Category Archives: Humility

On being confused…

The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple…Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.

(Ps 119.130&133)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God..

(Matt 5.9)

Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men I will disown him before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth I did not come to bring peace, but a sword..Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me;…and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

(Matt 10.32-38)

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word..Therefore ..it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you..so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

(Luke 1.1-4)

..these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

(Jn 20.31)

Sometimes I wonder what it must be like to come to the gospel without any background understanding or knowledge; no preconceptions or expectations, no ingrained bias or barriers to understanding..perhaps no one comes this way, since everyone has consciously or unconsciously made some deductions about how life works and what – if anything it means. But still I wonder, struggling to read the four accounts of Jesus life and ministry without hearing again the interpretations of past teachers, and trying desperately to learn for myself from the written record.

As a christian, Jesus is not only my role model for life, but also the one who by his Spirit lives in me to make that new life possible and desirable. I know, because the bible tells me so, that as I dwell on him, worship and love him, so I am being transformed into his likeness, and that this is for my highest good. But if this is so, then why do I find his teaching so puzzling? So much seems obscure, depending on years of study and intimate knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures (OT) to be understood. Is it really meant to be so hard? Why do we hear of non-believers reading the gospel accounts and coming to faith, when I frequently come away bewildered and wondering what I ought to have learnt?

Perhaps I am simply intellectually too lazy to do the necessary work; perhaps my heritage does truly hinder me, as I am so accustomed to learning from the preacher, and not from personal bible study. But the fact remains that while I can read much of the scriptures to great personal benefit, finding encouragement and direction, when I come to the gospels, I am often baffled.

But I persevere, trusting that even what seem like superficial observations are worth making, and that in my own confusion, I might identify with Jesus’ disciples, who must often have wondered..Who is this man who first commends peacemakers, and then claims to have brought a sword to divide the closest families? Who is this man who shows love to the outcasts, and shockingly rebukes the religious leaders?

One thing is becoming very clear as I read in Matthew….Jesus polarises opinion, leaving no middle ground when it comes to our response. It is not possible to say, “Oh he was a good man, a great teacher”. His teachings are puzzling, challenging and disturbing. He speaks more about judgement and hell than anyone else in the bible. He claimed to be the Son of God, equally divine, with full authority over creation and the spirit world.

If I will not accept Jesus on his terms – as God; as the physical manifestation of the Almighty and Eternal Judge as well as the loving and redeeming Saviour; as the only true Lord of my life, before whom every other human tie or principal must submit; as the Sovereign whose ways are utterly beyond my finding out, and who must be trusted, not understood – then, I am rejecting him utterly, and in so doing, I am putting myself beyond the reach of God’s mercy. This was the tragedy of the Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ day, that the Messiah whom they longed for stood before them, but because he didn’t fit their theology and expectations, they rejected him with merciless fury, and stood thus condemned before God.

Jesus says, “Take me, and you find God. Reject me, and God will not know you.” He will not force anyone to accept him, but if – as he claims – he is the only true way by which I may find hope, home and healing in God, then I must and will persevere in my quest to know and love him as he is. May God grant us humility and understanding as we feed upon his word, and are transformed by the Word into His likeness.

Not tame…but good!

Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm…”Brace yourself..I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand…On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?..Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this…”

(Job 38.1-4,6&7,16-18)

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

(Ps 8.1)

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.

(Ps 19.1&2)

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see….By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

(Heb 11.1&3)

I do not see the point of so many things – slugs and midges, the common cold, why hair has to turn grey or fall out, hiccups and stinging jellyfish..I don’t understand so much of God’s ways in the world – tyrants, war and misery apparently unchecked, human morality veering ever further from God’s principles, God’s apparent inaction in the face of people rejecting and reviling him. And I also don’t understand beauty, the persistent presence of goodness, truth, kindness and selflessness in the midst of chaos, pain and darkness.

