Category Archives: promises

A gentle prod in the right direction..

So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion, for the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help.

O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries. Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. ..Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or the left.

(Isaiah. 30.18-21)

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone.

(James 1.5&6)

I believe in a God who promises to guide and direct his children; a God who desires their ultimate good, which may lead through times of trial and suffering as well as times of ease, comfort and plenty.

I have experienced in my own life these last 18 months, the clear directing of that loving hand, as my husband and I were invited to consider this new place of ministry, and one by one, the objections fell away, and the doors opened even before we pushed them! As the days and months go by, we are deeply at peace here, absolutely convinced that God desires us to work and live in this remote place, within a small community, things we have never done before. He called, and He is enabling, generously!

On a personal level however, I am still seeking guidance and direction, since I am not the parish minister, only his backup team, and that is not a full-time job! I do not know yet, just what my life here is to consist of – whether paid employment alongside housekeeping and church work; or a small mosaic of voluntary occupations, serving as well as I can. I am waiting..a recent job application led to a clearly closed door – an answer of sorts for the moment.. and I wait.

I am getting to know people, using my own interests and things which bring me joy to make connections which might grow into relationships within which I can share Christ. But these are quite selfish ways to use my time, and it has been pointed out to me quite forcefully, that the relationships are principally with folk my own age or older, not the younger members of the community..

There are many good things which need to be done – both church and community based – but I don’t think awareness of a need constitutes a call that I should fulfill it – God knows that none of us can stretch that thinly. How am I to discern what to do? I follow the advice of James, the ever practical apostle, and ask – and keep asking, not only for guidance, but that I might recognise it when it comes! I wait, trying to use my time well, but not committing to anything permanently, testing out the different opportunities and asking for that voice to speak clearly.

Father God, your child is  stumbling a little; unsure of her footing and of the way, she looks for your hand and strains to hear your voice: Fulfill your promise and guide her.

Lord God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: you spoke to your children so clearly at times, directed their ways and they knew what to do: Fulfill your promise, and guide this child now.

Delivering God, who confronted Moses in the desert from within the fire, speaking with power and then led your people by fire and cloud up from slavery, fulfill your promise, and lead this child.

You see her heart’s desire is to glorify you; and she longs to know how this is to be done, here, now, in this place; fulfill your promise Lord, and grant her heart’s desire.

Purify her heart and thought of all that would mislead her, tune her ears to hear your voice, strengthen her will that she might obey if the call is to some work which she finds daunting.

Above all Father, so fill her heart with love for her precious Lord, that any labour for him is a privilege, no matter how humble, and any sacrifice of selfish pleasure is worthwhile.

Only let her know that she is doing your will, for the blessing of her community and the glorifying of your Son’s wonderful name.

Amen

But Lord, you promised!

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

(Proverbs 13.12)

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 

(2Cor 1.20-22)

We are human, you and I. We have hopes for ourselves, our loved ones, our communities and our world. How often have you tasted the bitterness of dashed hope? Too often to entertain the thought that everything we wish for can be ours if we will only believe in and work hard enough for it!

Where do you go with your broken expectations and hopes? Some may have been unrealistic, and in retrospect we recognise and learn from those experiences – while also acknowledging the very real pain which our disappointment has caused us. It is good to know that our Father God understands how easily we set our hearts on the wrong things, and is patient and compassionate with our grieving. By his grace, we learn to set our strongest hopes and expectations only on those things which he has promised, but even here, we must learn wisdom and discernment.

I recently spent a little time looking at the life of Sarah, wife of Abraham, and was reminded of the explicit promise which that couple received from God – a son of their own, founder of a nation which would be numerous as the sand on the shore. It was an outrageous promise, but coming from God they had no reason to doubt it would be fulfilled….No reason except human weakness and impatience, which is our common lot, so we can’t really criticise Sarah when she resorted to manipulating circumstances in order to get a son by other means! Certainly, it gave Abraham the son he craved, but it also set in motion a train of events which continues to this day to cause great trouble and grief in the world. We all have reason to regret Sarah’s decision to give her servant as child-bearer to her husband – and Abraham’s willing cooperation with that action!

In the end, God’s promise was fulfilled in the supernatural way he had always intended, and Isaac was born to the elderly parents, bringing delight and joy and that sweet fulfillment of hope which is indeed like a tree of life. If only…if only Sarah had been more holy and faithful than we are, she would have waited and trusted God even when it appeared that he had forgotten his promise. Let us be wary of judging this woman for acting as we are so often tempted to do – trying to find ways to get what we think God has promised us in any way we can make it happen! May we be restrained from acting rashly, causing more problems than we solve, and may we find ourselves willing to go on trusting, and meantime praising the God who has promised – who is good and who keeps his promises.

