Category Archives: frailty

Frail as summer’s flowers…

Bless, O my being, the Lord, and everything in me, His holy name. Bless, O my being, the Lord, and do not forget all his generous acts… As a father has compassion for his children, the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. For He knows our devisings, recalls that we are dust. Man’s days are like grass, like the bloom of the field, thus he blooms- when the wind passes by him, he is gone and his place will no longer know him. But the Lord’s kindness is forever and ever over those who fear Him and His bounty to the sons of sons, for the keepers of His pact and those who recall His precepts to do them.

(Ps 103. 1&13-18. R Alter translation)

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me… It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking by the arms; but they did not realise it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love…. My people are determined to turn from me….. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?  

(Hos 11.1-4,7&8)

Our human affections, as God’s image bearers, can teach us so much about the character and love of the Creator, and I have been considering how my experience as a parent has led me to a much deeper appreciation of all the rich metaphors in the scripture which speak of God as a mother or father.

Do you have any memories of your first encounter with a new-born child, of the sense of wonder and awe which is engendered as you see the beauty, fragility and intricacy of this tiny being? This is an echo of the delighted wonder with which our God greets each and every new life – He never grows tired of the miracle of unique human identity, but values each one just as they are. Frail we are indeed, and yet He lavishes upon us so much love and care, not willing that any should perish without coming into relationship with him. My challenge is to love those around me with this same open-eyed wonder and delight, to see them as He sees me each day, and to love them as He has loved me.

I have watched friends and family live through the trauma of miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death, teenage suicide and extreme, prolonged physical and mental illness, and through their traumas have glimpsed the acute and debilitating pain which such losses bring to loving parents and extended families. Does this pain not also reflect the depths of the love which existed? The more we love, the greater we can hurt when our loved ones are threatened, and how much it hurts only the secrets of the heart, the night agonies, the deadening, hopeless dragging days can tell. Our capacity to love and suffer with our children in this way is surely another echo of the heart of God for his own beloved children – we are told again and again, that because of Jesus, our pain is known, is affirmed and given its full significance before God’s throne. None of that suffering is wasted, or unnoticed – the Lord in heaven sees and feels the weight of whatever is crushing you as your young ones suffer.

And when these beloved children, nestled in our hearts and yet free to choose for themselves, walk away from the faith into which they were born, oh then how great is our agony.. The one thing which above all we covet for them, is the one thing we cannot in any way force them to receive. And then our ability to identify with God in his depth of agonies over the unfaithfulness of Israel is really established. Only when I began to feel it for myself, with a degree of desperation and fear, did I appreciate the passion and pain that lies behind God’s wrestling over the disobedience which took Israel to worship idols and reject their covenant-keeping God.

In our frailty, we find the burden of love almost too much to bear when it brings with it so much pain. And yet, we too are God’s beloved children; our pain matters to him too, and he knows our weakness. In his unbounded compassion, he invites us to take advantage of his loving heart in the same way that we welcome our children’s suffering as part of the privilege of being their parent. And here we find just how great is our God, how faithful, how good, how loving. We are never rejected or dismissed as too weak, too fearful, too anxious. We are heard and loved and grounded in order to go on, loving like our Father in heaven because of the ways He loves us.

Father, in our weakness, be strong that we might love well; in our grief, be comforting and giving hope that we might bear witness to your goodness; in our failings, pour out your grace to bring blessing to us and to those whom we love as best we can, in the name of the Son whom you love perfectly, Amen.

Seeking substance and significance…

Lord, you have been our dwelling-place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O children.” For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. You sweep people away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning – though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.

We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due to you. Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 

Relent, O Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendour to their children.

May the favour, the beauty, of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.

(Ps 90)

If you haven’t done so, may I suggest that you read this psalm aloud to yourself now; read it slowly, perhaps several times, noticing different phrases and how they speak to you today, in the times which are currently your circumstances.

Are you full of plans and hopes for the future, confident and expectant for what lies ahead? Then perhaps the reminder of the fleeting day which is humanity’s lot is not welcome to you. Ultimately, none of us knows what tomorrow may brings, none can be sure that our plans will be realised, and it does us good to remember this, to humble ourselves before the one in whose hands all our days lie, for good or ill.

