Category Archives: perseverance

Out of hope…not fear

Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled…You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Saviour.. The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy. You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.

(Ps 65. 1,5,8-13)

For this is what the Lord says – he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited – he says: “I am the Lord, and there is no other. I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right…Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked. Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.'”

(Isa 45.18&19,22-24)

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…..

(Matt 6.9&10)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them…..” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

(Rev 21.1,3&5)

The debate around climate change, and the very compelling evidence for the scale of the crisis now faced by humankind, is one of the most disturbing things which we face as believers. I am continually overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis, and the seemingly inevitable suffering which lies ahead, especially for those already oppressed by poverty, disease and war.. When one adds a degree of realism – or is it undue pessimism? – about the capacity of the major global agencies to actually cooperate and act constructively and decisively, it is hard to find grounds for hope.

BUT, as a believer, I must wrestle with this, and recently in my struggle I have been greatly helped by being reminded that we are not in this alone. There is nothing in the scripture to suggest that God simply set up creation and then abandoned it to the mercies of human beings. Rather, there are multiple indications that God is intimately involved with the ongoing life of our planet; sustaining its laws, caring for its creatures and also celebrating and appreciating his own handiwork. We are also told very plainly, that God is in the business of ‘making all things new’ – of realising his purposes in a perfected creation, where He can live with his redeemed and glorified people, enjoying everything as it was always meant to be. 

So what can I do as I seek to live as God’s child, God’s representative, in this troubled time?

I can be sure that God is still involved in this world; and that as his child, I am called to follow his example of caring for and celebrating the beautiful, abundant creation around me. God’s hands are still on his handiwork, for good.

I can be sure that God will fulfill his purpose for all creation; to deliver it from the effects of sin into a place of abundance and thriving which I cannot even imagine, but which one day I will delight in as my eternal home!

I can pray ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..’ and then expect that God will answer, and that I can be part of that answer – even though I may not understand the paths He chooses to take. I can be part of that answer, by looking at my own life and the opportunities I have to do things differently; and also by encouraging other people to see the goodness of this earth and to cherish it. 

I can encourage others to hear how creation shouts aloud of God’s love and generosity; celebrating all his greatness and power, and responding in loving stewardship of those things which it is in our power to influence. I can encourage them to believe that since we are working with our God in a world which is precious to him, for a purpose which is glorifying to him, then our efforts will never be altogether futile, no matter how small. 

God is with us, now and always, therefore we need not fear – though the oceans rise – but can work with him in hope and expectation. May we be strengthened to live in this way in these days, that our hope might cause others to seek Jesus, and find salvation for themselves.

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When it pulls so hard…

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgements he pronounced.. He is the Lord our God; his judgements are in all the earth. He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations….. He confirmed in to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant.

(Ps 105.5,7,8&10)

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands….Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.

(Ps 63.2-4,7&8)

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand…”

(Jn 10.27-29)

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that… we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf..

(Heb  6. 17-20)

Have you ever watched a boat straining at its anchor rope in high winds and rough waters? The rope is taut, and at times the strain is so strong that the boat appears to being pulled under the crashing waters as it cannot move with them and cut loose from that security. I wonder if at times as believers we feel like that boat?

The old hymn speaks of the ‘anchor that keeps our soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll’, but we perhaps forget that the strain exerted upon the boat by its anchor-rope against those billows is immense! If the anchor were not strong enough to hold firm in the seabed, the boat would certainly move freely again upon the waters, but it would also, and just as certainly, come into danger of destruction as a result. I would like to think about the way that our connection to God, through Jesus, is like that anchor rope, and to ponder what that means when we are in the stormiest waters and like to founder.

Sometimes, I find myself so deeply troubled by pain and suffering – my own and that of others, that I am tempted to wish I did not believe in a God of love who cares for me. The tension between what I am feeling – or seeing others endure – and what the bible tells me is true, is so powerful that I am being torn in two and cannot bear it any more. But consider friends, if God’s loving hold upon me was not so strong, I would not feel that tension at all, I would simply choose to walk away from an inconvenient set of beliefs, and seek another way to make my peace with the realities of life in this broken world (not that I believe there is such a thing).