But Jesus never said we would understand – he reminded his disciples that their faith should be like that of little children, who depend implicitly upon those who have power to protect and provide for them. Our faith in God is not because we understand what he is doing right now, or can predict what he will do next – we are not qualified to participate in the divine work at that level! Ours is a humbler role – which presumably is why humanity as a whole rejects it, our pride rebels against things we cannot understand and (by implication) control.

By faith, we depend upon God to be true to himself – the character revealed in creation, in scriptures and uniquely in Jesus himself. We do not and should not try to comprehend him, but rather recognise the wild, glorious goodness and power revealed in the Maker of this incredible world; who yet is also the crushed and bleeding man upon the cross.

In his Narnia books, CS Lewis cautions us against trying to fit God into our own image and understanding, as through the character of the great lion Aslan, he reveals one who is good, and yet not tame, one before whom we will rightly fall in trembling worship only to find ourselves utterly secure and safe in his presence.

When I am overwhelmed by the weight of the world’s troubles, tempted to doubt and despair, feeling helpless and ashamed that I cannot see God’s transforming work and have no answers to give to those who mock my faith – then I focus on two things. Firstly on the marvellous universe in which we live – God’s magnificent challenge to Job brings me such fierce joy as I share some of my Creator’s delight in the mysteries of the physical world. Secondly on the cross – the place where almighty power appeared in absolute weakness and conquered sin and death for ever, where the wild, unimagineable power of my God was fully revealed.

Let me be content to be mocked by more sophisticated minds, as I choose to make this God my foundation for life and hope. Let me be steadfast in reverent worship of the one who called the morning stars into being, and who has walked the recesses of the ocean! Lord, let me have total confidence in you; for although your ways are wild and strange to me, yet I believe in your goodness, because of Calvary. How I long for the day when  your name will be vindicated before all people; when your justice will be celebrated not derided and when faith will no longer be needed, for we shall see and live with you for ever….come Lord, come soon!

When the world shrinks..

Yet I am always with you, you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

(Ps 73.23-26)

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 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 6.31-34)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God…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 can do all this through him who gives me strength.

(Phil 4 4-6,12&13)

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

(Jas 4.14&15)

One of the most interesting lessons to come out of these strange days when the entire world is almost ‘on hold’, is the sense of learning to live one day at a time. For many believers in the developing world, this is a reality which they have no trouble inhabiting, since poverty, climate change, war and other factors make each day a fight for survival. Their faith in the God who loves and sustains them is humbling, a quiet rebuke to those of us whose lives are clothed in (to them) unimagineable luxury and security, and whose faith is perhaps less vigorous as a result.

Do I really mean it when I sing with the psalmist that ‘earth has nothing I desire beside you?’. Am I really choosing to live each day as if it were my last, and I am mindful only to be glorifying and enjoying God?

All of us are facing a very real grief for aspects of our lives which have been lost in the current situation. I think it is important to recognise and allow this to happen – the important thing is to bring the grief to God and ask him to keep the wounds healthy and clean, free of resentment. We will not get these days back again – days which should have been spent with loved ones, getting to know new babies, saying farewell to the dying; days set aside to be holidays and festivals, celebrations and joyous experiences; days which should have been spent away from home pursuing particular interests, opportunities for service.

We have a choice, in our confined condition, as our world has shrunk to our four walls, our immediate neighbourhood, to a future void of plans and only the shadows of anticipated pleasures which will not now be ours. We can choose to accept that since God is sovereign, good and just, he knows and is control of all that is happening. He knows our grief and loss, but he also knows that we can cope with his help, and find contentment – trusting that even our wounds can be a blessing. Or we can choose to resent all that we have lost, to disbelieve God’s goodness and faithfulness, and infuse our mourning with bitterness and self-pity.

Heavenly Father, thank you that we can come to you in our grief for all the many things which are not to be ours after all; for the days which cannot be recovered and which we had anticipated with so much pleasure. Thank you that you know how we are made, and you understand the wounds we carry and the temptation to resent what you are permitting in these days, to wallow in self-pity and choose sullenness.