Are you weary with the situation in which you find yourself, seeking purpose and significance and yet finding only vanity and emptiness with nothing to show for your labour? Then take heart from the psalmist’s closing prayer – he knows exactly how you feel, and shares your sense that all is futile unless the Lord bless and give it substance. It is true that as the beloved, redeemed children of the Everlasting Father, we have no need to earn his acceptance by our labour – we receive all we need and abundantly more than that, by his grace through Jesus our Lord. BUT, since he is our maker as well as our Father, he surely knows and has placed in us that desire for significance, the hunger to leave our mark on history in some way.

The honesty and longing of this psalm are powerful in expressing the turmoil of our lives in the face of our short time on earth, and the limitations imposed on us by health, opportunities etc. We are in a relationship with eternity, and yet feel our temporality so acutely. What do we have to offer the one who birthed universes? What does the dust have to offer the author of the constellations?

We cannot enrich our God in any way; but we can respond to the love which he has lavished upon us by living in glad, trusting obedience, and bringing all our concerns to his feet – all the time, for everything that makes up our lives, and everyone who shares them. His love for us makes us significant; his joy in our obedience gives all our labour purpose and our endurance meaning. In everything we do, think and are, we have daily opportunities to respond to his love and to know that in so doing, we offer up a sacrifice of praise, an entirely appropriate and meaningful way of living which is of eternal significance.

The world around may write us off as cranks who live on a delusion; our lives may be limited (in the eyes of unbelievers) by illness, poverty, lack of the right education or skills. But in the eyes of God, who is from everlasting to everlasting – and therefore more significant than anyone who ever lived a human life – we matter, matter enough to be died for, matter enough to be transformed into the image of Christ and prepared for a new life in a new earth.  There our eternal significance will finally become fully clear to us, because we will be made of the stuff of eternity, we will have come home to be with our Lord for ever, sharing his life, his love and his family.

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 life gets holes in it….

Lord, God of my rescue, by day I cried out, by night, in you presence. May my prayer come before you. Incline your ear to my song. For I am sated with evils and my life reached the brink of Sheol..

You put me in the nethermost pit, in darkness, in the depths. Your wrath lay hard upon me, and all your breakers you inflicted… My eyes ache from affliction. I called on you, Lord, every day. I stretched out to you my palms..

As for me – to you, Lord, I shouted, and in the morn my prayer would greet you. Why, Lord, do you abandon my life, do you hide your face from me?

(Ps 88.1-3,7,8,10, 14&15)

I know someone who describes their existence since the experience of early widowhood as being like ‘life in black and white’. She is one of the most godly women I have ever known, and her life as a widow has been full of service to others and relative peace and contentment. And yet… all the colour and joy has gone.

Are you mourning today? The death of a spouse, the death of a sibling, the death of a child? The passing of a parent, or a close friend? The loss of health and autonomy? The loss of satisfying employment or a precious relationship? The loss of a dream? The loss of hope for reconciliation and renewal?  What do we do when life seems to be ripped apart by loss, when the reality of our fragile hold on health, well-being and life itself has been forcibly demonstrated and we are weak with grief, dazed with loss, stunned into dumb agony?

Our culture shies away from recognising the incredibly limited control we actually have over our lives, so that it is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, and any experience of loss becomes un-natural and outrageous.

Dear friend, loss is not only natural but inevitable in our fallen world. The question is not will it come, but rather, how must I prepare myself to respond to it? What does my God require of me, his all-too-frail creature, that I might rightly glorify him and be sustained through this experience. What do I do with my pain?

The topic is far too significant to be addressed in one short conversation, but today I would point you to saints who have shown the way for us, leaving words that we can use, and wisdom that we can learn from. First in this great hymn..

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly, while the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide, till the storm of life is past; safe into the haven guide;
Oh, receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on thee; Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on  thee is stayed, all my help from thee I bring; cover my defenceless head with the shadow of thy wing.