I believe that we can take comfort from the very intensity of our struggles – they show just how firmly God’s love is grasping us, just how determined he is to fulfil his covenant promise in us, and to what lengths he has gone and will go to glorify his name by saving us in spite of all our faults and failings. It is no credit to believers when – either in the midst of the storm, or in the succeeding calmer days – we testify to our perseverance. Rather, all the glory goes to God who has laid hold upon us, chosen to keep us for his own name’s sake – does a boat take credit for remaining at anchor through a storm? No, it is the one who has set the anchor, chosen and attached the rope to the boat who deserves praise.

What a relief to know, as we endure current trials and submit to what may come in the days ahead, that our anchor is totally secure – because of the one who has attached us to himself so utterly and completely. We can trust him, even when the tension is like to tear our hearts in pieces, to be faithful to his promises and to be glorified in and through what is happening.

Thank you Father that when, like Jesus in Gethsemane, we are in agony and wrestling to accept your will, we can know that it is your love for us that holds us fast, and your love in us which is refusing to let go and surrender us to the darkness of the storm. When we are in pain, may we even there be able to rejoice that you have given us love for you, faith in Jesus, and reason to hope.

It’s not always spectacular

A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?……..To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

(Prov 18.14;21.3)

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

(Matt 6.9-13)

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him… Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

(Jas 1.12; 5.10&11)

I wonder if you, like me, sometimes fall into the error of thinking that greatness of faith must be demonstrated by miraculous events, or church-shaping and mission-launching endeavours – the work of people like Hudson Taylor in founding the China Inland Mission for example. We consider such people and look with regret on our small lives and – as we may think – small faith.

I would like to challenge this thinking today. I have the privilege of knowing many faithful Christians whose lives involve incredible challenges – but not in this strategic or miraculous manifestation. Instead, these are people who choose to live each day as God’s gift to them, in spite of the fact that they carry unimagineable burdens and face devastating challenges. They are living with partners suffering from degenerative diseases, and caring for them even as they mourn for what might have been. They are grieving the untimely deaths of family members – spouses, children and even grandchildren – and mourning for the might-have-been shape of life. They are living with the wounds of broken and even abusive relationships, and grieving for damaged offspring as well as for their own agonies.

For each one of these, the words of the proverb ring bitter and true – ‘ a crushed spirit, who can bear?’ 

James reminds his readers of Job, who suffered and yet refused to curse God and die in his misery. Job persevered. Job chose to keep on, to wrestle with God, to bombard heaven with his anger and pain. It was faith in a just, holy and loving God which kept Job engaged with life, in spite of the pain which weighed so heavily upon him. Job just sat there and talked, he didn’t stand up and rouse his ‘comforters’ with stirring or inspiring words about God’s goodness and kindness, he didn’t try to rise above what was happening to him. But he persevered. 

I believe that the faith which Job demonstrates for us, and which those friends whom I have mentioned above demonstrate so clearly, is ‘great’ faith. I would invite you to consider how we may best pray for others in such situations, and for ourselves when our turn comes – as it may well do – to endure great suffering. What does great faith look like when our lives are falling apart and our spirit is crushed?

Our Father in heaven, who knows our feeble frame, may your kingdom come and your will be done in the lives of your suffering saints. May their faith bring glory to your name.

Our Father in heaven, who knows the depths of suffering to which each one is plunged, and the individual agonies unique to each character and situation, may you provide each moment and each day just what is needed to endure and to remain faithful.

Our Father in heaven, we pray against the burden of a bleak future crushing the faith needed for today’s obedience. Let your saints look no further than this day’s duties, and may they be given the strength of will to choose your ways, to choose trust.

