Category Archives: honesty

Finding my voice…telling his truth

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures for ever..

to him who alone does great wonders, His love endures for ever..

to him who led his people through the desert, His love endures for ever…

and gave their land as an inheritance, His love endures for ever…

to the One who remembered us in our low estate, His love endures for ever….

and freed us from our enemies, His love endures for ever…

Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures for ever.

(Ps 136.1,4,16,21,23&24,26)

You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.

(Jos 23.14)

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

(Rom 1.16&17)

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

(2 Cor 1.20-22)

We were challenged at bible study recently to consider how we might answer someone who asked, ‘What have you gained since coming to know Jesus Christ?’

I didn’t find it easy to answer, and I think there are a number of reasons for that. The first one, and perhaps the most significant, is that I have been a follower of Jesus virtually all my life, having grown up in a genuine Christian home, and made a commitment early in my teens. I simply have no ‘before-and after’ experiences by which to assess the difference which knowing Jesus as Lord has made. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must feel like to try and live without him. 

Another reason is that I think as Christians, we are so determined not to get full of ourselves, but to remain aware of what Jesus did for us on the Cross – as sinners, we had to be died for – that we struggle to articulate benefits of faith beyond forgiveneness! Of course, that is important, but if we are trying to witness to our faith to people who barely believe in sin, then forgiveness isn’t an easy thing to start with.

As we go on in our lives as Jesus followers, we often find ourselves becoming ever more aware of residual sins, pet habits which we cherish, or weaknesses which we abhor but cannot overcome yet. These things rightly loom large, because they show us how we still grieve the Lord whom we love and truly desire to honour. But in witnessing to non-believers, is this a place to start? How many of those around you will be impressed with your faith if it appears to drive you to continually bemoan and wrestle with faults which they regard as ‘natural’ and unimportant, and certainly not worth making life a misery over!

I want to be able to say, with Paul, that I am not ashamed of the gospel and yet I know that all too often I don’t take opportunities to boast about my Lord. I am praying – and would encourage you to pray too – that He will prompt us to see more clearly all the good things which we have as believers, things which our world badly needs and desires, so that we might make others want to come and find out more about Jesus.

Heavenly Father, I want to thank and praise you for all the many good things which I have because I am your child. I have significance, and an identity which cannot be taken from me – I am your beloved daughter, a royal princess, and priest in your name. I have a purpose, and the ability to fulfil that purpose, because you will enable me to do the job which is appointed to me in being part of building your kingdom – whether like Tabitha it is small, quiet acts of kindness, or like Peter in teaching and leading your people. I have a security which nothing in life or all creation can take from me, which allows me to face life with peace, and to give it up with anticipation.

Let my words as well as my deeds speak of your goodness, power and love, so that others may see and hunger after Christ, and in finding him, may find life, Amen.

 

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.

Trusted to be truthful..

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

(Job 27.1-6)

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

(Ps 34.11-15)

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

(2Cor 1.8-10, 12)

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

(Phil 2.12)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making it real..

In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind…. to God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his… To him belong strength and victory;.. He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings deep shadows into the light. He makes nations great, and destroys them;… He deprives the leaders of the earth of their reason; he sends them wandering through a trackless waste. They grope in darkness with no light; he makes them stagger like drunkards. My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it.

(Job 12.10,13,16, 22-25)

“This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of… For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name…, though you do not acknowledge me… I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things… This is what the Lord says – the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshalled their starry hosts. I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness….

(Isa 45.1,4,7,11-13)

Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

(Ac 2.22-24)

The King has come. The new kingdom has been birthed in the lives of those who confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, and their loyalty is now to him. But is it?

When the state of our world, or the state of our neighbourhood, fills us with sadness and threatens to flood our hearts with fear for the future of our children; when long cherished plans and hopes for our lives or those of our loved ones are shattered and we are tempted to despair instead of to hope; when our situation seems utterly futile, and existence seems pointless… what does it look like in these circumstances to live as loyal subjects of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?

