Category Archives: Resilient faith

Are we nearly there yet?…and other complaints

“Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? You stretched out your right hand and the earth swallowed the Egyptians. In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling….”

Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur…the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

(Ex 15. 11-13,22&24)

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron…”If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat round pots of meat…but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”…The Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.'”

(Ex 16. 2&3, 11&12)

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were;…We should not test the Lord, as some of them did….And do not grumble, as some of them did…These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come. So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

(1 Cor 10. 6-13)

It all started so well, with the people of Israel rejoicing over their miraculous deliverance from Egypt and the sheer awesome power of their God, that power which he promised would bring them to their own fruitful and peaceful land. But within a few weeks, there was bitter complaint against the servant leader, and by implication, against their God, for the conditions in which they had to live as pilgrims.

So it would continue off and on for years, resulting in the deaths in the desert of all those who had doubted God, and the exclusion of Moses from the promised land. So much for their joyful song of faith and trust in God – when life got hard, it was just so many empty words.. and I have to recognise this same weakness in myself. As Paul astutely warns the Corinthian church, we are all prone to this lack of trust and to a discontented, complaining spirit, a spirit which grieves God deeply.

I am rescued, redeemed from a spiritual bondage which by my own efforts I could not escape. I am free to live with hope and purpose, looking forward to a promised land, an eternal future which is beyond my wildest imagination. I know, in my mind and sometimes in my heart, that the power which delivered me, and the love which planned that deliverance, are good, and that I can trust God absolutely with my life. But…but….

I am ashamed to see how often I have a grumbling spirit; how often I complain about the length of the journey which lies before me (and I don’t even know how long it will be!); or about the sinfulness of my travelling companions (who have to put up with my sinfulness); or about the arid and hostile land through which I have to travel (when in worldly terms, I live in a prosperous, peaceful and highly desirable situation).

Oh Lord, forgive me. Too often, I have come to you with complaints, instead of with thankfulness for my deliverance, for the many good things which you have already provided and above all for the daily renewal of your love and forgiveness of me.

You have called me to a pilgrimage, you have placed in my heart a hunger for a home which is not of this world, and you have promised to provide for all my needs on the journey. You have promised that all that is permitted to come into my life will be for your glory and my sanctification and blessing. And I have failed time and time again to live as if I believed it. Forgive me for doubting your goodness and love, that is at the root of all my grumbling, and how shameful that I should even entertain such doubts when you have shown your love for me so powerfully in Christ.

When I am tempted to complain, let me rather thank you first for all I have, all you give. Then let me present my needs with a humble submission to your will, recognising that you know best. Let me cultivate the spirit of one who travels in hope, and in patience, and in trust, that her guide will not fail her and she can follow with confidence wherever he may lead!

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And so it comes to pass…

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy.

Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise.

Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

(Psalm 100)

O God of Bethel, by whose hand Thy people still are fed,
Who through this weary pilgrimage hast all our fathers led.

Our vows, our prayers, we now present before thy throne of grace;
God of our Fathers, be the God of their succeeding race

Through each perplexing path of life our wandering footsteps guide;
Give us each day our daily bread, and raiment fit provide.

Such blessings from Thy gracious hand our humble prayers implore;
And Thou shalt be our chosen God, and portion evermore.

Philip Doddridge (1702-1751), Scottish Paraphrases, 1781

The hundredth psalm is subtitled in my bible, “for giving thanks”, a serious understatement when it comes to describing that glorious outpouring, in only a few verses, of praise and trust. I grew up in the Scottish psalm singing tradition, so that the words are inextricably linked to an ancient tune, and I can’t say them, but must sing, slipping into the familiar cadences and measured, joyfully steady pace of the music. I hear the echoes of my father and mother singing alongside, in the days when we shared in the worship of God together, and am grateful over again to the church where I was raised, for giving me this heritage of music and word together.

The same is true for the paraphrase (it means a song or hymn based very closely on a particular passage, or passages of scripture, and was a key part of Scottish church singing for centuries). Again, the marriage of words and music is so deeply embedded that I cannot sing these words to any other tune, but who needs variety when the originals are so good! This hymn of total dependence on God, based on his faithfulness to those who have gone before us, is a wonderfully rich prayer for every day of our lives, and those of our loved ones.