We thank you Father, that to do the next thing, to tackle those tasks which you have – in your providence – allocated to us, is in itself an act of faith. Thank you that we have jobs to do, people to serve, and when we choose to obey, we are living in faith that you will fulfill your promises and supply all our needs. 

Merciful God, when we walk through the valley of suffering, darkness and death, may we be granted this great faith which refuses to give up, and although unspectacular, may our lives testify to your power to sustain and bless your servants.

Thus far….

On 31st August, 2014, I published the article you see below. I found my voice as a follower of Jesus for the first time on a ‘public’ platform. I offered my experience of Christian living up to God and asked that in addition to helping me learn, these words might be a blessing to others.

Here I am seven years later, to testify to the sustaining and faithful presence of God through the intervening years and also to the ongoing need in my life for this process of regular reflection and personal articulation of what it means to submit to Jesus as Lord, and to seek to live for his glory. I celebrate the abundant provision of God for me and reaffirm my commitment to feeding upon his word that I might grow in wisdom and love, in likeness to Christ.

I know that my words have proved a blessing, you have told me so! And I am humbled and thankful to know my prayer is answered. May the days ahead continue to bring us closer to our Saviour in faith and dependence, no matter how dark or desolate our circumstances. May we be enabled to lift our voices in praise to the one who endures, and whose promises to us are all ‘Yes’ in Jesus.

A voice says. “Cry out.”

And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All men are like grass,

and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,

because the breath of the Lord blows on them.

Surely the people are grass.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,

but the word of our God stands for ever.

Isaiah, ch 40, v 6-8

So what do I forget, all too often? I forget who I am, and I forget what is true about the world I live in and the One who made and sustains it.

I forget that in the end, all human achievement and glory will count for nothing, and that the praise and admiration of men is not where true peace and satisfaction come from.

I forget that it is not my own busy-ness which dictates my worth as a person, and my possessions are not the source of my identity and security.

I need to take time to remember the truth, the truth that sets me free to live in the light of eternity. I accept my insignificance, and transience, because the word of my God stands for ever, and that word tells me that I am a beloved daughter, one for whose freedom a great price has been paid, and who can never be torn from her Father’s side.

I take time to remember that the glory of the grass and flowers is the faintest echo of the glory that awaits God’s beloved children in the future He has prepared for us.

I remember that all my longings and desires are known to Him who loves me more than I will ever truly understand, and that He knows best how to fulfill those desires.

In remembering, may we find rest for our souls. May they be anchored in the truth of the word, so that no dazzle or distraction can take our peace away. In Christ, we are now and always, beloved, accepted, and sustained. Let us walk the days with him.

With my own two hands…

Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.

(Ps 127. 1&2)

The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down..The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception. Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright. Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no-one else can share its joy..The faithless will be fully repaid for their ways, and the good[man] rewarded for [his]..

(Prov 14.1,8-11,14)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace And be thankful.

(Col 3.12-15)

We celebrated our wedding anniversary this week, and as I read in the book of Proverbs this morning I was forcibly struck by the relevance of the words in chapter 14, with their challenge to be a wise builder. Certainly, it takes two people to make a marriage, but God calls me to take full responsibility for my part and not to make any shortcomings or flaws in my husband an excuse for my own folly. 

I believe that God ordained marriage for many good reasons, and that it remains a unique type of relationship, quite apart from the blood ties of kinship, or the bonds of deep friendship – although these may play their part within the marriage. The deliberate act of two people to commit to living together for life, to forgiving one another, bearing with failure and weakness, supporting through thick and thin, accepting the changes of ageing and continuing to choose to love, this is – as one long-married pop singer recently observed – ‘an heroic act’. I agree whole-heartedly, and frankly have no idea how those who do not know the love and forgiveness of God in Jesus, can cope with the pressures of marriage!