Wilt Thou not regard my call? Wilt thou not accept my prayer? Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—
Lo! on thee I cast my care.
Reach me out  thy gracious hand! While I of thy strength receive, hoping against hope I stand, dying, and behold, I live.

(Charles Wesley: 1707-1788)

Wesley invites us to ditch our pride and all pretence of competence – fling yourself upon the Lord, plead recklessly and constantly for his aid in full confidence that he will supply your need.

Then Elisabeth Elliott – twice widowed and thus purified through extreme suffering – says this: offer up your pain to God, to do with it as he will. Make it your offering to him and then give thanks that he can – and will – work in it for your blessing and his glory. For her, widowhood became ‘ a gift, a call and a vocation, not merely a condition to be endured’. Having received it from the Lord, she then offered it up for his use, and chose acceptance and trust. (Eliott, E. The Path of Loneliness, 1988)

None of this takes away pain; it doesn’t replace what is gone: but it may transform our thinking and attitude to the losses which we will inevitably experience. The missionary Amy Carmichael learnt this lesson over many years of suffering, and pressing hard to bring it to God in the darkness of grief. Her poem ‘Nothing in the house’, is a meditation on knowing God in the midst of it. May it speak comfort and encouragement to you today.

Thy servant Lord, hath nothing in the house, not even one small pot of common oil;
For he who never cometh but to spoil hath raided my poor house again, again,
That ruthless strong man armed, whom men call Pain.

I thought that I had courage in the house, and patience to be quiet and endure,
And sometimes happy songs; now I am sure thy servant truly hath not anything,
And see my song-bird hath a broken wing.

My servant, I have come into the house – I who know Pain’s extremity so well
That there never can be the need to tell His power to make the flesh and spirit quail:
Have I not felt the scourge, the thorn, the nail?

And I, his conqueror, am in the house, Let not your heart be troubled: do not fear:
Why shouldest thou, child of mine, if I am here? My touch will heal thy song-bird’s broken wing, and he shall have a braver song to sing.

(Amy Carmichael : 1867-1951)

Dust and ashes..

God, my God, for You I search. My throat thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You in a land waste and parched, with no water…. Yes, I recalled You on my couch. In the night-watches I dwelled upon You. For You were a help to me, and in Your wing’s shadow I uttered glad song. My being clings to You, for your right hand has sustained me.

(Ps 63.1,7-9. translation by R Alter)

Jesus said to them, “…He [the devil] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding out the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

(Jn 8.44)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light…. Humble yourselves, therefore, 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, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

(1 Pet 2.9; 5.6-9)

“How are you?”

Do you ever dread that question? I don’t like to tell lies, and sometimes, the honest answer to that question is not one which I think my listener really wants to hear, so I end up fudging it, answering with a question of my own.. anything to turn the focus away from my own unsatisfactory condition!

As one who has been following Jesus all her adult life, and been blessed to be in loving and nurturing church fellowships all that time, I have so much to give thanks for, and so many reasons to trust God and be zealous in sharing the good news, encouraging others, and generally engaging in gospel labour. However, as a human being I am also as vulnerable to emotional disturbances, hormonal upsets, physical ailments and stressful life-events as you are. These things colour my days, as I am sure they do yours. At the moment, for whatever reasons, there is little zest for faithful living and obedient, expectant labouring for Christ. All my allotted tasks are like so much dust and ashes – dry, unappealing and lifeless.

I say this not to evoke pity, or to brag about my ‘sufferings’. There is nothing uniquely painful about my state, and I am not proud of it. But I do believe that as christians we must not pretend to be other than we are – never with God, and preferably also not with each other.

When the accuser of God’s children is at work to obstruct the divine purpose, then discouraging those children is an obvious and devastatingly effective means of doing it. If the evil one can persuade us that our labours are in vain and that we might as well stop trying, then we become useless to the Lord and a danger to our fellow believers. Our christian family is weakened by our arid and inert condition – in exactly the same way that a human body is weakened when any part fails to partake of the life-giving flow of blood and oxygen.

I thank God for the painfully acquired wisdom of years which has helped me to recognise that my perception is not a true one – that the father of lies is at work to distort my understanding and paralyse my faith. I thank God for the faithful friends who are willing – yet again – to come alongside me in prayer and encouragement as I share my need and predicament with them.

