Category Archives: confidence in God

Choosing to look for the light

But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour…

(Isa 43.1-3)

We have been having some grim weather these past months, and the statistics from the weather watchers confirm the feeling that we are light deprived – the days may be getting longer, but there is so little sunshine that we barely notice and our spirits are heavy. The sun is there, but it is hidden and how dreary the days can feel. 

So we have a choice.. do we behave as though the light were never returning, and live as those condemned to twilight? Of course not, because we know the truth – that glorious light and life giving star is out there, and we shall see it again. In the meantime, it continues to give daylight, to bring increasing warmth to the land, stimulating the birds and the plants into the activity of spring. Perhaps you can see where I am going with this? Surely the Lord of Heaven’s armies, the creator and sustainer of the universe and so much more that we can’t imagine, is even more dependable than the sun which he made? 

The clouds which obscure our sun are real, we feel their impact on our lives and spirits every day. Sometimes we see them as beautiful, but often only as barriers to that which we crave. Yet without them there would be no rain, no life-giving water, and none of the drama and glory which they bring to our experience of this beautiful planet. So we need them, and must trust their maker for the pattern and purpose of their coming and going.

The bible is absolutely clear on the sovereignty of God in all human affairs; on his power and purpose in shaping everything that happens all the time towards his great kingdom revelation and the re-creation which will usher in our eternal lives with him. Nothing is outwith his knowledge, and if we trust him for the atmospheric clouds, we are are also called to trust him for the things that cloud our spiritual lives, and can bring us so low and near despair for lack of light.

We are not promised sunny days and smooth paths; on the contrary, the prophetic words of Isaiah say ‘when’ not ‘if’ the children of God walk through fire, and are near overwhelmed by floods. Jesus said that we would always have the poor with us – the world will never be put to rights until he comes again in glory to make it new. Jesus said that we will always have trouble, and our security lies not in the lack of it, but in his victory over the world and all its power to disturb, destroy and defy the Almighty God. 

Friends, let us take God at his word, and go looking for the light. It is shining as surely as if there were no clouds of disease, sin, grief and hardship to obscure it. We can always find glimpses of it, and the lives of so many saints testify to the faithfulness of God in sustaining us under our clouds. This song was brought to my attention this week, and it perfectly expresses what faith looks like under clouds, I hope it blesses you as it has me.

God has not promised skies always blue, flower-strewn pathways all our lives through; God has not promised sun without rain, joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

But God has promised strength for the day, rest for the labour, light for the way, grace for the trials, help from above, unfailing sympathy, undying love.

God has not promised we shall not know toil and temptation, trouble and woe; He has not told us we shall not bear many a burden, many a care.

But God has promised strength for the day, rest for the labour, light for the way, grace for the trials, help from above, unfailing sympathy, undying love.

(A.J. Flint; 1866-1932)

 

A renewed vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Ps 33)

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

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

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

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

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

I’m waiting…. God?

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

(Ps 32.7,8,10&11)

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

(Pr 3.5-7)

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

(Acts 16.6-10)

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

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

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

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

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

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.