Category Archives: loss

Worth losing?

Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is  more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…

(Philippians 3.7&8)

A picture of a cake.. which may seem odd given the text I have quoted above, but there is a connection! The cake was inspired by one made by a very good and generous friend when I last visited her, and so represents hospitality, love, years of friendship and support – as well as a celebration of our time together. Most of us have many such reasons for celebration – in our spouses and families, our health, our friends and the many good things which God lavishly bestows on us daily. It is always good to give thanks for such gifts, lest we begin to take them for granted and fail to appreciate them.

But if we are to follow the apostle Paul in the particular part of this letter to the young church in Philippi, he is arguing that all the good things he has received in his life are worth giving up without a second thought, if by that means he might grow in his union with his beloved Lord Jesus. This is a challenge which I think we spend our lives working out in practice, as we experience gains and losses, and watch others struggling to cope with their own griefs. It is one thing to say boldly, that ‘Christ is enough for me’, but quite another to put that into daily action, when facing the loss to death of a beloved husband or wife, or the brutal impact of disease or injury upon our own bodies and our capacity for independent living.

The great Scottish preacher and letter writer, Samuel Rutherford spent prolonged spells in exile from his parish, closely confined, unable to receive visitors and forbidden to preach. His writings from that time speak of his grief at these losses, but also breathe his sweet delight in the presence of his Saviour, and his satisfaction in considering the loveliness of Christ. Rutherford learnt to say with Paul that so long as he had Christ, he would be content.

Do I live in such a way that I am not looking to any human being for fulfillment of my deepest needs? Am I so aware that every day, every breath, is a gift from God, that I would be able to give up physical health and freedom if He required them of me? These are very hard questions, and I am glad that we are not allowed to see our future days, not to know what sacrifices we will be called to make until the time comes. It is not for me to worry about how I might cope if these things happened to me, but rather to focus here and now on living ever closer to my Lord, and trusting that he will be sufficient for me when the day comes. We are not called to deal in advance with such burdens, but to carry those of today with as much grace and cheerfulness as we can.

If I can learn to hold all my daily blessings on an open hand, as one offering them back to the giver, then I will not depend on them for my fulfillment and contentment. This certainly does not mean that I fail to appreciate these good things, that would be to waste the gifts of my loving Father! Rather it means that I must learn to look more and more through the gifts to the giver, to see that in them, I receive his love, perceive his greatness and the unfathomable beauty of his character.

God must become more and more the centre of my life. Jesus is the lover of my soul, my heavenly bridegroom, my redeemer and friend. All the human relationships which enrich my life are simply pale imitations of the richest relationship of all – between the church and her head, Christ, who loved her so much that he gave up his life for her.

I believe that when God calls me to let something precious go – as when my parents died some years ago – he is calling me into a closer relationship and satisfaction with himself. In God, I find the truest father and mother-love, meeting those deep needs which my human parents could never touch. I can give thanks for all they were and did, and rejoice that now they are with the Lord whom they loved. But I need not fret for myself, because my God knows and meets my longings to be loved as a child again.

He is so gracious, so gentle, so compassionate.. Let us cling ever closer to him, and be content with whatever is left to us so long as we have Christ as our own!

On saying farewells

My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the good news about the wonderful grace of God.

So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood.

And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.

(Acts 20. 24,28,32)

Last weekend, we said farewell to our congregation here in the city, and there was so much to be thankful for and to rejoice in. Our church family are generous, open-hearted, willing to try new things, and over the years we have seen so many grow in their faith as the word preached bears fruit in their hearts. Financially, spiritually, and in the quality of the facilities available in the church building, they are in good heart, and will present an attractive package to any prospective new minister.

But before that new appointment can be made, they have to let us go, to make the break in their minds from a leader and pastor who has been there for 22 years, and to search and wait together for the person whom God has already planned and identified. They are indeed a little like sheep without a shepherd, afraid and uncertain, and there were many tearful hugs. I was reminded of the passage in Acts which records the final exhortation by Paul to his friends in the church in Ephesus, from which these verses come.

His words express our own situation so clearly, and I have found myself saying similar things time and again as our departure draws closer and I have more people to say goodbye to. It is very encouraging to see that my own thoughts have at least in some degree been the same as those of the great apostle himself – God is slowly but surely shaping my thoughts and words to do honour to him!

