Category Archives: perseverance

Growing old, or growing up?

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah….

(Ps 95.6-8)

“Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear: should you not fear me?” declares the Lord.

(Jer 5.21)

“I could not address you as spiritual but as wordly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.

(1Cor 3.1-3)

I have a lot more to say about this, but it is hard to get it across to you since you’ve picked up this bad habit of not listening. By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again….so come on, let’s leave the preschool finger-painting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place…God helping us, we’ll stay true to all that. but there’s so much more. Let’s get on with it!

(Heb 5.11-6.3: The Message; Eugene Peterson)

Much as we may enjoy and even cherish the infant stages of life, we would be deeply disturbed if they never passed into something else – it would be a sign that something was wrong, and cause for great concern. We are designed to grow up, to mature, to become capable of bearing responsibility and in time, nurturing the next generation. This is just as much true in our spiritual lives, as in our human bodies, as these words from an understandably exasperated apostle illustrate!

Each of us must make our own response to God’s word – we are charged to work out what God is saying to us, and then to do it. We are commanded to meditate on the word, letting it dwell in our hearts so that our thoughts and actions are transformed. God’s word can be resisted, we can close our hears and minds to his loving command and if we do so long enough, we become unable to hear him.

Is this not a terrifying prospect? I don’t believe that I can fall utterly away from God’s safe keeping, but I long to be found responsible in my handling of all the good gifts which I have received, to know that I have glorified God by bringing every aspect of my life under his command to be used as he pleases.

The bible teaches us in so many ways, that God is continually seeking to draw his people closer to him in faith and obedience, and that it is through their witness that his name is honoured. The people of Israel brought dishonour on God when they doubted him in the desert after leaving Egypt; they dishonoured him when they turned again and again to the worship of idols; they dishonoured him when – in Jesus’ day – they worshipped the observance of the law and temple procedure instead of the holy One himself. Am I bringing dishonour on Jesus by refusing to let him work out his purposes in  my life, closing my mind to what he says?

As a ransomed, new-created and holy child of God, I am called to grow out of my infant diet; to progress from the early stages of understanding my new position to working out in detail just what difference God makes in my life, and how he does it. Mine should be a mature faith which can stand the test and grow, stepping forward to embrace trials as a means by which God shows his love and manifests his glory. It is maturing faith which can step into positions of responsibility, and be entrusted with the pastoral care of others. It is mature faith which can say with Job – “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him”

I know that the days, months and years which God has yet for me will include difficult times, pain and suffering – my own, that of my loved ones and of the wider world. I do not want to be like a vulnerable infant, dependant on the people around me to look after me, but rather a responsible adult, one who can do the task for which God has called and enabled me. I want to grow up in my faith as I grow old in my body, making the most of the time that I am granted to serve my gracious God as faithfully as I can.

May God keep my spirit soft to receive his teaching, and my ears sensitive to his voice. Although I may weary of my own imperfections and repeated failings, God does not give up on me, and I ask for a persevering spirit to continue to grow in faith and to press on towards the glory which he has promised.

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Great riches..

He who covers over an offence promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends….A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity.

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

(Prov 17.9&17; 27.5&6)

Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love…

“Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

(Jn 13.1;15.13&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.

(Col 3.12-14)

One of the areas of our lives where we must be on guard against the foolishness of the world around us is in how we think about friendship…the word in our culture is not a strong one, and the emphasis on romantic and sexual love in our society has the effect of trivialising and devaluing the friendships which we may enjoy.

The bible makes no such mistake, although it celebrates the gift of sex as part of God’s good plan for his creation. Instead, we find celebrations of friendship, of the love which may exist between two people based on their common interests and missions. The deep love between David and Jonathon was part of God’s work in preserving the line of the future Messiah, as was the faithful commitment of Ruth to her mother-in-law which drew the young Moabitess into the line of promise so that her child was David’s grandfather. Above all, we see Jesus living and working with imperfect people, loving them and calling them his friends. He opened his heart to them, even though they so often failed to understand and would ultimately abandon him.

In my own life, the friends who have walked through life with me – some for many years – are incredibly precious because they see me and love me for who I am, and speak truth to me out of love. I have received rebuke, encouragement, advice and wisdom; I have laughed and cried with them; I have shared my passions with them, and pursued common goals with them. In our friendships, God gives us such great riches of emotional satisfaction, meeting so many needs through these fellow-pilgrims, broken as they are like me by their sin. They have modelled Christ to me, and helped me to learn to model him to others in compassion, patience and forgiveness.