There is so much in Proverbs which unpacks what the wisdom of God’s children in daily life should look like, and I have been appreciating the stimulating soundbites which cause me to reflect on my own behaviour. Do I build? Am I actively engaged in seeking the good of my spouse, regardless of his behaviour to me, of my own moods and circumstances? It is work, of course it is! But it is also what I am called to in marriage; called to choose forgiveness over revenge; to choose patience over temper; called to choose humility over assertion of my own rights and opinions; called to extend to another sinner that same grace which I have received from God – and to receive from them, the forgiveness that I need when I offend, fail and hurt them. Sacrificing pride is hard work; accepting that I sometimes deceive myself about my motives and actions is painful work; apologising can be excruciating work; believing the best about my spouse, even when I cannot begin to understand what is in their heart, can be wearying work.

But this is the work of love, this is the central beam which holds the whole structure together and around which the building grows over time. For me, as a follower of Jesus, His love for me is what enables my love to my spouse to grow, to endure hard times, to keep on doing the work. The perfect love and acceptance offered by my Lord has set me free to love another human being – flawed just like me, forgiven just like me, but never in this life to be perfect any more than me! What a privilege, to have the opportunity to show one human being, over the course of years of intimate acquaintance, as much as I can of the perfect love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ – to dignify his feelings by respecting them, to put away into forgetfulness his flaws and failings, to publicly declare loyalty and delight in him as a person, and to choose to be present – in sickness and in health; in wealth or in want; in sorrow and in joy, for as long as we both shall live.

May the God who has brought us safe thus far, continue to enable and bless us in the days ahead, so that our work in his name, in this marriage, might glorify him and be a blessing to others.

Get wisdom..

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight..Blessed is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding..By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew…Get wisdom, get understanding..wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

(Prov 3.5,6,13,19&20; 4.5,6&7)

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord – and he will delight in the fear of the Lord…with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth..

(Isa 11.2-4)

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

(Matt 13.45&46)

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of  God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe..For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength…It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

(1 Cor 1.20&21,25,30)

We spend our lives today in a culture which continually bombards us with information, more ‘stuff’ comes to our attention in a few hours than our ancestors would deal with in many years – but has this made us wiser?

Our lives are increasingly dependent on complex technologies, and the advancement of science has enabled astonishing achievements in medicine, communication, and industry – but has this made us wiser?

Knowledge is not wisdom. Understanding is not necessarily wisdom. I believe that wisdom is what we do with what we know and understand – how does it inform our thinking, underpin our values, change our choices?

I believe that the Creator of our universe has woven his wisdom as well as his knowledge and understanding into the very fabric, the sustaining power that keeps us all here. True wisdom then will be in tune with what is made, will chime with the Creator’s vision for his handiwork, and will contribute to its flourishing. The author(s) of the book of Proverbs urge their audience to get wisdom, at any cost, in order to navigate the path of life in accordance with the great Author of all life – and to ‘get’ wisdom is to internalise and absorb it, so that without effort, our thoughts are running in harmony with God’s will.

Ultimate wisdom is to know oneself – and as a Christian, I believe this means to know my own situation as a sinner in the presence of a holy God. I cannot earn my safety by rule-keeping, because I am incapable of it. I cannot bribe or cajole this transcendant and mighty judge into reducing my sentence for good behaviour, his righteousness and integrity make that impossible.

The pearl of great price, the treasure which is worth everything I have, is this wisdom – to know that God has chosen to do for me what I cannot do for myself, and to accept that gift. It will take all that remains of my life in this fallen world to assimilate that gift, to learn day by day, a little more of what it looks like to live as one who is totally forgiven, washed clean and renewed within by God’s own presence. And, how marvellous is this, I am assured that Christ himself, God’s wisdom incarnate – is my own wisdom, my beautiful and beautifying adornment and jewel. Because I have Christ, I am decked in finest garments, fit for the presence of Almighty God, crowned with honour and bearing the pearl of perfection.

The diamond drops furring the rose are a transient reflection of the glory with which I am clothed now in God’s presence. I am a sweet perfume before him, because I have Christ, the wisdom of God.