Lord, in your mercy help us to choose instead to delight in what you have given – to remember our riches in Christ first and foremost, but then also to see so many other good things which are ours. Help us to accept with humble and reverent hearts that your will is the best place for us, even though we may not understand it, and even as we grieve, may we do so in a way that glorifies you and honours you. In Jesus’ precious name we pray, Amen.

A turning of the tide..?

For our offences are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offences are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, fomenting oppression and revolt, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. So justice is driven back and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

(Isa 59.12-15)

Jesus replied:”‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

(Matt 22.37-40)

Jesus…said to them, “If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

(Jn 8.7)

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

(1 Jn 1.8)

Imagine…living in a society where no one assumed on the basis of a person’s colour that they were shiftless, dangerous, amoral or greedy.

Imagine…living in a society where the process of justice was applied fairly to everyone, regardless of their colour, background, education and wealth.

Imagine….living in a society where people were able to make fresh starts, to be forgiven and given grace to put the past behind them.

Imagine….living in a society where we could celebrate the marvellous things which make us different, because in every way they enrich us as a whole.

I believe in a kingdom where this kind of justice reigns; where this kind of love and forgiveness is available; where this kind of society can exist. And I recognise with deep sadness just how very far I am from being the kind of person who belongs in that kingdom – my place there is assured to me solely on the basis of Jesus’ sacrificial death on my behalf. I acknowledge with shame that I am part of a nation and culture whose wealth and privilege is built upon the suffering and exploitation of other human beings, and that those people have been ignored in our telling of history – it has not been true. Hypocrisy, greed, pragmatism and disdain for the image of God in our fellow human beings has been the characteristic of so much national and individual behaviour. And I have chosen to ignore the stories which tell the truth, in order to avoid being upset by it – where is my love for my neighbour, that I cling to my own comfort at the expense of their pain being prolonged and disregarded?

The sin of suspecting, mistreating and exploiting my neighbour must be recognised, called out for what it is, and repented of. I know that it may take me the rest of my life to root it out, but I also know and thank God that I may be forgiven for this sin too, and enabled to live differently in the future. Racist thoughts and actions are not beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness, and I believe that in my life – and perhaps at last in society at large – the tide may begin to turn and this gross offence against the image of God in each of his children will finally begin to be addressed.

I am not proud of the truth of my nation’s history in abusing my brothers and sisters around the world. But I am able to boast of a gospel which comes to each of us with hope for forgiveness and transformation, and which will bring God’s children from every nation, colour and tongue to worship at his throne one day.

I have been privileged to worship with fellow believers from Asia, Africa and Latin America, and to receive their loving welcome and hospitality to me, to be loved and to love in return. They choose to receive me as a sister, not to make assumptions about me based on my race – and I humbly thank them for not re-telling stories of exploitation and oppression, or assuming that I will behave in the same ways.

May I be quicker to listen, and slower to speak; eager to learn and less willing to teach; keen always to honour God by loving his children and by doing what is in my power to change my culture and see the values of God’s kingdom being lived out.

It’s not my job….

A discerning person keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth.

A person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way?

There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord

(Pr 17.24; 20.24)

Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come?..When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labour that is done on earth..then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.

(Eccl 8.7,16&17)

The arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear….Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?

(Isa 2.17&22)

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear..Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?….do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink, do not worry about it…your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well..

(Lk 12.22,25,29-31)

We are called to live in exceptional days, placed here for this time and purpose by God who holds all time and space in his hands and is at work to bring all things to their completion in Christ. The bible narrative encourages believers to continually consider what God has done, and to remember that all that happens is part of his great redemptive plan – each detail of our lives has a place, and in his hand nothing is wasted.

