Category Archives: mercy

The only constant…

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

(Philippians 1.21)

 

It was on a night like this three years ago that my mother died. Soft, heavy snow fell steadily, drowning sound and creating a stark, eerily beautiful landscape, every branch bearing its weightless load.

We had known it was coming, and were thankful to be prepared, as ready as one can ever be to become an orphan. She was so ready to go home, and her saviour’s name was almost the last word on her lips.

God knows that death is too much for us, that we are made for eternity; that change and bereavement cause us to stagger, losing our bearings and succumbing to fear. Death is the ultimate insult to God’s creation of humanity in his image, the great scar which resulted from sin entering our hearts and breaking our fellowship with Him. It was never meant to be this way, and I take great comfort in knowing that my anger and grief in the face of death are a small reflection of God’s anger against this corruption of his perfect creation.

But I have learnt things through the deaths of my parents which would otherwise have remained merely theoretical. I have come to understand and rely on the Father heart of God for me, his beloved daughter; to trust in and take comfort from the Mother heart of God as I am cherished, and always understood. Perhaps it is only when precious things pass away that we learn to seek their essence in God – all the goodness and beauty of this world is a mere shadow of the truth and glory which are in Him.

It is a lesson which I need to keep learning. As my children have grown and become more independent, I am not ‘needed’ in the same way, and that role – which was so big that it became almost my entire life – is gone. I must not look to that relationship as my security and source of satisfaction in life. Nor should I depend on my status as ‘wife’, since that relationship too must someday come to an end. No, the only constant is that God, the creator and sustainer of life has chosen to reveal Himself to me, to make me his child, and to call me home to share in the glorious future planned for His people in the new creation.

It is His constancy which is my only security, everything else will pass away.

It is His arms which must be my refuge, since there are ultimately no other safe places.

It is His grace which is my only hope, since my own efforts and all the approval of others cannot make me worthy to belong in His kingdom.

It is in His beauty that I find the source of the glory which I only glimpse in the colours, seasons, sights and sensations of this amazing world. They dazzle me; how shall I bear being in the presence of the One and only, the great original?!

It is in His love that I find all my human loves purified, transformed and made perfect, so that I am finally at rest and fully myself.

May we be given daily grace to grow in dependence on Him, and to hold this world and all its riches with an open hand and yielding heart. For “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 being everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body!” (Philippians 3.20&21)

It’s all just so… wrong!

O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still.

See how your enemies are astir, how your foes rear their heads. with cunning they conspire against your people; they plot against those you cherish.

(Psalm 83. 1-3)

Do you ever get really desperate with God about the mess that things are in? I do, I find myself full of questions and anger that so much beauty, love, and goodness are being assaulted, wasted and destroyed on a daily basis. I get furious that God’s people across the world are being oppressed, attacked and martyred every month. I despair over the ways that the family of God, the church, the body of Christ, manages to misrepresent the truth about its Lord – we fight and quarrel, we stand over in judgement against one another; we acquire wealth and status, and love to sit in the seats of power, while neglecting to love our needy neighbours and to wear the garment of humility in all our dealings with men.

It is therefore with great relief that I turn to the Psalms, to the book of songs recorded for the people of God to use in worship and in prayer, and from which generations have been blessed. These songs are not like many of those we sing nowadays, which might give the impression that being a Christian is an easy or instantly fulfilling life. Very few of our modern writers manage to accurately mirror the truth about our life of faith, with all its struggles, doubts and darkness – which are not a passing phase, but things we will live with until God takes us home and makes us new.

But the psalmists know real life. Their songs speak to my own situation, and give me words to use in prayer and worship as I come before God, as I live before him in daily life in this broken world. Do you ever think of your lament as a form of worship? I believe that it is, a most profound act of surrendering our questions, doubts, fear and anger to the one who above all has the power to heal, answer and quieten our storms. The throne of the almighty is THE place of justice, of appeal against wrong and evil. We give the Lord of Hosts his rightful place when we call upon him to put right all that is so painfully wrong in his world. It is when we recognise our own pitiful limitations and cast ourselves entirely upon him that we truly worship – give him his full worth. So let us not hold back, but come often to lay down our burdens of grief, discouragement, fear and anger at the ways which our world and particularly our race, are damaged.

