheerful spirits. When troubles rise, Lord be our refuge and provide for our need, that we may know and rejoice in your faithfulness. For the sake of our Lord Jesus, your son, our Saviour we pray these things, Amen

Pride of man…

 

For you have rejected your people, the house of Jacob…. Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots. Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made. So man is humbled and each one is brought low – do not forgive them! Enter into the rock and hide in the dust from before the terror of the Lord, and from the splendour of his majesty. The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.

For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up – and it shall be brought low;.. and the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. And idols shall utterly pass away. And people shall enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from before the terror of the Lord, and from the splendour of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth.

Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?

(Isa 2.6-11)

If we lived as though it were true that the creator of all things, the all-powerful and eternal God is our God; if we had no fear of humanity, nor pride in humanity except in so far as we are the beloved children of the Creator and bear his image; if in all things and at all times, we gave God all the glory – the loyalty and devotion and pre-eminence – which are rightly his… what would be different?

If we recognised the utter futility of depending upon humanity for the deliverance of our race and our planet form the mess it has gotten into; if we were free from placing our trust in politicians (of whatever hue) or human schemes and philosophies; if the body of Christ in this world didn’t pursue social status, cultural influence, material prosperity but devoted itself to the glory of God in Christ and the searing, healing power of the gospel… what would be different?

If we acknowledged that we are as dust in our transience; if we would discern the immanent, eternal realities which glow through our experience of the everyday and the voice of the Almighty in conversation with his children through his handiwork and their daily experiences of love, loss, labour and joy; if we recognised our humble (and yet exalted) position in creation and chose to accept it, delighting in God’s authority and sovereignty over us…. what would be different?

Our God is a jealous God, and he will not share his glory with anyone or anything. The experience of humankind on this earth is a lived exposition of what happens when that glory is given to another – humankind, nature, beauty, power, status, wisdom – anything which is not the Lord Almighty, the Lord God of hosts who reigns supreme, the only one worthy of worship and in whose power all things are made and sustained. When God is not at the centre of all we do, and his glory is not the aim of all we plan, then nothing is in its right place, and even our most significant achievements are flawed. 

As I read the words in Isaiah, this old hymn came to mind, and I leave it with you today as a prayer, a meditation and an affirmation of faith. Friends, let us continue to purse whole-hearted loyalty to our God, seeking in all things to glorify him, and learning to depend on no one and nothing else.

All my hope on God is founded; he doth still my trust renew.

Me through change and chance he guideth, only good and only true.

God unknown, he alone, calls my heart to be his own.

Pride of man and earthly glory, sword and crown betray his trust;

what with care and toil he buildeth, tower and temple, fall to dust.

But God’s power, hour by hour, is my temple and my tower.

(J Neander, 1650-80)

Obedience in the face of uncertainty

As for me, I trust in You, O Lord. I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hand – O save me from the hand of my enemies, my pursuers. Shine Your face on Your servant, rescue me in Your kindness… Be strong, and let your heart be firm, all who hope in the Lord.

(Ps 31.15-17&25, R Alter translation, 2007)

The Lord performs righteous acts and justice for all the oppressed. He makes known His ways to Moses, to the Israelites, His feats. Compassionate and gracious, the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. He will not dispute for ever nor nurse His anger for all time. Not according to our offences has He done to us nor according to our crimes requited us. For as the heavens loom high over earth, His kindness is great over those who fear Him… As a father has compassion for his children, the Lord has compassion for those who fear Him.

(Ps 103.6-11&13, R Alter translation, 2007)

Then Eli said, “he is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

(1 Sam 3.18)

Joab said, “..Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight.”

(2 Sam 10.12)

“Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.”

(Isa 46.8-10)

We can always know what God is like…. we cannot always know what he will do… I was struck recently by the reminder that we are called to trust in God in the same way that a very small child trusts in its parents – a trust which depends not on understanding the circumstances and giving an intellectual assent to particular actions, but a trust depending entirely on belief in the one who is making the decisions.