To me, the global experience of pandemic illness has been such a graphic demonstration of the truth which lies behind that instruction of Christ to his disciples – all our worrying achieves nothing, and our job is to trust God and instead look to our role in his work here and now. In the face of this ‘plague’, where governments, armies, wealth and privilege are powerless to  defeat an invisible enemy, we see most clearly that humanity is not in control, cannot be trusted for ultimate security, and must fail. We see our limitations written in the statistics of deaths, in the as yet unseen economic costs, the long term social costs, of this extraordinary time.

A discerning person looks to wisdom – which in the bible is described as the fear or proper respect of the Lord – rather than scanning all the range of human achievement in search of meaning and solutions. When we rightly fear God, recognising that we are mortal, limited and flawed while he is holy, almighty, just and good, then we regain some perspective on all that happens in the world. We STOP thinking that it is our job to fix things, or even to understand why they are happening. We ARE NOT GOD – and what a relief that is! When there is so much pain and suffering to be borne, who could be sufficient for this? Only the Lord Almighty, whose thoughts are emphatically not our thoughts, but whose love can be utterly depended upon.

So in these days, I rejoice that it is not my God-appointed task to find the reason for this pandemic – or any other source of suffering. I give thanks that I can trust God through all my unanswered questions, and instead ask what my job is. While mankind is not meant to know the answers to “Why?”, we are incredibly gifted in finding out “How?”, and so I give thanks and do what I can to support the efforts to address the consequences of the virus – in prayer, in financial and practical support, and by obeying the instructions of our own government.

I pray that God will be at work to fulfill his own mysterious purposes, and that along the way, we will see God’s love in action as people care for one another; as churches reach out in new ways to show Christ; as scientists race to find vaccines and medical professionals put their lives on the line to save others. God will do all that he plans through this great trial…will I do what he asks me to do?

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6.8)

In caring, praying, speaking and acting, may I do what the Lord requires of me in these days, and may I be given grace to let God be God, to leave the unanswered questions at the foot of the cross, where the blood of Christ silences them.

In Everything….Give thanks!

Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season.

(Ps 1.1-3)

“The Lord be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.” My tongue will proclaim your righteousness, your praises all day long.

(Ps 35.27&28)

When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.

(Ecc 7.14)

A wife of noble character who can find? she is worth far more than rubies…she is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

(Prov 31.1, 25&26)

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….I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

(Phil 4.12&13)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment…to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share..

(1Tim 6.17&18)

My circumstances may change, but the God in whom I trust remains the same, and his purposes are eternal. He delights in the well-being of his servants, and only he truly knows what that consists in – I cannot know, but  may choose to trust his wisdom and knowledge of all things. Other people may be trusted to do their best for me, but only God can be trusted to do what really IS best for me, every moment of every day for the rest of my life. Since this is so, I can also choose to give thanks in all circumstances, and to be content.

Perhaps when our lives are full of material blessings, we are sorely tempted to self-reliance, conceit and pride; to selfishness and indolence. In these circumstances, the danger is that our contentment develops into arrogance and we become distant from God. Here the wisdom of scripture teaches us to remember that all we have is a gift from God, certainly for our enjoyment, but also for use in his kingdom and the blessing of his children. We hold good things as stewards bear responsibility for another’s possessions, and we are accountable to the Lord of all for our use of his gifts.

It is imperative that we do not base our faith in God on the gifts we receive from him – or where should we be when troubles come and our gifts are gone? Our true security – the strength and dignity of the wise woman of Proverbs; the joy and peace of the Psalmist – come from the right-doing character of the unchanging God in whom they (and we) trust, revealed in his word and ultimately in Jesus Christ, the living Word.

When God chooses to bless me with health, how do I use it? When God chooses to bless me with wealth, how do I spend it? When God chooses that my loved ones should also enjoy these blessings, how do I pray for them?