It is good to be sufficiently alive to the goodness, glory and love of God that we see and feel most keenly the evil, darkness and hatred of this world. I didn’t say it was comfortable! The greater our understanding of God, the more deeply we will mourn over the ways in which his children have rebelled against him and are destroying all the beauty he has given them.

As we grow in our understanding of God’s love for us, in the riches which are available to us through faith in Jesus Christ, so we will become more and more tender-hearted toward our fellows in their need to be saved. John tells us in his gospel that “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”(Jn 3.19) Do we not see this? People reject the witness of Jesus’ followers, they shut their ears and will not listen to the offer of life, forgiveness and restoration, because they do not want to see the truth about their deeds. They would rather remain in the darkness – and how heart-breaking is that for our Father God?

When we grieve and lament over the broken lives, and corrupted world we inhabit; when we come before the One who made all things to be good and share something of his pain; when we receive a fresh vision of his love and mercy towards the lost, then we find that our witness becomes more urgent, our prayers more fervent, and our rejoicing in daily blessings more whole-hearted.

How right the psalmists were, to bring their grief and anger to God, who can use these experiences to strengthen and equip us to be more faithful servants, and to live even closer to him. Praise the Lord, O my soul!

He must become greater…

For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate.

Can’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do… It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life!

(Galations 6.14&15, The Message)

“..not what you and I do.. It is what God is doing”, and what He is doing is glorious! Over the past few days, people all around the world who believe in Jesus as the son of God and their saviour from the power of sin, have been taking time to celebrate his death and resurrection. It has been a special time for meditating and rejoicing, praising God for his indescribable mercy and love towards us.

We believe that because of Jesus, the brokenness in our world, which goes like a fault line through every human heart, is being healed and will one day be gloriously wiped away for ever. We, who are powerless to save ourselves, crippled by sin and yet so blinded by pride in our own achievements that we think ourselves worthy of God’s approval; even we, are offered a fresh start. As Paul said in his letter to the Galatian church, we are liberated to live as new creatures, under the mercy and love of God.

What joy to know that it is not my own moral life, good deeds, carefully-controlled thoughts and desires which have to earn my place in eternal life – because I know full well that I am weak and wavering, so that even on my best days, I fall far short of perfection. What a relief, that I do not have to pretend to anyone that I am confident in my own worthiness and abilities – because I have no illusions about my strengths and weaknesses, and know how unreliable I am.

Instead, I have the privilege of boasting in and relying on Jesus, whose mercy and love are precious beyond telling, and beautiful beyond describing. His death, for me, is my sole claim to peace with God now and eternal life hereafter. I take a fierce delight in this, because he deserves so much more praise and boasting than I can ever give, I cannot ever overdo it! I can affirm his greatness and worthiness against all opposition, and know that I am on firm ground. Many may not like what I believe, many will dismiss it as foolishness or be offended by it, but I will boast in Jesus Christ and his all-surpassing power to save.

In him, my weaknesses are a vehicle for his strength to be displayed.

In him, my struggles and trials are a window for the world to see his power to comfort and sustain me.

In him, my life of small duties and responsibilities becomes a thing of great beauty, where every act of mercy and service is worthwhile, and no effort is wasted.

In him, my heart finds joy because of his great love, and each day brings so many love-gifts to make me glad.

In him, I know that true justice rests, and I have no need to pursue revenge.

In him, I know the power of forgiveness in my life, and am strengthened to forgive others.

In him, my heart delights, and I know that he is changing me from one degree of glory to another as he transforms me into his own likeness, so that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control become who I am.

In him, my soul finds rest, because it is all his doing, and his goodness and mercy will be my companions all the days of my life.

Let us rejoice in Jesus, let us boast of our wonderful Lord and Saviour, let us praise him and exalt him, and rest completely in his all-encompassing and complete salvation.

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!

(Revelation 5.12)