The pages of the Hebrew bible are full of stories which illustrate what happens when people – just like us, who have days when they seem on fire with faith in God, and days when they live as though he didn’t exist – have to choose whether to trust God, or to take matters into their own hands. It doesn’t end well when we try to take control, and although God redeems these situations over and over again, the painful and obvious lack of trust remains a problem. Do we trust God because we think he will do what we believe is right? Because we think we can direct and control him through our devotions, our doctrine, our liturgy (or lack of it), our fasting and praying?

Friend, think again if you are ever tempted to entertain such ideas. God owes his creatures nothing. God is utterly beyond our comprehension, coercion, and cajoling. His goodness, power, holiness and justice; his vision of what is to come, is so much greater and more glorious than we can imagine – how could we possibly know what is good and right for ourselves in this particular circumstance, when our lives are totally enmeshed in the lives of countless other people? God’s goodness is of another quality entirely, not based on human notions of indulgence, treats, or even prosperity, health and long-life. God’s goodness is working relentlessly to save all those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, whose home is eternity and who are being transformed into the image of Christ day by day.

Today, I am called again to trust in God, not my own beliefs about him or denominational dogma and practice. I am called to trust all that I cannot know about him, all that lies hidden by the brilliance of his holiness, otherness, eternal nature and divinity.

Today, I can trust him, can step out in obedience into the unknown, can launch into deep waters with confidence, because he has promised to be loyally kind, utterly faithful in finishing what he began – ushering in a new creation, my future home, where I will dwell with Christ in glory. It is my part to obey, and his part to see that all things do indeed work together for my good – even if that doesn’t look good in the world’s eyes, or feel good to me.

The Lord will indeed do all that he pleases – will I trust and obey, working with him? Or will I fight, resist and make harder for myself and others along the way, losing all opportunities to bring him glory as my trust in him is revealed to be well-grounded?

On being set aside…

“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

(Job 1.21)

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you… for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

 (Phil 4.9, 11-13)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything 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… Endure hardship as discipline… God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees!

(Heb 12.1,2,7,10-12)

The missionary Amy Carmichael wrote, ‘in acceptance lieth peace’, and surely this is the key to those seasons in our lives when all our plans are thrown askew by unplanned interruptions, and especially when through illness or accident, we are left by the side of the journey of life to watch and be waited on by others, wondering what our purpose is and fretting over those tasks undone.

The intellect may have assented to the proposition that my health, talents and productivity are all surrendered to God, to do with as suits his divine purpose. But when I am called to live out that surrender with a quiet heart and a cheerful face, the reality can be quite different. How can it be that God wants to suspend my useful activities? How can it help his purposes for me to be unable to labour with the talents he has given? It is extremely tempting to believe that without my particular input, nothing can usefully be achieved, and that somehow, by my inactivity, I am failing God, my neighbours, and his kingdom-building work.

All of these thoughts demonstrate that I haven’t really understood and accepted just what it means to fully surrender all that I am and have to God, to be used as he sees fit. If the Creator and Lord of all wishes to lay me aside for a season – whether long, or short – that is his business, and mine is to accept his decision, to look for his lessons for me in this time, and to expect that he has things for me to learn and do even in this unwelcome inactivity. Some of God’s most productive saints have been those who have embraced his unexpected, apparently limiting, plan for their lives – consider Joni Eareckson Tada, wheelchair bound and crippled for life, who has been enabled to minister to hundreds of thousands of people, sharing the love of Christ through her weakness.

Perhaps I need to learn to be served, to embrace the humility of asking for assistance and graciously waiting until someone is able to give it. Perhaps I need to learn again that I am not the only person who can do my tasks, or that they are not quite so important as I like to pretend they are. My true worth lies not in how significant my labours are, but in my Lord’s love and sacrificial death for me. If I were to be laid aside for the rest of my life from active service, yet I know that his love and delight in me would be undiminished.