I am using them together this week, because our family is giving thanks, and looking to the future as we celebrate our son’s engagement to marry – at an as yet unspecified date – a young woman who shares his deep faith, and commitment to living for God wherever that may take them. It is very humbling when the next generation take such significant steps, another occasion for me as mother to learn to let go, and trust that my heavenly Father knows and loves even better than I do!

I rejoice that my God is faithful through all the generations; and I am deeply thankful that my son has grown into saving faith in Christ, witnessing publicly to his Lord and committing himself to a life of pilgrimage. As a Christian parent, I am well aware that such faith is the only really important thing that one’s child needs, and also, that I have no power to impart it, but depend on God’s grace and the work of his spirit in my children. What a joy then, to see him thus affirm his faith, and to find that God has led him to a life-partner, one who can cherish and console, can exhort and comfort; and one to whom my son can devote all his powers of loving and nurturing.

Christian marriage brings many of the same challenges as the union of those with no faith, but it has one key difference – the presence of a living, loving God by whose power both partners are enabled to forgive and live with one another, and to cope with whatever challenges they might face. It is a great relief, as a parent, to be able to commit these children of my heart to the God whom they trust, knowing that He has their best interests at heart too, and will fulfill his purposes in their lives.

The pilgrimage will at times be weary; the path will often be perplexing; but in looking to God, I can pray with confidence that my succeeding race will find all their needs are met, their faith strengthened, and that God will be glorified in and through them.

Keep me hungry Lord..

I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.

(Psalm 119.10-16)

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man or woman of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

(2 Timothy 2.15 & 3.16)

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

(Colossians 3.15-16)

I was always taught that it was important for a follower of Jesus to set aside time daily to pray and read the bible – and I suspect most of us know that it is a good habit to acquire, although we may struggle to establish it! We know in our heads that God speaks to us through the words of the old and new testaments, and that through them, we grow in our understanding of God’s plan for redemption and above all in knowledge of Christ Jesus our saviour.

But how often as human beings do we put into practice things which we know to be good for us?! It is an ongoing struggle for me to find ways to engage with the bible which do not become a rushed, cursory skimming of the text, and perhaps a slightly less rushed perusal of the commentary provided by printed or online notes.. I am almost too familiar with the bible, taking it for granted and assuming that I know enough to get by without trying too hard to improve and continually refresh my knowledge.

I do not believe that there is a one-size-fits-all solution to this challenge, nor even that what suits at one time of life will be appropriate at another. The single mother, caring for children and holding down a full-time job  will find it hard to make time for in-depth daily study – and her Lord knows and understands. A short dose of scripture morning and night might prove as effective and nourishing to her faith as anything more ambitious, because the Holy spirit will use that to speak to her need. Someone who learns better by hearing and seeing than by reading, will find recorded talks and short video clips stimulate their understanding, and prompt their worship and praise just as effectively as prolonged meditation on the complexities of the book of Romans!

The point is, as Paul writes to the Colossians – that the word should “dwell richly” in us, a beautiful expression which I take to mean that it ought to be treasured, to be alive in us, like a welcome presence, influencing every part of our lives. The great 119th psalm is an incredible outpouring of praise for the word, for the treasure which we have in it, and a reminder that it is only as we live by the word that we are in fellowship with God.

Paul writes to encourage the young church leader, Timothy, to work diligently at his knowledge of scripture, so that he can bless others through his teaching and life. We too, have a responsibility to one another to be as skillful in handling scripture as we can be, so that the body of Christ – the church – nurtures and comforts and grows stronger in unity as we teach one another.

When I consider my daily time of bible reading in the light of these thoughts, it is a good deal easier to motivate myself to do it! I am helping others, not just myself, and fulfilling my calling as a member of the church. Through the bible, I see Christ, and he is the end, the purpose of all my studies – to see and know and grow more like him.

May God in his mercy increase my hunger and longing to see Christ, my desire to live with and for him, so that I never grow tired of reading his word and so that it will indeed dwell richly and bear fruit in my life, and be a blessing to those around me.

 

Tell me again..please?

Therefore, I will always remind you about these things – even though you already know them and are standing firm in the truth you have been taught. And it is only right that I should keep on reminding you as long as I live….For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendour with our own eyes….because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets.