Friends, this is something I find to be a constant challenge, and I am thankful for my heavenly Father’s patience and gentleness with me as I fail time and again. I will worry; I will find myself doubting that God will get it right, and that what He is permitting in our world just now can possibly be good and right when so much pain is involved for so many. I am indebted to the Canadian writer, Ann Voskamp for the most recent reminder that when I choose to let my thoughts run down this path of worry and doubt, I am dethroning Jesus and putting myself back onto the throne. 

The message of the Hebrew Scriptures, the gospels, Acts and all the letters (and especially of Revelation) is absolutely consistent. God is in charge; God is good and just, powerful and righteous; God can be trusted to keep His word. But, God is capable of doing the utterly unexpected, we cannot and must not try to constrain his actions  – the recognition of the heathen Cyrus, King of the Persian empire, as God’s agent to fulfill the divine plans must have caused consternation in Isaiah’s audience!

So what should I do next time the news in the papers, or the message from a friend threatens to send me down the well-trodden path of worry, fear and doubt? I take those thoughts captive; I recognise that I am on the top of a familiar slippery slope and choose to step back! The power to do this will come only as I depend by faith on God, asking his help to honour his name in my life – honouring him by choosing to trust and giving him the glory in the midst of what I do not understand.

And when God’s will seems most incomprehensible, I will remember what Peter told the crowds in Jerusalem at Pentecost, will remember that God purposed to bring the greatest good out of their greatest act of betrayal and rebellion. My God is so much greater than I can possibly understand, and he is in the business of turning darkness into light, death into life, and mortal into immortality.  I will keep on crowning him King, and choosing trust.

King of my life, I crown thee now – thine shall the glory be; Lest I forget thy thorn-crowned brow, lead me to Calvary.

Lest I forget Gethsemane, Lest I forget thine agony, Lest I forget thy love to me, Lead me to Calvary

(JE Hussey 1874-1958)

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.

What gets my ‘thumbs up’?…

Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees. with my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statues as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.

(Ps 119.12-16)

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else and not your own lips….As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart….The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but people are tested by their praise.

(Pr 27. 2,19&21)

These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…

(Isa 29.13)

..store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also….No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

(Matt 6.19-21,24)

We know – because we are continually being told – that the great internet companies succeed in part through their ability to gather information about us, their customers. This enables them to target what we see every time we engage with our social media – stimulating our desires and generating (as they hope) more spending to keep the great money machine ticking over. By diligent monitoring of our habits, viewing activities, previous purchasing and ‘likes’, they build up a picture of what we are like, of our preferences, even our likely political opinions. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to see the ‘profile’ created for me by these companies, would I recognise myself? Would I see anything that would suggest that I am – as Christ instructed me – laying up treasures for myself in heaven?

It is relatively easy, when in the company of other believers, to say the ‘right’ things and give an impression of devotion and commitment to Jesus, but the Lord sees my heart and knows just how far those verbal affirmations go in telling the truth about me… He knows what really makes me glad, or sad. He sees when I am bored of being holy and instead choose self-indulgence, laziness and conformity to the society around me. Who am I trying to fool when I make the right noises, but live a lie? Shame on me, if I am trying to fool my fellow believers – surely it were better that I admit my struggles to remain faithful, and ask for the help of my sisters and brothers in Christ?

The choices I make, in doing and spending, in speaking and remaining silent, all add up to a clear picture about what really motivates me in daily living. As a new creature in Jesus, forgiven and transformed by the indwelling of his Spirit, the potential to be driven by love for my Lord and a desire for his glory is already in me. Do I choose to harness that potential, to ask for his help in setting my heart on heavenly treasures? Sometimes I do, and sometimes, I don’t have to ask! Just occasionally, I am blessed by the realisation that Christ is indeed at work in me, and the desires of my heart – the things that I value and praise – are the things of God, of eternal value, the glory of the Saviour himself. Thank God for such occasions in your life, for the encouragement they give to your perseverance and the testimony to his power at work in you.