I do not need to feel guilty when I am in pleasant pastures, and there are no storms on the horizon. But I must cultivate a spirit of humble gratitude, and open-hearted generosity, so that all the gifts entrusted to me are being used for God’s glory. I believe that for a mature follower of Jesus, the true enjoyment of God’s generous blessings is dependent upon this sacrificial attitude, this willingness to surrender all to God’s service. How is it possible to be glad in one’s own good things when others in the family of Christ are in need? Or to relish my own rich inheritance of faith when there are so many around me who know nothing of salvation and the free gift of forgiveness? I may not be in a position to make a big difference, but I can be willing to do my part!

So as well as thanking God for his many material and physical blessings, I thank him for a tender conscience, and the gift of wisdom to see that unless all these things are held by me on behalf of the body of Christ and for the mission of God, then they will be spoiled for me.

And I also choose to thank him for the overwhelming gifts of love which I receive every day – the personal touches from the Lover of my Soul, which are given to gladden my heart and strengthen my faith. They prompt me to praise, and encourage me in striving to live for Christ and with Christ.

In everything dear friends, let us rejoice in the Lord who does all things well!

Reality check..

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it only leads to evil.

(Ps 37.3-8)

Jesus said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

(Luke 9.22-26)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things…Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord..It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

(Col 3.1&2, 23&24)

It is terribly easy to fall into the habit of selective reading of scripture, picking out those passages which make us feel comfortable and good about ourselves, and losing sight of fundamental truths which present a challenge to our thinking and acting.

Psalm 37 makes us feel good; we think about how God will give us our heart’s desires, and vindicate our good name, and it is reassuring! And then, the Holy Spirit prompts a recollection that this would have been one of Jesus own songs, one of his prayers too…..what did it look like for this to be fulfilled for him? He was the only perfect human being who ever lived, and therefore surely his cause was righteous, his desires were fulfilled and his way vindicated by God?

Our Lord delighted in God the Father, we read so many times of his prioritising time alone to pray and of his speaking of his love and obedience to God. And what did God give Christ? Hardship, foolish and faithless followers, persecution, injustice and finally an agonising, humiliating death. Jesus committed his way to God the Father, from his earliest days he sought to be about his Father’s business and publicly declared that everything he said and did was as directed by God. And his righteousness was despised, his name was blackened, and he was condemned as a criminal.

He was still before his accusers, he waited patiently through the agony of crucifixion to accomplish his allotted task, to achieve his desired end; he refrained from anger, and prayed forgiveness for his persecuters. His road to glorious and absolute victory led through what looked like abject failure and defeat…and he calls me, he calls you to follow him.

Our victory is assured in Christ, we cannot fall out of God’s loving grasp; but even as we will share in his future glory, so we are called now to share in his path of obedient self-denial and submission. God calls me to follow Jesus in doing the hard things, the painful things, the lonely, secret and insignificant things which are involved in dying to myself – a sacrifice which is for God’s eyes only, not to make a public performance or to win human praise.

My heart’s desire may truly be for the glory of God and the building of his kingdom, but am I really prepared for what that will mean in my own life? Being a follower of Jesus is not meant to be easy, smooth and comfortable – his path was none of those things! All those things which self clings to as its right – health, security, family and a good name – are disposable in the will of God, and I must hold them lightly, ready to yield them up if necessary with an obedient and willing spirit.

May God in his grace grant me his strength to do the work of dying to myself, that I might live for Christ; may the vision of the glorious and risen One draw me on steadily through my own path of self-denial, keeping me steady and full of hope that even as I share his sufferings, so also I will share in his glory.

 

The mercy which is grace..

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

(1 Cor 15.9&10)

As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain

(2Cor 6.1)

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 each have different gifts according to the grace given us. 

(Rom 12.3&6)

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness..He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(2 Cor 11.30 & 12.9&10)

I have been thinking about how as redeemed, yet still imperfect, followers of Jesus, we are called to live with our own particular package of time, talents and opportunities. Being naturally of a pessimistic turn of mind, I concentrate too much on the things which I get wrong, the many ways I fail to live in a God-honouring way, hurting others and causing myself endless trouble. I am aware that this is in itself unhelpful, and makes me easy prey to the devil’s wiles.