It is often only when saying goodbye that the depth of our affection for one another becomes evident, and all at once it becomes important that we say something significant and of long-lasting value. Often it is a person’s last words to us which remain in our minds with greatest force, colouring our thoughts and memories. So it is that I have found myself following Paul’s example, trying to make the most of that opportunity to encourage and build up.

As Paul affirms his allegiance to Christ and submission to God’s will, so I have time and again found myself explaining our call to our new church in terms of an order which it is both my duty and my delight to obey. To remain with those who love us would be easy, but disobedient, and would not result in blessing for any of us. To go, to bear the very real costs of upheaval and loss, is the only real option for a true disciple. To trust, that God who has called will provide both for our needs and those of the flock we leave behind, is our calling and God’s grace will be sufficient for us all.

As Paul exhorts his friends and fellow believers to fulfill their own calling, to obey in the place where God has put them for the present, so I have encouraged our church family to pursue God’s will for them in this place, not to drift away because we are no longer here. While they are still part of this church family, they can be good for one another, can love and work together to reach out with the good news of the gospel, even as we will be doing in our new place.

And finally, even as Paul did, I have commended my dear church family, the ones who helped me raise my children, who have loved me through the loss of both my parents, who have accepted and never judged me, to the keeping of the lover of their souls. They have helped me to prove God’s faithfulness in keeping his promises, because so often they have been the means by which he has done so. It is surely the most important thing that we can pray for one another; that we might rely utterly on God, in all things, to build us up and keep our faith in  him secure against all trials.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

(Romans 15.13)

An open hand..

Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said

I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!

In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.

(Job 1.20-22)

Grief, and worship.. How often do we actually manage to put these two together in our own experience? Perhaps if our idea of worship involves singing songs that make us happy, then we can’t begin to combine them. But this is not what Job was doing, and it helps me to see past the current fashion for worship leaders, bands, fancy lighting, and music-induced emotion. In Job’s actions here, his response to a devastating loss of life, I see true worship – which is to give God his rightful place, to acknowledge his power, majesty, mystery, and to put myself in the right place before him – flat on the ground.

How hard we find it to get rid of the persistent notion that we are entitled to anything in this world! Our culture continually encourages us to acquire, to aspire, to achieve, and even to demand – because we are ‘worth it’. We are exhorted to stand up for our rights – even when that means trampling the rights of others. And what does the bible say about this? That we came with nothing; that every day we live, every breath we take, is the free and undeserved gift of God! We can expect nothing as of right; not health, wealth, freedom from oppression, family life, or fulfilling work…Nothing.

And yet we have so much! Perhaps it is the very bounty of God, the mercies we have enjoyed daily since birth, which makes it so easy for us to take it for granted, take it all as our right. Job knew better, and when he lost everything dearest to him, he continued to give God the right to be God, to be good and just and holy, and altogether greater than Job could comprehend. He didn’t pretend that he was happy about the loss of his children, and subsequently his health. He lamented, and poured out his grief in some of the most powerful language recorded in the bible. But he always addressed himself to God, as God, never questioning that this was the right and proper thing to do.

 I am thankful not to be facing such appalling loss, but the forthcoming change in our family circumstances does mean that I will be giving up some very precious – to me – activities and things.

For ten years, I have sung as an amateur singer with a Symphony Chorus, performing alongside a professional orchestra, world-class soloists and conductors, and making music at the highest level. It is very hard for me to express how much pleasure and satisfaction I have been given through this gift, but I know that as I face leaving the city, and the chorus, I will lose one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. Does God know, does he care? Of course he does! It was his gift of music in me which I celebrated in joining the choir in the first place. And every concert has been a time of rejoicing in what music is, one of the greatest gifts mankind has been given.

So as I close the music, say farewell to my fellow singers for the last time, and as the echoes of the final bars of sound die away, I will grieve, bitterly. And that will be fitting, because I have been deeply blessed, and and profoundly thankful for all I have been able to do and experience.

And my Father will see the tears, the pain, and in his tenderness will come closer than ever to hold and reassure me. He gave, and he is taking away. Blessed be his holy name.

I must and will trust him for these losses, for the wounds caused by parting. His love for me, and my dependence on his grace is what will keep the wounds clean and wholesome, will make the scars themselves a thing of beauty. I will – with his help – rejoice for what has been, give thanks whenever I remember, and turn any pang of regret into prayer for greater trust, so that I might say , with Paul that I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances, and that through Christ who gives me strength.