Category Archives: friendship

The gift of presence

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

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

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

(Ps 31. 19,20&24)

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

(Jn 1.14&18)

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will with them and be their God.”

(Rev 21.2&3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Broad and strong, warm and sheltering…wings

May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.

(Ruth 2.12)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

(Ps 91.1-4)

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms…so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ…..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.

(1 Pet 4.10&11, 5.6&7)

While there are no perfect people in the bible – apart from our Lord Jesus – there are many whose lives are recorded so that we might catch glimpses of how God works through fallibility and frailty to achieve his sovereign purposes and to bless his children. This week I returned to one of the loveliest of these tales, known as the book of Ruth but which might justifiably also be called the story of Boaz, or of Naomi! It is a small-scale drama, and yet in God’s providence these three lives are woven into the great narrative which will in due time arrive at the Messiah. It speaks powerfully to me of the way that our wonderful God knows each of his children, working our own good into his own over-arching will, encouraging me that I do well to focus on obeying him and humbly handing over my own cares for him to handle.

Ruth has embraced the faith of her mother-in-law, and lives this out by returning with her to a land where she is a vulnerable widow with no prospects, except as the God who she now worships may provide. Ruth is loyal to her relative, and puts her own strength at Naomi’s service, labouring hard to provide for them both – and it is God who leads her into the fields of a godly man, Boaz. She demonstrates exactly what Peter is talking about in his letter – humbly trust God, and then work hard with the gifts and opportunities you have been given.

Through Boaz, God will work to provide not only for the immediate but also the long-term future of this young woman and her relative – but Boaz himself will find great blessing through the connection, as he puts his social position, wealth and authority at Ruth’s disposal as her husband and the guardian-redeemer of the family. In this sense, we might say that Boaz became the answer to his own prayer for Ruth (the opening quote of this blog), that she might be richly rewarded by the God to whom she entrusted herself!

I rejoice to know that the Almighty Sovereign and Holy God, whose power in creation is revealed to be so far beyond my imagination, is also the tender and strong one who calls me to take shelter – like Ruth – under his protection. His eye is on an incredible eternal plan for glory, but amazingly, is also upon me. Not one detail of my life as his beloved child is beneath his notice – and he is able to weave together the tiny details of my circumstances into the majestic work of redemption and new creation.

Not only this, but he also gifts me the opportunity to be an active part of this dual narrative – I am privileged to use the gifts and opportunities he gives in order to further his work in the lives of others. I am also one whose needs may be met by others as God directs and provides for me – if I will be humble and honest enough to allow them to care for me.

A friend recently shared a song which included these lines, and I share them here as a beautiful expression of the way that God often shelters and cares for his children as they obey him in putting their gifts at the disposal of their fellow believers – as we are his wings…

Brother, sister, let me serve you; let me be as Christ to you; pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey and companions on the road; we are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.

[R.A.M. Gillard: 1953-]

Great riches..

He who covers over an offence promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends….A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity.

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

(Prov 17.9&17; 27.5&6)

Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love…

“Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

(Jn 13.1;15.13&14)

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)

One of the areas of our lives where we must be on guard against the foolishness of the world around us is in how we think about friendship…the word in our culture is not a strong one, and the emphasis on romantic and sexual love in our society has the effect of trivialising and devaluing the friendships which we may enjoy.

The bible makes no such mistake, although it celebrates the gift of sex as part of God’s good plan for his creation. Instead, we find celebrations of friendship, of the love which may exist between two people based on their common interests and missions. The deep love between David and Jonathon was part of God’s work in preserving the line of the future Messiah, as was the faithful commitment of Ruth to her mother-in-law which drew the young Moabitess into the line of promise so that her child was David’s grandfather. Above all, we see Jesus living and working with imperfect people, loving them and calling them his friends. He opened his heart to them, even though they so often failed to understand and would ultimately abandon him.

In my own life, the friends who have walked through life with me – some for many years – are incredibly precious because they see me and love me for who I am, and speak truth to me out of love. I have received rebuke, encouragement, advice and wisdom; I have laughed and cried with them; I have shared my passions with them, and pursued common goals with them. In our friendships, God gives us such great riches of emotional satisfaction, meeting so many needs through these fellow-pilgrims, broken as they are like me by their sin. They have modelled Christ to me, and helped me to learn to model him to others in compassion, patience and forgiveness.

The gift of marriage is not given to everyone, and even those who have received it know that their spouse may well die before them, returning them to a single life. Before marriage (if it is given), throughout it and afterwards, friends are essential to our thriving as human beings. The bible teaches clearly that no one person can meet all our needs – we are formed by God and ultimately satisfied only in him – but also that God gives good gifts to his children, and that friendship is one such. Our spouse cannot fulfill every need, nor should we burden them with that expectation. Our friends cannot fulfill every need – no matter how many we have. But under God’s grace, as we invest in these relationships wisely, we may be kept in the faith, sustained for our mission, and used to bless others.

As I thank God for my friends – old and new – I also ask his help in being a true friend. I seek to love as Jesus did, putting the needs of others before my own. I seek to forgive as God has forgiven, and keeps forgiving me. I ask God’s help to be a responsible friend, refraining from gossip and unhelpful interference. I pray that I might have wisdom to know when to speak in love, when to share my fears about a course of action or decision. I pray that I might be sensitive to respond to the prompting of God’s spirit, so that he can use me to encourage, reassure or comfort his children. I pray that I might have a few trustworthy friends with whom I may be completely honest, and that I might be such a friend.

Above all, I thank God that in Christ, I find my truest friend, and pray that in all I do, I might honour and glorify him.