The gift of marriage is not given to everyone, and even those who have received it know that their spouse may well die before them, returning them to a single life. Before marriage (if it is given), throughout it and afterwards, friends are essential to our thriving as human beings. The bible teaches clearly that no one person can meet all our needs – we are formed by God and ultimately satisfied only in him – but also that God gives good gifts to his children, and that friendship is one such. Our spouse cannot fulfill every need, nor should we burden them with that expectation. Our friends cannot fulfill every need – no matter how many we have. But under God’s grace, as we invest in these relationships wisely, we may be kept in the faith, sustained for our mission, and used to bless others.

As I thank God for my friends – old and new – I also ask his help in being a true friend. I seek to love as Jesus did, putting the needs of others before my own. I seek to forgive as God has forgiven, and keeps forgiving me. I ask God’s help to be a responsible friend, refraining from gossip and unhelpful interference. I pray that I might have wisdom to know when to speak in love, when to share my fears about a course of action or decision. I pray that I might be sensitive to respond to the prompting of God’s spirit, so that he can use me to encourage, reassure or comfort his children. I pray that I might have a few trustworthy friends with whom I may be completely honest, and that I might be such a friend.

Above all, I thank God that in Christ, I find my truest friend, and pray that in all I do, I might honour and glorify him.

Getting practical..

Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statues. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.

(Ps 119.97-104)

Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness…Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.

(Rom 6.17-19)

The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. ..we even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ.

(2Cor 10.3-5, JB Phillips)

I praise you, Almighty God, because in your mercy you set me free from the law of sin and death; I am no longer bound by a power too great for me to resist, which compels me to do that which is opposed to Christ. I praise you, Merciful God, because in your compassion you dwell in me by the Holy spirit, whose power is great to transform me, and overcome evil. I praise you, Loving God, because in your wisdom, you have given me your word – and in it I find the Word of Life by whom I am sustained.

I bring to you every part of my being – limbs, mind and spirit. I bring to you every area of my character – strength and weakness, interests and abilities. I bring to you every relationship of which I am part – intimate and distant, easy and difficult. I offer all these things to you as my worship, and also, dear Lord, to reflect and manifest your righteousness – that Christ-likeness which is your goal for my life.

I confess – and you already know it, so why should I hide? – that so many of my thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways not your ways. I am still often in rebellion against Christ’s lordship – but how I rejoice in the truth that you have made me new, whole and clean, and that those sins I continue to commit are forgiven, not counted against me. How glad I am that you see my heart, and there you see a growing sensitivity to sin which is a guarantee of your Spirit’s working and purifying – you have set my heart to desire you, and in spite of my failings, I know it does. Thank you!

In my mothering, dear Father, let me love as you love. Let me release my children into your care – over and over, as often as it takes; affirming again that it is not for me to dictate your ways with them.

In my worrying, Almighty, Omnipotent and Omniscient God, let me instead turn to praise that it is not my job to fix everything, or even carry part of the burden, but rather to cast all my cares on you, and to praise you in the midst of my troubles.

In my studying, Giver of every good and perfect gift, let me enjoy the gifts you have given me, the passions and interests I have, and reject all anxiety and godless fear for the task ahead. Let this process show me, and others, that you give your servants peace as they serve for your glory and not their own. Let me reject all the foolish pride in achievement which drives me, and instead remember that your delight in me depends all on Christ.

As a citizen of a world facing uncertainty in politics, climate and every other sphere, let me not be crushed by hopelessness for the future. You are making all things new, and calling us to work with you for the new kingdom of God. Let me take those despairing thoughts captive to the glorious promise of Christ’s return and the day when we shall see the new heaven and earth and find our God dwelling in the midst of his people.

In every part of me, Lord, be glorified as you enable me to recognise where you are calling me to repent of old ways of thinking and doing, and to submit them – one by one, over days, and months and years – to the lordship of Christ and the truth of your word.

Grey hair and laughter lines..

Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.

(Ps 39.4&5)

Lord, you have been our dwelling-place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God…for a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning – though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.

(Ps 90.1,2,4-6)

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree..planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish…they will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

(Ps 92.12-15)

Grey hair is a crown of splendour; it is attained by a righteous life.

(Prov. 16.31)

The glory of young men is their strength, grey hair the splendour of the old.

(Prov 20.29)

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you;  I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

(Isa 46.3&4)

“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

(John Newton)

One of the temptations to which I most readily succumb is to be disappointed in the apparent lack of difference which my life has made in the world and lives of people around me. When I put it down like this, I can laugh at such arrogance, at the pride which looks for validation on the basis of a list of achievements…and yet the underlying discontent remains.

It is perhaps more pathetic than ridiculous for a middle-aged woman to look back on her life and feel she has somehow missed out on her big mission. I have stopped reading the blogs and magazines which portray others who have ‘found’ themselves and their purpose in life, who are doing big things and giving off an aura of accomplishment and fulfilment – because it only feed my discontent. Is this right thinking for a follower of the Lord Jesus, whose mission was to give his life to serve, to pour himself out in love according to the Father’s will?