I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Saviour commanded through your apostles.

(2 Peter 1.12,16,19 &3.2)

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the good news I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this good news that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you…I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the scriptures said.

(1 Corinthians 15. 1,3&4)

 Our world in these early years of the twenty-first century is driven by rapid change – population growth; expanding economies; transforming technologies. We in the prosperous and stable European nations enjoy an unprecedented standard of living and are swept along in the current of constant innovation which drives our economies and personal lives. Every few years, we replace appliances, cars and pieces of furniture, and obsolescence is built in to much of what we use,  we accept it cannot last for long. We are increasingly driven by novelty, the lure of the new and different. It was ever thus, humanity is easily bored, but the pace of change today is breath-taking.

Do we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking about faith in this way, as if there ought to be some innovations by now, some new and exciting insights and teaching which will render much of our tradition obsolete? Well, perhaps there is a case for arguing that much which is traditional is no longer helpful, but actually obscures the gospel, and it could therefore be set aside. But, there is a foundation of truth upon which our faith must rest if it is to have any validity at all, and that foundation remains today as it was when the apostles wrote about it two thousand years ago..

We believe in a God who became human, lived a perfect life, died the death of a sinner, and was raised to new life, ascending into heaven where all those who accept his death in their place will also be received. It can be reduced to the simplest of statements, as the children’s hymn puts it, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so..”

There is sufficient profound theology behind this truth to occupy the greatest minds; and yet it is clear enough to be understood and embraced by the youngest and simplest of us. And it does not change…this is what we believe, and without this, we are astray upon a sea of conjecture, tossed by fashionable philosophies, driven by ruthless atheists, and without any real grounds for hope. It is this truth which we need, more than anything else, to give us courage to face life, to face ourselves in all our weakness, failure and malice.

Jesus loves me – therefore I am of worth, I have value in God’s eyes and can hold my head high no matter what others say of me; Jesus loves me – and his death has dealt with all my sins, the past, present and future, I am forgiven and the burden of guilt has no weight for me: Jesus loves me – I want to live in a way that honours him and recognises that my life is no longer my own to waste; Jesus loves me – and that love is for all who will receive it, therefore I have good news to share with my world!

This old story, of Jesus and his love, is what I need to receive afresh every day of my life. It is as basic to my existence as the food I eat and the air I breathe. Without this story, I have no hope, and am at the mercy of my own sin, the wiles of the devil, and the power of evil in the world.

Praise God, in his infinite wisdom, that his great story of redemption is complete, that nothing need be added by all the cleverness of humanity to make it effective. There is no need to look for new versions of the good news of Jesus; the old story, the unchanging story, is never obsolete, always effective, and the only sure foundation of faith. Alleluia, and Amen!

For my children..

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

(1Timothy 6.6-12)

Nearly twenty two years ago, I was safely – and belatedly – delivered of a son, a precious gift and source of great joy and contentment, as well as not a little grief and anxiety over the years of his growing! Four years ago, he left home, first for a gap year, and then to university. There he thrives, and we have had the pleasure of watching him relish every opportunity to learn; every friendship which has come his way; and above all, of seeing him grow in faith, seeking to reach his community with the gospel. He is a man made by and for God, and he knows his maker – a blessing which cannot be quantified, and one which every christian parent craves for their children but cannot guarantee.

I say these things not to boast – it is none of my doing, and even as I give thanks for the blessings he has received, I yearn over the children of christian friends who as yet are choosing to walk through life without putting their faith in Christ, sitting lightly to the question of their salvation. So why talk about him at all? Because this  morning, after a week of holiday with friends here, he left me again…

Does it never get easier, this parting from the one who once was utterly dependent on me? Does the raw place where my heart was ripped from his never really heal over? I have no fear for him, and yet how sore it is when he leaves, returning to the larger life he now enjoys with friends who are so dear – in which I barely play a part – and all of life ahead of him.

The bible regularly uses the imagery of a father – or mother – to describe God’s yearning over his children, and I believe that this longing love is something that human beings experience in smaller degree. In our parenting; our nurturing of new life and raising for independent living, we experience a little of the passion with which God loves us, his beloved children, driving him to seek after and bring us to himself again. The very pain which is part of letting our children go, is a window into the heart of a tender God. How are we to use it?