Above all, I thank God that as I follow the example of the psalmist – recalling truth and reaffirming past blessing – I am strengthened. I bring the weapon of the word of God – what does He say about me? – against the lies of the accuser. I measure my thoughts against God’s revelation of grace and mercy and redemption, and see where I am being deceived and misled by my enemy.

I am one of God’s chosen people, I belong in his holy nation and am called as a priest to proclaim the praises of the One who brought me out of darkness into light. None of these things depends on my feelings, my health or any other factors which influence my daily living. They are based entirely in God’s character and finished work in salvation. I can serve him regardless of how I feel about my fruitlessness. I can praise him regardless of how barren our labours as believers seem to be – because he is always worthy of honour.

In obedience and trust, therefore, I labour on. May God be merciful to me, one of the least of his servants, restoring my joy in the service of the King and giving me a glimpse of his great power at work in this world to save sinners and bring them home to glory.

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.

Like sunshine after rain…

Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long….Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

(Ps 32.1-7)

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

(Matt 5.23&24)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

(Col 3.12-14)

It’s not nice… that moment when your heart contracts and it feels as though there is a stone in the pit of your stomach as you realise that – perhaps with the best of intentions – you have caused someone offence, inadvertently hurting and rousing them to anger. A relationship is put in jeopardy, and the time that elapses until reconciliation can be attempted feels like an eternity. The most disastrous potential outcomes play through the mind like a horror movie, and the nagging voice of doom is the loudest one in your head.

I have a choice in this situation.. do I react defensively? Do I try to protect my pride by justifying my actions and insisting that the other person is over-reacting or deliberately misinterpreting me? Or, do I ditch pride and do all in my power to be reconciled – confessing my fault (which means calling it by the right name, not disguising it under less offensive titles)? It is clear that Jesus calls us to the latter, and insists that when someone has reason to be offended at us, we should make the restoration of that relationship a priority above all else.

Needing to be forgiven is a profoundly vulnerable situation to be in; and as I consider how much I dread being in that position, and how awful it feels to wait for the other person to be gracious to me, fearing irretrievable breakdown in relationship, I wonder how often my offences against God have made me feel that way?

Have I become so used to the incredible nature of grace, the depth of forgiveness won for me by Jesus on the cross, that I no longer dread to offend my God? Do I presume upon the divine mercy? I hope not, indeed I pray – like David – to be forgiven from hidden and unwitting sins, which do not trouble me because I do not even recognise them. My shortcomings as a believer are still grounds for grief, confession and repentance, even as I rejoice in the forgiveness which Christ continually offers. How sweet to the spirit, how deeply healing, to bask in the light of a love which has chosen not to remember my sins, and to enter into a relationship with me.

When we choose to forgive one another, we extend this healing power to one another. When we choose to renew and restore relationship, we invite someone to grow in love and humility and commit ourselves to faithful pilgrimage alongside them. Forgiveness comes from a place of love, a desire to be in relationship – with God and with one another. Friends, let us not withhold this great gift from one another, but offer the inestimable blessing of forgiveness when it is asked of us, and let the light of God’s love shine through us to one another.

It’s all about Him, not me

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart…Endure hardship as discipline.. If you are not disciplined, then you are illegitimate children and not true heirs.. God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 

[But] you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous ones made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks…

(Heb 12.2,3,7,8,10,22-25)

What goes through your mind when you hear of people who used to profess faith having drifted – or run – away from God? This happened to me recently, and I found myself grieved, but also unsettled, as I realised afresh how easy it is for us to become distracted from the gospel truth by less challenging secular ideas about goodness and self-worth. I don’t know what particular events in those individual lives led to this drift, and I pray that God will restore and renew them to a living hope and dependence on him. But I wonder if they just found it easier to erase Jesus from their lives, to dismiss the idea of sin and shame, of guilt, the need for forgiveness and the claims of Christ on their whole being. Those are not comfortable concepts for many in our time who would urge that they are unhealthy and to be rejected.