Father God, how I thank and praise you today for this greatest of gifts, this priceless treasure of your wisdom in Christ Jesus, my Lord. Thank you that I can trust you to be at work in me today, saturating my heart and mind with your wisdom so that increasingly I think and speak and act in full accordance with your will. May I rejoice and delight in this gift, giving all the honour and glory to you, as I live in the freedom, hope and joy which is mine through your wisdom in Christ.

Building site with great prospects!

For the Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling: “This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.

(Ps 132.13&14)

Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

(Jn 14.23)

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?

(1 Cor 3.16)

I thank my God for you every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with  joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

(Phil 1.3-6)

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

(1 Jn 3.2&3)

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

(CS Lewis, from Mere Christianity, 1952)

This quote from CS Lewis beautifully expresses the rather bewildering experience of the believer who – having come thankfully to God for forgiveness and restoration – finds themselves being increasingly challenged, disturbed and unsettled as their journey of faith unfolds. It turns out that God’s ambitions for us are so very much greater than our own, and the blueprint to which He is working – the very likeness of Christ himself – is beyond our comprehension.

I find it helpful to return to this image regularly as I ponder what God has done and is doing in my life, especially on those occasions when it felt as though I had been subject to a demolition order, when familiar supports were knocked away and foundations dug for a whole new framework. I am already secure as a child of God, and my place in His eternal glory is guaranteed – my prospects are truly marvellous, since I am to be at home in the new creation, where there will be no more imperfections, and all creation will be as He always intended it should be. I will be completely in harmony with my surroundings, and free from any shadow of guilt or shame.

In the meantime, it sometimes feels as though no progress is being made at all – the same basic sins recur, in different forms, over and over; new challenges arise in each stage of life which can feel insurmountable; doubts shake us, and grief near overwhelms us. But the bible asserts that in the midst of this apparent chaos and utter lack of progress, yet God is at work, and his ultimate goal is complete transformation. Each of His beloved, redeemed children is becoming a unique expression of Christ, a celebration of the beauty of the One and Only Son where God dwells and His glory is revealed and exulted in.

He has always intended that He should dwell with us in joy and mutual delight, and to that end, the whole of history unfolds. One day, we shall see that plan fully realised, and by then, in our perfected resurrection bodies, we shall be able to praise and honour him rightly – what a wonderful prospect that is. May we be strengthened in our faith as we undergo the labours of the heavenly builder, strengthened to trust that He knows what He is doing and enabled to co-operate with Him. Our prospects are glorious, and we shall be amazed when we see the final results of His great plan..Have you ever tried to imagine how it might feel to come before our Lord without a trace of guilt, regret or shame? It is an overwhelmingly wonderful thing that He is doing for us, and He WILL finish the task..so let us persevere with hope and confidence.

 

Travelling mercies and wayside glories!

By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them..and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light..

Moses said to the Lord, “…You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favour with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you…” The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here…” 

So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.

(Ex 13.21;33.12-15;40.38)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.

(Ps 23.1-4)

There is a famous song from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical ‘Carousel’, entitled “You’ll never walk alone’, a song which tugs at the heartstrings quite unmercifully, and speaks powerfully of our desperate need of presence as we face the trials of life. Although I doubt that it was written with the Christian faith in mind, it does fit very well with the words of the psalmist, as he rejoices in the knowledge that the Lord is present at all times and in all places, even the valley of the shadow of death. As believers, we do not rely on the memories of departed friends for comfort, nor even on the actual human presence of fellow travellers, but on the promise of God himself to be with his people.

As Moses urged God to remain with the Israelites – well aware that their sin and rebellion deserved no such favour – so also we cling to God in prayer and depend on his promise to be with us always – to guide us and to bring the light which drives out fear. Ultimately, we all face life alone, since no one can live for us, or share our experience of it completely, and so unless our companion is the Lord himself, our maker and sustainer, we will be astray and vulnerable. But with him, we are fortified against whatever may come. He often uses the presence of others in our lives as a means of communicating his love, and making provision for us in our need – do you ever think of your friends as travelling mercies and wayside glories, gifts to sustain and strengthen your faith for the day ahead? They are both those things! The love of others – fellow believers and those who do not yet know him – and the gift of their friendship are among the loveliest things that the Good  Shepherd bestows on his flock.