The transformation of our characters into the likeness of Jesus doesn’t lead to a bland, half-lived life. Rather we enter into a fuller life, because our passions are now godly and can be expressed strongly and safely, they are all under his command and direction. We learn to love justice as he does – so we can be rightly angered by injustice, oppression and exploitation. We learn to see his power in creation, to realise the privilege of sharing in stewardship of this great gift, and so we can be passionate about looking after our planet, its ecosystems, and all the people whom God loves so much that Jesus died for them. We know the value of each human life, so we can be passionately interested in our neighbours, in what is good for them and our wider communities – we learn to love as God loves, appreciating each individual in all their unique glory. We see the devastating effects of sin, throughout creation, and so we long passionately to share the good news of Jesus and the defeat of evil which he achieved.

Our Father in heaven, stir up in our hearts all those desires for heavenly treasure which you have imparted to us. May we burn more steadily and more brightly for you, so that it is clear for all to see just where our hearts are. We pray this for the glory of Jesus our Lord, and for your work in the world. Amen

When there seems no way out of the woods..

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you….I am God and there is none like me..I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do as I please.

(Isa 46.3,4, 9&10)

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…

(2 Cor 4.7-9)

..rejoice in the Lord..whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ..I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me..our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body…

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received from me, or seen in me – put it into practice…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

(Phil 3.1,7,14,20-21; 4.6-9,12&13)

The words spoken by Isaiah from the Lord came to a people who were on the edge of catastrophe, of military defeat and exile, from which many would never return. They were likely to spend the remainder of their lives under alien rule, far from the temple and all they knew of comfort and familiar ways. To these people, God speaks of his faithfulness, making no exceptions regarding their future place of residence or the impossibility of carrying on temple worship in Babylon.

Their departure from the land was entirely within God’s purpose, the Babylonian invasion would not take him by surprise, any more than the circumstances of our lives do. When believers find themselves called to hard places, we have this precedent to which we can turn, seeing God declaring his commitment to his children as they live in hard places, deprived of much which others take for granted, and consequently finding life a struggle.

I do not in any way intend to make light of the dreadful conditions in which many live, poverty, political and social persecution, violence and pain, the realities of disease and disability, of mental illness and abuse. But I do believe that the bible refuses us permission to treat these things as beyond God’s knowledge. We cannot understand why these things are permitted but we can know that we are never out of His sight or forgotten by His love.

Some are called to situations which – humanly speaking – are unlikely to change for the duration of their natural lives; always walking in what can feel like thick woodland, sometimes a very dark and frightening place, with little light upon the way, and no mountain top from which to see a clear path ahead. Each day can be a huge struggle, and the temptation to despair is real. The snare of comparison with others more fortunate than ourselves is equally fatal to our perseverance and joy, and for this reason it is good to remember Paul’s words to his churches as he exhorts them to persevere and find contentment through trials and uncertainty.

The only comparison Paul makes is between the trials which he is facing, and the glorious inheritance which is guaranteed to him by Jesus. He looks not to the relative ease and prosperity of other Roman citizens, but to the inexhaustible grace of God, to the goodness and beauty revealed in salvation and shining from Jesus to enlighten us. The ultimate in noble and good things to contemplate in our darkness, when the wood seems never-ending and our courage fails us, the Lord Jesus is within us by his Spirit, and therefore, we cannot be lost.

My path may be harder than I had hoped, but if it is the one to which I am called, then I can expect and  thankfully depend upon the sustaining of the God who put me here. I can trust in his power to provide each day’s resources, and can fully empty my load of care at his feet as often as necessary. It is his desire that I glorify him in my dark wood;  surely he will then provide me with all I need in order to prove him faithful.

When everything else has fallen away..

O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief…The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed.

I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly, O Lord, my spirit fails.

Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.

Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord, for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.