The shepherd boy who would one day wear the crown in Israel had learnt that lesson, and all through the long years when David – as the anointed and future King – was on the run from Saul, he never took the opportunities available to him to kill Saul or injure him in any way. He maintained his respect for the king, and waited, and waited, until his heart must at times have sickened within him and murmured that God was only waiting for David to act…

Then came the word of Saul’s death in battle, and David’s hour had come – without any need to dress up as obedience an act which would have been in truth a rebellion against God’s law – and the first thing he did was to mourn for Saul, honouring even in death the man who had pursued him so viciously  for many years.

What has God promised me? Health and happiness? No. Suffering and struggle? Yes! Let no one convince you otherwise, than that our life in this world will be marked by trouble, and our response should not be ‘why me?’ but rather ‘why not me!?’ Far more significantly, we are also promised the constant presence of our Saviour and God, dwelling in us by the Spirit and continually strengthening us, counselling and directing us. We are promised complete forgiveness, and freedom from guilt about the past, and we are promised a future more glorious, exciting, fulfilling and fun than we can possibly imagine!

All God’s promises to us, are ‘YES’ in Christ – and we don’t need to manipulate anything to receive them, but freely accept them as God’s gift to us. Oh let me learn to live in those promises, to set my heart and desire on them, that their fulfillment might be for me a tree of life!

Whispers of wings?

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you ; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

(Genesis 12.1-3)

A perfect world, created to give a home to humankind, with whom God in his generous loving kindness has desired to share himself – not that he needs us, but his nature overflows with love, and the delight of the trinity in one another is to be shared with us! And in order that we might fully and freely enter into that love, we are made capable of rejecting it. In our folly, we chose to distrust our God and to put ourselves first.

So the beauty is broken, the relationship is fractured, and humanity learns the hard way that getting what we want is not always the good we expect it to be.. The earliest recorded stories of God’s dealings with humanity show that from the very beginning, he had a plan, an incredible scheme of rescue, which will ultimately bring into being the beautiful and satisfying relationship he always desired for us. Traces of it can be followed, like whispered hints of something wonderful yet hidden, through the old testament narrative, until it finds full expression in the gospels in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son and Saviour himself.

The readings at a Christmas carol service will often trace that thread, going right back to the promise given by God as Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, that the seed or offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent – a picture of the victory which would ultimately be won by Christ on the cross, defeating forever the power of evil to separate humanity from God.

The steady focus and continuity of God’s purpose is a source of great encouragement to us, because it shows that he is never deflected from his plans, no matter what it may look like from our limited human perspective. Those who were caught up in the days of the Exodus – the long desert journeys, the threat of starvation and armed attack – had no idea that this part of their corporate history as God’s people would stand for the rest of time as a clear example of God’s power to keep his promises. The Midianite refugee who followed her mother-in-law home and found a welcome, and a new life with Boaz, had no idea that her small acts of love and service were part of the plan of God to create a king, David, who would bless the nation.

With hindsight, we can see that there are hints all along the way, as in the covenant promise made to Abram, that all nations would be blessed through him – through his great descendant, Jesus. But for those living the story as it unfolded, there was no such understanding. They were called to obedience and faith in the world as they could see it, without God’s blueprint for redemption and re-creation in front of them.

How much more should we be willing to serve and obey, since we have that plan, revealed in all its fulness in Jesus himself! God, in his mercy and loving-kindness to a helpless and forlorn humanity, has opened the way for us to come home, and has provided all that we need for the journey. The promise which was only whispered at the beginning, is now trumpeted abroad by the angelic heralds, who proclaim at Christ’s birth that here at last is the Saviour, the Anointed and promised one!

Let us rejoice this Christmas in the goodness of our God, in providing from the very beginning, a way for his estranged people to come home. And let us take heart, in the midst of a world which continues to be wracked by the consequences of sin, that we might be confident that God, who began this great work, will bring it to an end. He is faithful, and calls us only to be obedient in fulfilling our role in his plan. We have good news, the best gift anyone could receive, let us eagerly look for ways to share it in love, with our communities.

I can’t hear you Lord!