In addition to these human gifts, we receive direct from his hand those things which he knows are best suited to our nature by way of encouragement, and the restoration of our souls. For many people, the wonder of creation in nature is a boundless source of joy and encouragement, and I know for myself that even the most desolating times have been pierced by light from God as my attention is drawn to some delicate flower or moss, the colours and textures of rock and wood, the grandeur of distant mountains and the perfectly timed appearance of a rainbow or particular bird.

We do not rely on these things, but we do well to be open to receiving them from the Shepherd’s hand, as gifts for our good, and tokens of his loving presence in the midst of whatever we are facing.

There is an old song, perhaps a little trite sounding, but precious in the deep reality of which it speaks for Jesus followers:

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me, and talks with me along life’s narrow way.

He lives, He lives, salvation to impart; you ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!

The One who loves us, the One who died for us, the One who rose to stand forever at the Father’s side to intercede for us; this is He who lives within our hearts and from whom nothing can ever part us again. Let us take care to be on the watch for his daily mercies to us, and the glories which are so lavishly bestowed along the way, so that we may be restored in our souls. We have his presence to guide us, and the light of his victorious glory to drive away our fear. We are safe in his hand and need never walk alone!

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.

Sulky exiles, or responsible citizens?

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile..:”Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce…Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

(Jer 29.4,5&7)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God…You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous…Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(Matt 5.9,43-45&48)

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

(1Tim 2.1&2)

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right…..Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the King.

(1Pet 2.13,14,16&17)

As followers of Jesus, redeemed children of God, we often think of ourselves as exiles in this world, of people whose real home is not here, not in this place of darkness, pain and evil. We rightly think with joy on the prospect of a life to come, when we shall be free of sin- in our own lives as well as those of others- and when the new creation will be our glorious dwelling place, all as God intended and designed it for us.

But the words of the prophet Jeremiah to the exiled Jews in Babylon give a clear instruction for God’s people in that situation – get stuck in, be involved, care about your community, be constructive and positive and be at home there. It may not be your ‘forever’ home, but it is the place of God’s calling for this time, and his plan is that through your presence, it might be blessed. There is no distinction between seeking God’s will for their lives and seeking God’s will for the place where they are living, no need to choose which should be their  focus.

I believe that this is also a word to us in our time, uncomfortable though it is for followers of Jesus as our culture increasingly rejects him and the truth he stands for. God has placed us here for this time, with all the opportunities and abilities chosen and crafted for us by his plan to bless us and through us the communities of which we are part. Will we be enthusiastic in our place of exile? Or will we sulk and withdraw into holy huddles, bemoaning our situation and withholding our gifts and presence from those around us?

Our challenge then is to be fully invested in our communities, supportive and active, without falling into the patterns of thought and behaviour which may characterise that community. To be Jesus followers is to be peacemakers, to be those who refuse to believe the worst; who chose to respect those with whom they disagree; who choose to love, not demean their critics and who will pray for all as those created – like us- in God’s image and precious in his sight.

In this week of elections to the Scottish Parliament, the need for respect, truth-telling, love and humility are obvious. We may not always find these qualities in our politicians, but we must always pray for God to be at work through them to bring the stability of our society, the welfare and compassionate care needed by so many, the equality and protection of dignity for the weakest, and even the freedom which allows people to disagree strongly. We pray in effect, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done” in our society, even through our imperfect politicians, and we play our part in supporting and respecting the institutions through which we enjoy the rule of law, the provision of public services, and the freedoms which so many in the world are denied.

I cannot do everything needful for the transformation of society, and indeed that will happen only when Jesus comes to make everything new. But in the meantime, I pray that I might learn to hear his voice and to obey his calling to live for him, and in doing so, to bless the place to which he has called me.

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