(Ps 143.1, 2-10)

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. about the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

(Matt 27.45&46)

As followers of Jesus, we live with a continual tension between the reality of a broken, and pain-filled world, and the revelation of God’s loving purposes for his creation. This is not the place to unpack the many discussions which can arise, rather I have been considering how we can pray for one another when the crises come. To be a Christian is not a recipe for a protected, pain free existence, and anyone who tries to convince others that the gospel brings health, wealth and happiness is to be rebuked and avoided at all costs. We will face suffering, even as every human being does.

Every trial known to humanity happens to believers too – rape, abuse, violent assault, homelessness, cancer, addiction, debilitating and degenerative diseases, disability, poverty, war, earthquakes and all natural disasters. How may we pray for one another when our lives are shaken to their foundations, when all the walls collapse and in an instant, we are naked to the winds and vulnerable to utter destruction? This is intercession, the ministry of other members of Christ’s body for those who are stunned and reeling, unable to pray for themselves, possibly running away from God, certainly in great agony of spirit.  We may be called to it for hours, days or years, and we may not see the answers we hope for – our own faith may be challenged. Are we willing?

We can pray for protection of their faith – that they will continue to bring all to God, not turn away from him. He is big enough to take all our frantic furious words and his fathomless love refuses to walk away from his hurting children. We can pray that their anger will be poured out before him, so that their spirit may be preserved from the infection of bitterness and the petrifying power of resentment. The psalmists give shape to such lament, as do Job and the prophets.

We can pray for that steadying and grounding which guards against drastic and desperate action, for wisdom to hold through confusion and the turmoil of grief. The presence of compassion and practical support, of burden-sharers, and those who can advise and bring comfort by their presence. Perhaps we ourselves may have a part to play in this. How often Paul speaks in his letters of the comfort which friends brought – by their gifts and their companionship – as God’s support to him in his need.

We can pray for for freedom from paralysing fear as they contemplate a future which they hoped never to see. How many of us deliberately contemplate what life might look like if disaster struck? We don’t, we focus instead on enjoying what we have and easily forget that life can change in an instant. A beloved may walk out of the house, and out of our lives with no warning, and how shall we live without them? A diagnosis may come which shifts life into an endurance event, full of obstacles, and pain. We don’t want to anticipate these things, but they are the stuff of real and daily life. How much we need God’s help in living through those situations, in dealing with the fear of suffering, of loss, of death.

Above all, we pray for mercy from the Omnipotent on the dust-creature whom he loves, and who is at this time flat out in stunned despair and hopelessness. Tomorrow, it could be my turn, or yours. We live, day by day depending entirely on God’s providence, and by grace we cry to him as Father for his presence. We have his love, an eternal inheritance, a daily indwelling strength by his Holy Spirit, and although we may feel abandoned, we can give thanks that we are never truly alone. Because Jesus was forsaken, we are not..

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matt 28.18&20)

This I do know..

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.

(Ps 27.4-6)

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?..But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matt 6.27,33&34)

God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun..

So what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen?

(Rom 8.29-33, The Message)

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. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. 

(2 Cor 4.16-18)

What does it mean, to love God? Is it about feelings? Is it a continual state of joy, an endless experience of peace?

I would counter with another question…what does it mean to love another person? I think it means to seek what is best for them, whatever that may look like. Love is what prompts a parent to release their children into the world, into independence and adulthood, having spent years caring for them. Love is what prompts a spouse to go on forgiving their partner, to go on asking forgiveness, to go on trying to be more gentle, understanding, supportive – it is love which seeks to see the other thrive, whatever it takes. Love for the other is what can drive us to become better people – for their sake we tackle the weaknesses and failings which cause them so much trouble. The care-free young adult, on becoming a parent may find stores of patience, determination, and self-sacrificial commitment which transform them, all for the sake of the infant committed to their care.

So when I am tormented by the enemy of God’s people about my own feeble commitment to Jesus, when I am reminded of my ongoing sin, continued failures, the weaknesses which injure others and undermine my witness, I hold on to this thing that I know..I hold on to the truth about love…it’s not about my feelings, but about my motivation and actions. What drives me, what grieves me, what do I hunger for?