But how does their more ‘comfortable’, secular, self-care and self-fulfillment philosophy sit alongside the realities of human evil, the grievous persistence of war, torture, abuse and every other way in which humanity manages to turn good things like power, wealth, beauty, relationships, and creativity, into ways to hurt, destroy and pollute? I see no answers to the growing darkness of the world from our secular thinkers, no grounds for hope. It is only in the gospel of Jesus, of God-made-man for us, that we find the hard answers to these hard questions.

Being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, is to believe that God is in the business of making all things new – not because we as a race have the capacity to fix things for ourselves with a little help, but because we are helpless to fix things. God has come to do for us what we cannot do, so that we might join the firstborn whose names are written in heaven and be at home with our God. It’s not about somehow overlooking all the bad stuff and being as good as we can be by thinking positively and fulfilling our potential. It’s about accepting – confessing – that we are broken, and that only God can make us whole and beautiful, and that in so doing, He has to deal with the ugliness of sin and the power of death. There is a place for everyone who will come in faith, in dependence on Jesus – every colour and tongue, all have a part to play in glorifying their maker – and accepting the blood which had to be shed to make us clean. It’s not about how good we can feel about ourselves, it’s about what Jesus has done for us.

This gospel gives me hope not only for myself, but for the beautiful and broken world in which I live. It gives me hope for the millions who have never known peace or prosperity, health or security – because when they believe in Jesus who died and rose again for them, they join the family of the beloved in glory, and will receive a glorious inheritance which will cast all their sufferings into oblivion.

Believing in Jesus doesn’t make life easier – but that’s not why we do it! Believing in Jesus is the response of faith when we see who God is, what He has done for us, and what He is doing in the world. I want to remain part of that work, not because it brings me self-fulfilment (although it might), but because I long to be useful to my God, to be part of his work and to see his name glorified. Jesus paid the ultimate price for me, and when I consider that sacrifice, I am ashamed of my preference for a comfortable life, of my leanings toward to the secular, self-centred ways of thinking about what is important.

Great God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood has made it possible for me to be your beloved child, let me never close my ears to your voice or reject your discipline in my life. Keep me needy, keep me raw and fully aware of my weakness; open my eyes afresh to behold the fierce light of your holiness so that I might detest sin and resist temptation with your strength and for your glory. Renew in me a humble but deep hunger to reach others with the gospel of Jesus, to live as a faithful believer whose greatest joy is to see Jesus exalted. Let him be magnified, and let me see it, 

Amen

Translating truth..

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior….Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” “But Lord, ” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The Lord answered, “I will be with you…”

(Jdg 6.12,14-16)

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “… before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”… “Ah, sovereign Lord, ” I said, “I do not know how to speak;..” 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.”

(Jer 1.4-8)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you… We have different gifts, according to the grace given to us.

(Rom 12.3-6)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… If anyone thinks they are something when they are nothing, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves, without comparing themselves to somebody else, for each one should carry their own load.

(Gal 5.22&23; 6.3-5)

God has called us to be his children not on the basis of our abilities or lack thereof. We are his family because He loves us, and in Jesus we are made worthy to be sons and daughters of a holy God – we belong there now. There is – as it is said – ‘nothing I can do to make God love me more than he already does’, Jesus has achieved everything I need and more than I can imagine by his perfect work. So… how does that translate into the messy business of living in this broken world, among broken people, in a body which remains vulnerable to temptation, illness, and which has a particular and unique combination of strengths and weaknesses? What do I do with the fact that the soundtrack in my head is so relentlessly negative, apologetic, full of regret for letting others – and myself – down? How does that stand up to the searching light of scriptural truth, to what God says about me?

Friends, I believe that God does not call us to be blind to who we are, the unique circumstances and opportunities – and limitations – of our lives. When God called Gideon to be judge and warrior in Israel, He didn’t deny that Gideon was the least in the weakest of clans – rather the response was, “go in the strength you have…. and I will be with you.”