At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

The tempter came to him(Jesus) and said, “If you are the Son of God….” Jesus answered, “It is written:…”

(Matthew 3.16,17; 4.3,4) 

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

(Mark 1.35)

The voices around me are deafening. They tell me that I am foolish, irrelevant, an irritation and a waste of space. A woman who has made nothing of herself, who has wasted opportunities and squandered abilities. They whisper in my ear that there is no hope of joy or fulfillment, that I am a doormat, weak and without courage or self-respect. Where is the career, the salary, the validation of self through work? Where is the assertion of self, and the fulfillment of goals which rightly belong to this stage of life?

They are silent voices – does that make sense? No one physically speaks the words, and yet by their actions, attitudes, and the way they treat me and talk to me, the message comes through loud and clear – tried, and found wanting…

It is my experience that the voices of those far off are never the loudest, and it is those around us every day, those closest to us whom we hear most clearly, and find it hardest to resist believing. The resulting chaos of our thoughts can be exhausting, nothing comes through except a weary resignation, an acceptance of this loudest and most urgently present message. Our own voice begins to say the same things, and we give up resisting.

But is it necessarily the truth? In all the muddle and confusion, I find a desire to believe that it is a lie, that I am neither hearing nor seeing reality as God sees it. Somewhere, beyond the cacophony, is a place where there is peace, health and wholeness, a place where I am worth something.

What did Jesus do, when immediately after his very public validation by his Father, he was taken away from all support, and exposed to a relentless attack on his identity by Satan? The loudest voice in all those weary days in the wilderness was that which cast doubt upon his very being, the truth which God had affirmed so clearly. And what did Jesus do? He turned to scripture, to the words given by God to his people for their instruction and foundation of faith. I have access to that same resource, if I will only use it! Three times, it is recorded that Jesus dismissed the attack on his identity with a rebuke from the words of the Old Testament. He knew his bible, and knew that it was his weapon for attack and a shield for defence against just this kind of assault. Do I?

The bible teaches so much more than the bare mechanics of our salvation – glorious as that is! We find there all the resources we need to understand who we are made to be, to grasp our identity as new creatures in Christ. When I am feeling worthless, I remember that the Son of God considered me worth leaving glory for, worth clothing himself in human flesh for, worth dying for! When I am tempted to consider my life of no account, I remember the promise that God has prepared good works for me to do, and that my faithfulness in small things will not go unnoticed. When I am forcibly reminded of my weakness and failures, I cling to the promise that God will finish the work he has begun in my life, and that I am being made into the glorious new creature who will be fit to share eternity with her Saviour!

It seems to me that if I am to hear the voice of my Lord through the turmoil which is so loud and close every day, then I need to make the effort which he did – so often it was recorded that he withdrew to a solitary place to pray, to restore his ability to hear his Father’s voice. Praying – the deliberate sharing of my thoughts with my Father all the time – is a sure way to discern truth from lies, and to break the power of those insidious and undermining thoughts. It is always hard to hear a single voice in the midst of a crowd, so if even Jesus felt the need to be alone, how much more do I?!

May I learn to hear his voice more clearly than any other; to let his truth about me be the foundation of my identity – then I will be able to hold up my head, as a daughter of the King of Kings, dressed in clean and beautiful robes, with a future brighter and more glorious than any ‘happy ever after’ can imagine!

Rough and steep….

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going..It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed that God would keep his promise.

(Hebrews 11. 8&11)

When we make a promise, a commitment before God, we cannot know in what ways he may choose to test that promise, or what circumstances will try us. We promise to do things not because we believe we will always feel like doing them, but because they are the right things to do. When I professed faith in Jesus, and made promises as a new member of my congregation, I committed myself to certain actions – prayer; bible study; joining in worship; giving of my resources – not to nebulous feelings of connection with my fellow believers!

We did not put conditions on our promise, it was absolute, and made in good faith – made because we believed that it was what God was asking us to do at that time. Our promise was our obedient response to God’s leading, just as Abraham obeyed God’s call to set out for a new land. That act of obedience was like a promise to trust, to follow, and to accept God’s plan for his life.

The path of obedience for Abraham took him to some dangerous places – involving both physical danger to himself, but also moral danger. Twice we see him fall into the temptation of denying that Sara is his wife, instead of trusting God to protect their marriage and thus fulfill his word that the child of promise would be their own son. I cannot judge Abraham for his failures, because I too may find myself in difficult and unwelcome places in the course of keeping my promises, and seeking to live in obedience to God’s call on my life.