There is perhaps an opposite danger, where a believer might be so confident in their salvation, presuming upon forgiveness, that they become insensitive to their sins and indolent in their service. So what resources are made available to us as believers in this “inbetween” period as we wait and work in our fallen world, with our frail bodies and still shadowed personalities? There are many possible answers, but grace seems to be the most common when the apostles are writing to exhort and encourage their new congregations.

We find the word ‘grace’ being used in two particular ways by the apostles. Firstly, in the sense that we have once and for all received grace in the gift of salvation – we are forgiven, justified, promised eternal life, and adoption into God’s family. Secondly, in the sense of a continual supply of something that we need just as much as we need the air we breathe and the food we eat – a daily necessity which makes life possible and even enjoyable. Our supply of the second depends upon the first – it is only grace-saved sinners who are promised daily-graces in this special way from God.

Each new day is a fresh opportunity for believers to serve and glorify God; and each day, in some way, we all fail to do this perfectly. This is where that daily grace is essential – the fresh forgiveness, the fresh encouragement, the renewed sense of God’s love for us and above all the reminder that our salvation is not dependent upon our performance as believers any more than it was upon our failures as sinners.

Only God can achieve all his purposes, in our lives, in the places where we live and work and witness. We are privileged to see sometimes that we have played a part in that work – but we must never think and act as if by our failures we have in any way made life difficult for God, or caused trouble that he had not expected. It is our stubborn, pervasive pride that makes us think that anything depended upon us, that we mattered in that sense. Only God is big enough to handle the complexities of life, and it should be a relief to us to surrender to his sovereignty and accept his gracious offer to be his partners in some small way.

Thanks be to our good and gracious God, who takes broken people and makes them whole, who weaves all their earnest yet clumsy efforts together into his own work to realise the coming of the kingdom of his son. May that daily grace which meets every need and covers every failure, be also the inspiration for our highest aspirations and most persevering labour, so that our God is glorified and in our weakness, seen to triumph all the more..

It’s not about the music….

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

(Romans 12.1&2)

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him. Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness. Tremble before him, all the earth!

(1 Chron 16.28-30)

But the Lord said to Samuel,..”The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

(1 Sam.16.7)

Jesus declared,…”a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

(Jn 4.23&24)

Worship….what does it look like in my life, to really ‘worship’? I believe that to worship anything is to give honour, to defer and make that object the grounds and goal of all one’s decision-making. It is to express humble adoration, to elevate the adored object and rejoice in being in a position to serve, to dedicate all that is best in myself, to the glorifying and blessing of that which I worship. A worshipper delights to be with others who share the same faith, but is also delighted to have solitary time to contemplate and dwell with the beloved.

The worshipper who is a follower of Jesus Christ, one who is – by faith in the redeeming power of his death – privileged to enter freely into the presence of Almighty God and to call him ‘Father’; that person has the joy of giving their adoration, service and  commitment to one who is utterly worthy. We need have no doubts about our God, our King, He is splendid in his holiness; glorious in his purity; faithful in his justice; and awesome in his grace.

Is the worship – the elevation of, the service to, the humble commitment and dedication of all that I am – of this God to be expressed only when I sing? Surely not! Music may form a very small part of my worship of God – for some people it may be more significant than others – but it cannot and must not be the only way in which we think of this word. My God sees my heart, sees my thoughts, and knows my secret desires and failings. This God is not taken in by the public face I may put on at church on a Sunday, not fooled by enthusiastic singing, or particularly delighted by ecstatic emotional experiences which can arise just as readily at a concert of secular music as in a church service of praise!

He sees my heart, weighs my motives, discerns my private rebellions and those things which I refuse to surrender to his will and purpose. It is here that my true worship begins, in the willed abandonment of any claims to self-government, in deliberate aligning of my own thinking to his law and his truth. True worship, stems from the prostration of my spirit at the cross and results in a life which – in every aspect – is at his command.