Similarly, when Jeremiah balked at the prospect of being prophet to the rebellious and ultimately doomed people of Judah, God didn’t deny either the challenge of the situation, or Jeremiah’s youth which would put him at a disadvantage. Rather, God reminded Jeremiah that he would not go alone – God would go with him. I think in fact that we see later in Jeremiah’s ministry just how hard it was for this man to obey God, fighting the burden of grief and resenting the message which he was called to give. I doubt very much that Jeremiah had an inflated or unrealistic opinion of himself, and that gives me great comfort! I can identify with this faithful servant who found himself prey to despair and wanting to give up in the face of his own weakness and the magnitude of the task before him.

Some of God’s children find it very hard to think of themselves as able for the life to which they are called. Some of us carry a perpetual apology in our hearts and on our tongues, painfully aware of everything that might be counted failure, and weakness, and sadly less aware of what others may see as strength, gifting, and spiritual fruit. Some strive all their days against comparison with other believers, unable to resist and invariably denigrating their God-given selves – which itself dishonours God and fails to honour him, another failure added to the ever-growing list.

Can I encourage you friends, if you know people like this, to pray for a special mercy from God, by which they may receive the peace of self-acceptance, as the beloved child of a heavenly Father whose strength is sufficient for their weakness, and who delights in all their acts of obedience and faith. If you can encourage them in any way, do so – but be warned, they may be unable to receive the comfort you seek to give because they are so painfully aware of the ‘truth’ as they see it, the inner life which falls so short of their desire.

Loving heavenly Father, by your Spirit dwelling in me, translate this truth into my life. Let me live at peace with the person you have made me, not resenting those things you have withheld, but appreciating and using well the gifts I have received. Silence that internal critic, and let me hear instead the beloved voice saying “Do not be afraid, I will go with you.” May I honour you by gladly living in obedience, using the resources I have to serve your kingdom. In the name of Jesus who speaks for me always at your right hand, Amen.

Drawing breath

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law….. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him..

(Det 29.29; 30.19&20)

Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen? Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the bear with its cubs?           

           Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?

(Job 38.28-33)

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?…. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matt 6.26&27,34)

Be patient.. until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near… As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

(Jas 5.7,8 &11)

My soul, draw breath: turn your inner ear away from the cacophony of voices which are calling you names, reminding you of weakness, folly, errors and failure. 

My soul, draw breath: turn your eye away from the list of things you ‘should’ be doing, the things that are ‘good and worthy’, the great towering mountain of expectations that you feel obliged to fulfil.

My soul, draw breath: your Lord is near, and while you deafen yourself by telling over the lists, you cannot hear him; while you fix your eyes on the expectations, you cannot see him.

My soul, draw breath: remember just how much has been done for you, in the name of love, and by whom. Remember that your smallness does not require you to work harder than ever to achieve and to succeed. Remember that your riches are inherited, not earned, and that the loving hand which gives so generously is your Father, not your employer. There are no conditions attached, only the invitation to respond in love and adoration.

My soul, draw breath: yes, there is so much that you do not understand and cannot bear to think about. But remember who holds those secret things in his keeping: He holds you too, as his beloved. In the closest places of his heart you are present and precious. Nothing happens to you beyond his knowledge, and the burdens belong to him, who alone is able to bear them in justice and holiness, doing all things well.

Almighty God, the secret things belong to you, and sometimes that great amount of unknown threatens to overwhelm me – both my immediate questions, and the wider ones affecting your people around the world. But one of the things revealed is your power in creation, and so much more than power; brilliance, artistry, wisdom, vastness, and majesty. You are the great artist, the ultimate maker, and I praise you today. Thank you for human artistry which can help me to take time to look, really stop and contemplate the beauty of the details as well as the big pictures. Thank you for those whose gifts of word, hand and tongue cast light on your creative genius and help me to see it afresh – to find rest in contemplation of your handiwork.

Thank you, that when I take time to receive from you the daily bounty of beauty, the love in every detail, I can live in gratitude and in expectation of what you are yet to do. Thank you that this contemplation restores my perspective, and I am reminded that my place is not to uncover every secret, but to live for you on the basis of what is revealed to me. The burden lifts, as I humble myself before my maker and accept my limitations.

Draw breath my soul: look, listen, and remember what is true. And then let your song rise to your Lord, as you rest in him today.