The answer to those questions is – as truthfully as I can tell it – that I long, like the psalmist, to dwell in God’s presence, to see his face and be worthy to be there with him. I remind myself that God’s own Son was willing, out of love,  to die for me – I matter that much to him, and in that death, my sin is dealt with once and for all. It cannot be used to drive me away from him, but only towards him in dependence on that full forgiveness. He knows how bitterly I grieve for my own sin, for the ways I fall short of righteousness and holiness….and he hasn’t given up on me. He knows I hunger to be more steadfast, eloquent, fruitful, Christ-like …..and he hasn’t given up on me. He knows how easily I am swayed by self-pity and general self-centredness…..and he hasn’t given up on me.

How glorious is this reassurance to all those – like me – who are making their way steadily, but full of self-doubt, along the road to our eternal home! God is going to finish what he started, and that heart-hunger to give him joy is his gift of reassurance, that I am on the right road. I may not feel joyful or victorious, powerful or holy – so what! I KNOW that God has saved and forgiven me, loves me, and is ALWAYS at work in me by his Spirit to realise the likeness of his beloved son, my saviour, Jesus.

Whose church is it anyway?..

I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace..Keep watch over yourselves..Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood..

(Acts 20.24&28)

For [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

(Col 1.13-20)

To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you form him who is, and who was, and who is to come…and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

(Rev 1.4-6)

It may seem an odd question, but the implications are far-reaching..

If it is the church of Jesus Christ – expressed through all the multi-faceted organisations which now exist across the globe under that single word’church’ – then I need not be too parochial in my concerns, not worried about the fact that another fellowship in my neighbourhood is experiencing a season of growth and deepening faith. Rather, I rejoice with my neighbour that the kingdom of God is growing, and the church of Christ is a living and loving presence in my community. I will resist being bound by denominational boundaries, and see only a place where Jesus is worshipped as Lord, where his people seek his face.

If it is the church of Jesus Christ – albeit expressed through human institutions of varied size and traditions – then I will be at home with my brothers and sisters wherever and however we meet, because in every case we are celebrating our membership of the family of God, and pursuing a deeper and purer relationship with our Lord Jesus. 

If it is the church of Jesus Christ, then it exists to carry out his will, to express his love to the world which needs him so badly, and to care in his name for the people to whom we are sent. As ‘church’, we exist primarily to enable one another to serve in his name, for his glory and for the saving of souls into his kingdom. 

If it is the church of Jesus Christ – and not a social club which exists to provide comfort and familiar rituals for a small group who like a particular pattern for their meeting together – then the driving force behind our gatherings is to see his face, to hear his voice; to repent together and individually of sin, to rejoice in our forgiveness, and to systematically let go of all the things which hinder us from obedience to his will.

The great voice which summoned the apostle John at the beginning of the book of Revelation gave him words to the seven churches, and in every case said: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Are we listening? What is the Spirit saying to us today? Or are we so used to our own idea of what church is about, and who it  belongs to, that we are deaf to the voice of him who died to redeem to himself a people, to call into being a church?

Am I really saying to the First and the Last, the Living One who was dead and is now alive for ever and ever, “Lord, I don’t think you are right about this, I like ‘my’ church the way it is”? 

At the very beginning, God’s chosen people decided that they knew, better than God did, just what was good for them, so they took it. What are we, as the church of Christ doing today? Will we humble ourselves, repent of our adherence to tradition, comfort and self-serving; our fondness for status and social acceptability; and ask Jesus to breathe new life into our moribund churches so that we begin to resemble our Lord and Saviour – the fearless one, the one who welcomed all comers, the one who had no time for empty rituals and salvation by merit?

Son of God, whose eyes like blazing fire see all things, uncover my false thinking about your church, and humble me to seek your face. Teach me to follow you, not my tradition; to love you, not my habits of worship; to live for your glory, not my own comfort. Spirit of the Living God, speak, and let me hear…