What do I do when obedience finds me in a situation which fills me with fear, or hopelessness? How do I react when the logical explanation of my difficulties is that I have utterly failed, and not acted wisely or in a godly way? Does this mean that God has lost, or forgotten me? Does he not know my need, my weakness and my longing for relief from my distress?

It may well be that, like Abraham, I have made a tricky situation into a really bad one by making some wrong decisions, and often that may be due to losing our sense of God’s greatness and power to achieve his ends. But surely the story of Abraham also demonstrates very clearly that God keeps his promises, in spite of our failures to follow through on our own commitments.

What a relief, to know that my failures, my wrong decisions, do not make God’s commitment to fulfilling his promises to me somehow invalid. The mess I find myself in may be partly of my own making, but it does not put me beyond God’s reach. I am also encouraged to know that God does not want me to give up on my own commitment to obedience, to fulfilling my vows to him. He sees my failures, sees how discouraged I get by the struggle it can be, and says,”Child, I know, you are sore and distressed by your own failures. Receive the forgiveness I offer, let my love wash away that stain and ease the ache of regret. Now, rest, and then we will go on together; I know you can do this, and you will!”

God kept faith with Abraham, as he will with me.

He knows my heart’s desire is to do his will, and that – although I fail so often – I want to trust his power in my life to sustain and enable me to do that.

There is a very old chorus that came to mind recently, which I will quote to finish today, and hope that you find it encouraging as I did.

When the road is rough and steep, fix your eyes upon Jesus;

He alone has power to keep, fix your eyes upon him.

Jesus is our gracious friend, one on whom we can depend;

He is faithful to the end, fix your eyes upon him!

..but God gives the increase

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen

(Rev 1.5&6)

I have been reading this week in Deuteronomy, of the end of Moses’ life and his final exhortations to the people whom he had led so faithfully from Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the borders of the land promised to them by God as their new home. It is a poignant tale, as the great leader reviews God’s mighty acts of deliverance, the people’s rebellion and struggles, his own weaknesses, and the very real choices which lie ahead – to obey and receive the covenant blessings, or to disobey, and bring curses upon their heads.

I think Moses knew quite well that there would be great trouble and sorrow ahead – he had not forgotten the disobedience, idolatry and deep doubts which the Israelites had shown during their wanderings. He knew their hearts, their weakness, and had no illusions that the bounty of their new home would bind their hearts permanently to worship God alone. It must have been very sore, to lay down the burden of leadership, to see the faithful Joshua take it up in full knowledge that the job would take all he could give, and at times almost crush the life and hope out of him.

Did Moses ever wonder whether there would be anything to show for all his labour a few years after his death, any lasting fruit at all? In those times of doubt, perhaps he would go back in his mind to the miraculous provision of food in the wilderness, of water from the rock, and take strength in his faith that this God would not abandon the people. Or perhaps he would go further back to the dramatic time when God – seeming to be exasperated beyond bearing by the disobedience of the people when they created and worshipped a golden calf – had threatened to destroy them utterly and build a new nation around Moses’ own family. That day, Moses had reminded God of the promise made to Abraham, God’s own sworn covenant, to build a nation that would show his glory to the nations. What boldness on Moses’ part, and yet, what faithfulness too, seeking always to serve and magnify God, to honour and obey his word.

I think that this is the key to our own faithfulness in serving God – which is what we are called, enabled and privileged to do. We are made new creatures in Christ, commissioned to bring the good news of the gospel and the kingdom of God to all people, and promised the presence and power of God as we go. We are emphatically NOT given quotas, targets, deadlines or performance indicators. We are not given annual reviews and spreadsheets to complete. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth to make it clear where the credit for their coming to faith should lie!

What, after all is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1Cor 3.5-7)

It is God who builds the church, as it was God who called, saved and formed the people of Israel, keeping his promises to them in spite of chronic disobedience over centuries. Moses was not blamed for their failures, but commended for his faithful obedience in doing all that God had asked of him. So also, Paul points out that each labourer in God’s harvest field is rewarded for his labour, but is not responsible for the fruit – or lack of it.

We need to pray for our church leaders, that they will remember God calls them only to obedience, trusting him for growth in due time, and grieving over a lack of response without taking wrong personal responsibility for it. We need to hold God to his promises, as Moses did, that he will build his church, that he will be glorified among the nations and gather his church from every people under the sun. It is not our job to produce the fruit in other people, but to labour as God gives us abilities and opportunities, in loving and proclaiming the kingdom. In this way, all the glory goes to the one to whom it belongs, and we have the joy of exalting him alone!

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and for evermore! Amen!

(Jude 24,25)