Perhaps I need also to learn a deeper sympathy and compassion for those who are truly limited in their activity – the long-term housebound, those with life-limiting conditions. Lord, let me take to heart the frustrations, losses and narrowed opportunities which are mine in these days, so that I might be more sensitive and imaginatively loving to those who are denied so much all their days.

Above all, perhaps I can live more slowly and deliberately, willing to be quiet and still, to truly see the beauty around me, the good things with which I am so well supplied, and to be profoundly thankful as I consider from whom all has come.

May I accept this discipline from my Lord with grace and cheerfulness; trusting that as he has called me to it, so he will give me the strength to bear it with a stout heart and in hope that it will not be wasted. May I look for and learn the lessons he has for me in it, that I may come through stronger in faith, and more able to serve, glorify and love him in the days ahead. As the clouds of heavenly witnesses testify with glad shouts to the faithfulness of the Lord, may I be encouraged to prove for myself by obedient acceptance, that he is indeed worthy to be praised.

When the foundations are shaken

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire. “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

(Ps 46)

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord… that you have brought me this far?.. What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign Lord. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant. How great you are, O Sovereign Lord! There is no-one like you, and there is no God but you… And now, God, keep for ever the promise you have made concerning your servant.. Do as you promised, so that your name will be great for ever. Then men will say, ‘The Lord Almighty is God!… O Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant..

(2 Sam 7.18,20-22,25&26, 28

Our instincts, when life becomes turbulent and frightening, drive us to ‘fight’ the situation in our own strength, or to ‘fly’ from it in order to protect ourselves. The bible instead calls us to the discipline of stillness in God’s presence – to the imitation of David who went and sat before the Lord. This discipline is our worship, because by it, we claim that God (and not us) can save us in, from or through the particular trouble we face. This discipline is our worship, because by it, we ascribe or formally hand over to God all power over our lives and the circumstances which beset our world. Only the Lord Almighty has the power, and wisdom, and authority to deal justly and perfectly with what is happening. Human understanding and capacity are simply useless in the face of the realities of a sin-sick, and weary creation.

While God has created humankind with astonishing capabilities, He alone remains enthroned as King above all.  As Sovereign Lord he has the right to do as he wills with what he has made, and if we believe what Jesus tells us about God, what Jesus reveals about God, then we can and must trust that what God wills, no matter how incomprehensible and painful it may seem to us, is ultimately just and good and right.

How then, do we behave as the world shakes around us, and as so many mock our faith and refuse to believe in a loving God? We find examples throughout the bible of God’s people praying his own promises back to him as requests, steadying and standing firm on that sure ground of his faithfulness to himself.

For those facing life-limiting diagnosis, bereavement and loss, we remind God that He has promised to be with his people always, to be their strength and refuge, to glorify his name in their lives as they live by faith through the trials he has permitted.

As we look around at a God-less nation, we remind God that his name is to be exalted, and that he is calling people to himself from every nation and tribe on earth. We ask him to fulfil his promise in our day, in our land, that we might see his name lifted high and honoured.

As we recall that God has promised to bless all nations – to be passionate about what is really good for them, which is knowing Jesus as Saviour – we can pray that God will do this in every place where humanity is at war, where oppression and exploitation are leaving a trail of devastated lives and lands. Ultimately, the salvation of his people matters more than anything which they may suffer during their mortal lives – and those who know and love Jesus as Lord, are totally secure in their eternal hope and promise of a richer and fuller life than we can currently imagine.

Those who know and love God, understand that the meaning of life lies rooted in a power too great and good to be overcome by the momentary anarchies of history.

(Reinhold Niebuhr: 1892-1971)

Sovereign Lord, help us to be still before you and to pray for your name to be honoured, for your will to be done, and your kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Be glorified in us, and by us, and in our sight in this day, for you are Lord above all, and you have said you will do this. By the power of Jesus we pray and hold ourselves still in your presence, looking to see your hand moving in power. Amen

An unlikely asset in our mission..

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

(Matt 28.18-20)

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

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

(Jos 1.5-9)

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

(Matt 6.33&34, the Message translation)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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