I have seen discontent in the lives of others; it is ugly, distorting everything good and beautiful, and destroying peace. I am afraid of growing ugly in that way, instead of beautiful with the crown which belongs to God’s ageing children – the increasing serenity of one who has learnt that she can trust God to meet her needs and has nothing to prove or regret. I want to remain – as the psalmist puts it – green and fruitful in my remaining years, perhaps more fruitful than before since I see so little yet…

The key to this will be accepting the place and role which I have been given; trusting that if God has something new and different for me to do then he can and will make it plain; and above all conquering the shameful pride which in so many ways still seeks to make a name, to make an impact and do something big for God.

I am fully accepted by the Father, delighted in and cherished. I have his assurance that he will carry me into the years ahead – no matter what they may hold – and the promise of eternal life with him. I am free from caring what others think of me, because the only opinion that matters is that of my Father and he calls me his beloved, holy child.

Oh Lord God, I am not what I should be, not what your love spurs me on to desire to be. But what I am, is all by your grace and in itself is cause for great thanksgiving. Let my restless desire to glorify and serve you be channelled increasingly and effectively into those areas of life and service which are mine now, instead of wasted on wondering where I ought to be. Let me be content dear Lord, for the sake of your glory, the blessing of my family and  community and my own peace of spirit, with the life you have given me, and the small things which are my portion. Let the days and years which you have left for me be marked by growing contentment and delight in you, and in doing whatever you give me – regardless of its apparent significance. Let me have the privilege of bearing fruit yet for you, of using all you have given me to the best of my ability in the place you have appointed. And above all let me be content to let you be the judge of the value of my life – not the world’s standards, nor my own, but only you.

 

What are my priorities?

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 reasonable act of worship.

(Rom 12. 1)

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s spirit lives in you?.. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body..

(1 Cor 3.16 &6.19&20

 

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ…..Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules?…These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence…

(Col 2.6-8,20-23)

There are many socially acceptable ‘sins’ which we tend to gloss over when we encounter them, and justify to ourselves in order to indulge in them – and there is a significant word…”indulge”. How ready we are to listen to the philosophies of the world which encourage us to ‘treat ourselves well’, to prioritise ‘self-care’ and make sure that all our needs are being met so that we can take care of others and fulfill our mission in life.

It is all plausible, and in some ways attractive and compatible with the gospel, with God’s love for us and his plans to do good for and through us. BUT, I become very uneasy with it, all too aware that we use this to justify behaviour which the bible would bluntly describe as shameful for one who professes to be a disciple of Jesus.

At what point does my proper desire to look after the body which God has given me tip over into idolatry? What do my habits of consumption mean for those around me – am I setting a good example of self-discipline, or encouraging others in slothfulness and greed – or the opposite evils of obsessive control over food and weight? I try to keep fit, to ensure that I am functioning well and able to do the tasks allotted to me and not burden my family with caring for me in preventable illnesses. But, I must not let that become a lifestyle based on the conviction that if I will eat/exercise etc in certain ways, then I can somehow avoid every ailment and attain long, healthy life! The Lord alone knows the span of my days, and having lost both parents relatively young to cancer, I know full well that healthy living doesn’t guarantee longevity.

Paul speaks many times of the sufferings he went through as a servant of Christ – he also speaks of living in a focussed way, of keeping himself ‘in training’ for the race of his life of service. He speaks of being content in every situation – that speaks of a mind and heart which rests in God, not in its own controlling routines of food and exercise. He knew how to enjoy the good things of life, but also how to keep all things in right relation to the priority which was his commitment to Christ and the spreading of the gospel. I wonder how Paul would react to the phrase “self-care”?! Not positively I suspect, and mainly because of the presence of the word “self”, which should sound alarm bells for every believer who has entrusted themselves to Christ, believing that he alone is the source of our security, purpose, and the only one who can meet all our needs. My focus must be on him, not on myself…

There is clearly a balance to achieve; and we are not called to neglect ourselves either – Paul exhorts young Timothy to look after his health, and we too should not be irresponsible. But the emphasis must be on this, that I am not my own boss anymore. All that I am and have is a gift from God, and is surrendered to his service when I confess Christ as Lord of my life. He bought me with his blood, and in loving response, I seek to use all that I am in his service, seeking only his approval and his direction.

May God help us to live joyfully, in whatever circumstances are allotted to us; using our bodies responsibly and honouring him as we do so, so that we might indeed – with Paul – complete our race and win the only prize that matters, when our Lord says, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

 

Dare I look?..

Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from wilful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

(Ps 19.12-14)

Do good to your servant according to your word, O Lord. Teach me knowledge and good judgement, for I believe in your commands….It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

(Ps 119.65,66&71)

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart…..God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

(Heb 4.12; 12.10&11)

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and , after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.

(James 1.22-25)

Why do we have mirrors? To show us ourselves – not our neighbours, nor our spouses and children – and to show us our context, the place where we are standing. In biblical terms, the “mirror” is the word of God, the sure source of truth amid the distorting lies which the fallen world, and our own weak natures spin to us about who we are, and what life is really all about. This mirror will not lie to us, to make us feel better about who we are, or to pretend that all is well. This mirror will also not fail to speak the truth about who God says we are, and have been made in Christ.

This mirror tells us that without Christ, we are hopeless sinners in a broken world under the judgement of a holy God, and with a future of eternal separation from Love himself. It tells us that with Christ – as we are found by faith in him – we are redeemed, beloved children of God; there is no sentence of judgement hanging over us any more, and at heart, we are new creatures – no longer sinners by nature, but holy ones, or saints, who sometimes sin but not in settled rebellion against our creator. As we look into this mirror, we should come away filled with confidence and gladness, thankful for the new life we have received and the security that God is keeping us safe for an eternal future with him.

So yes, I should indeed dare to look into the mirror, and often! But it also shows me truth about the hidden and wilful sins which I – as God’s holy child – still commit so persistently, and this can be very painful to see. Too often, I come with my own idea of how I look – self-righteous, patronisingly long-suffering, martyred in my own eyes as other people let me down…

The mirror of God’s word has particularly revealing powers, bringing into sharp and painful definition all the ways in which I am committing those same sins which I attribute to others; full of pride instead of humility, and cherishing endurance instead of loving generously. God does not ask me to be the guardian of another person’s soul, but only to be accountable to him for myself – nothing excuses my unloving spirit; there is always good reason to forgive, because in Christ I am forgiven; I am given life and breath each day in order to bless others, to show God’s love to them, to give in the face of indifference and rejection and not count the cost.

No excuses, no special ‘make-up’ to cover the blemishes, only the searching gospel-light of scripture directed by the Holy Spirit which is designed to bring me daily to my knees in repentance and confession, then to my feet in rejoicing as I go in Christ’s strength and love to do the work in hand.

May the grace of God cover all those ways in which I let others down, and may he continue to show me where I am wilfully sinning, and to uncover hidden sins, that I might repent and be cleansed. What a faithful God we have, who having sealed us for eternity, also gives us all we need to live joyfully and with ever purer hearts for him each day!

As One….

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits….Your body has many parts..but..you are still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ…We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything….Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain – his Spirit – where we all come to drink.

(1 Cor 12.4-13, Message)

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit..one Lord, one faith , one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all…It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets….to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ…speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together…grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

(Eph 4.1-6,11-13,15&16)

As believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to live out of the gospel grace which we have received – to show to others the same forgiving, persevering, patient love and profound acceptance which we find in our Saviour. There is no place here for holding ourselves aloof simply because of another person’s background, because of different traditions, or because of their particular characteristics and flaws which we may find irritating and hard to live with.

The bible clearly teaches that when we are adopted into God’s family as his children, we become part of that marvellous unity which is the body of Christ – the universal and eternal bride of Christ – so that whether we recognise it or not, we belong together. In the same way that a body cannot function as a series of individual organs, so we who are believers cannot fulfill our purposes as individuals, we must grow and learn and live together. I need the gifts – and weaknesses – of others; and they need mine.

If I try to remain independent of my fellow believers, I am rejecting the very ones through whom God desires to bless me, and to whom I have been called as a blessing. I must be willing to serve, but also to be served, to be vulnerable, to be incapable of doing everything. How many of us find it easy to ask for and accept help? Our pride and stubborn independence go so deep, and make it easy for the devil to undermine our fellowship as we hold ourselves apart. But when I confess my need, I create the opportunity for the Spirit to build unity as others do for me, and for the whole body, that which I cannot do. Perhaps this is one of the ways in which the Lord graciously provides for our weaknesses, showing his glory and power as the Spirit-prompted love flows from one member to another, bringing help, nourishment and healing – even as our own bodies continually work in a marvellous and complex unity.

Our life-blood as the Body of Christ is this love which we have received and which we – continually refreshed by the Holy Spirit – give to one another. Each of us is called to be ourselves, to use all that we are, for the building up of the Body, and none of us is disabled for that work. As one, we depend upon Christ, and increasingly as one, we live with one purpose and one source of strength. Whether my task in any given time is to give, or to receive, I am called to do both trusting that God is glorified through my service, and to be content with the part I play.