I am only too well aware of the extent to which I fall short of this true worship. And I am thankful for this awareness, because it keeps me from the dangers of pride or boasting, or of judging others. I am completely dependent on his loving forgiveness, and daily grace for the small measure of obedience and worship which I am able to render. Praise him for his fathomless mercy and love towards his wayward children, whom he is tenderly leading home!

 

Worshipping God faithfully requires that I remember that I am not my own, but His; bought with a price and for a purpose. My body, intellect, emotions and will are gifts, and I am accountable to God for the use I make of them. True worship requires that I steward these resources according to His will and for His glory – pursuing holiness, selflessness, a proper appreciation of all His gifts. I must continually be asking – why am I doing this, does it glorify God, build up His church, proclaim His love and mercy?

Joyful, faithful, humble stewardship – this is my worship.

Accepting my limitations

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.     “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, ” declares the Lord.

(Isaiah 55.6-8)

Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted…Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know….My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.

(Job 42. 1-6)

Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

(Habbakuk 3. 17&18)

Has it ever struck you that many of the stories contained in the biblical narrative are of people in really horrid situations? The bible is not shy of confronting us with the brutal realities of life – war, torture and destruction; famine and starvation; murder, rape, abuse, enslavement and humiliation inflicted by one human being on another; abuse of power and status – and we recognise them all around us today.

Why are the stories there? It is not because in every case, God intervened to make everything right again and to create some fluffy happy endings. There are individual examples of particular provision, miraculous escapes, healings and even resurrections, but they are the exceptions not the rule. Why?

I believe that one of the main reasons we have these stories, is to help us to face our own realities with faith – not in a God who makes everything ok at once, or even in our own lifetimes; but a God who is big enough to see from beginning to end, to see the roots of the trouble and to be willing to deal with it. This is what the bible narrative reveals – a God who never gives up. Many generations of Israelites died in abject slavery in Egypt before Moses arrived to lead them out. Countless, nameless thousands died over the centuries in wars and famines, just so much collateral damage in the power games of nations.

And yet, we have the testimony of prophets like Zechariah, that in the midst of the apparent chaos, lawlessness and despair, God is not absent, that he is and is good, and that justice, healing and wholeness will come. We have the examples not only of the psalmists, but also men like Job, who when things appeared to have gone hopelessly wrong and God was surely absent or even powerless, chose to respond by passionately appealing to him for justice, and lamenting their wrongs.

We don’t need to have faith in something when we can see and understand how it works, we need faith when there is a mystery, when we cannot make sense of what is going on. The stories of the bible show us what such faith looks like – the faith that says with Habakkuk that we will rejoice in the God who is our Saviour even though there is no sign of his salvation.

In our time, the pride of man in his achievements has made it hard to accept that anything can or should remain mysterious, and it is common for people to use the mystery of suffering as a condemnation of a just and loving God. But, as Job learned, who are we to put the creator upon the stand and accuse him of being inscrutable? Am I willing to accept that God is beyond my understanding, with all that implies? Indeed God has revealed himself to us in Christ Jesus, and there we see love and purity and so many of the wonderful characteristics of God. But surely it is only to be expected that a God who can create on the scales that we now perceive, a God who is outside time and space, must be utterly other than we can comprehend?

In the face of suffering and evil in all its dreadful manifestations, as the hand of God in judgement is still withheld and creation groans, I have a daily choice. Either I allow the inexplicable darkness to poison my mind and spirit, and bitterly reject any notion of a sovereign and good God; or I turn to him in faith, in that trust which says, “I cannot begin to understand this Lord, but I see your love laid bare upon the Cross of Christ; I see there the pain that this darkness causes you, and I will choose to believe that none of it is wasted, and that you know what you are doing. You will not delay a moment longer than you need, and in the end, the judge of all the earth will surely do right!”