I can resent the ways that God has chosen to ordain my life, separating me from my children and leading them away from me..or I can rejoice that for a little time, I was privileged to be in their lives, loving and caring for them on his behalf. They were his before they were ever mine, and if I remember that, then I can take comfort even as I watch them go – God’s love for them is so much greater than I can ever imagine, and they can be in no better place than the centre of his will for them.

I can follow the example of Paul, who though not the human father of Timothy, yet wrote tenderly to that young man, calling him a dear son, and addressing many earnest and loving words of advice to him. Paul does not caution Timothy to look out for his own interests, but challenges him to the highest calling – a life devoted to God, in which those qualities of godliness, love, endurance, faith, gentleness and righteousness are always growing stronger.

Who knows what this will look like in real life? A calling to full-time christian service; to overseas mission or ministry in this country? A life lived in an increasingly secular and hostile society, bearing faithful witness to the rebuke and challenge as well as the offer of the gospel? A life of single chastity, or marriage and parenthood? A life blessed with good health, or plagued by illness?

I cannot tell, and I thank God that I do not know. But I can and do pray for my children – and for their friends, the precious young lives which come into contact with mine – that their faith will be in Christ alone; that their will to obey might be fixed; and that they might live to glorify and serve the God who made them for such a time as this.

Not of my choosing..

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”

(Luke 9.23&24)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

(Matthew 11. 28-30)

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long O Lord, how long? Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love…The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.

(Psalm 6.2-4,9)

When my late father was undergoing treatment for cancer, he discovered – much to his chagrin – that a great deal of the good temper and exemplary patience which he had enjoyed all his life had been due to his excellent health! When that health was undermined, he discovered that perhaps it was not so easy to be gentle, forbearing and always cheerful, and found a new sympathy with those whose health had never been good.. In the same way, a person who has never experienced real deprivation may lack sympathy for those who truly suffer from it, may not have compassion for their anxiety and may even judge them for a lack of hope and confidence..

God sees clearly those areas of our lives where we are most proud of ourselves, where our self-esteem is most deeply rooted, and where we are least dependent on his sustaining power. I believe that at times he permits those very dear things to be undermined, in order that we might learn to cling to him alone in a new and closer way, accepting that EVERYTHING we have is only ever a gift, which may be withdrawn, and which cannot be relied upon for our peace of mind and sense of worth. These things are in danger of becoming idols in our souls, displacing Christ from the place of pre-eminence which is his right, and weakening us in our life of faith and witness. It is grace when God in his wisdom chooses to uproot them.

I do not have permission to choose the cross which I am called to take up daily, and which requires me to deny, to silence those voices which cry out against God’s will and clamour for my own way in everything. Will I trust my God for this trial, this cross? Do I believe him, when he promises to sustain me through it, even to glorify himself in my life as I lean hard on his arm for strength? Am I willing perhaps NEVER to see how God uses my experience for good, but to believe that he will because he has promised it?

At the moment, I am experiencing a particular trial – a gentle undermining of my health which has gone on for over four years now, in various guises, preventing me from doing things which are important to me. My estimation of myself is diminished, I am tempted to despise the rather feeble person I am become, as I try to live within the limitations imposed by my body. Is God any less delighted with me as his daughter, because of these things? NO! Am I in any way less able to pray for his work, to witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ? NO! And yet, and yet, I fret and mourn for what cannot be, tempted to despair instead of rejoicing in all I am and have in Christ.

As my running shoes remain unused, and mountains remain untrodden, I am drawn to cling to my God, to pour out my regrets and fears to the God who knows and loves me so tenderly, who gave me a desire to run and climb in the first place! He knows the burden which he is asking me to bear at this time, he knows how much it is costing to pick up that cross daily and then to walk with it cheerfully.

When we bring our crosses into that loving presence – whatever they may be – we find one who knows how we struggle, and who himself bore burdens beyond our imagining . And he comes alongside to bear us, to draw the sting of anxiety and dread, to give us for every pang the sweetest assurance of his presence and love.

In our daily carrying of our individual crosses, may we find the fellowship we enjoy with Christ so dear, so sustaining, that the burden does indeed become light, since we bear it for his sake and with his strength. In our weakness, may his power be made abundantly plain, and our delight in his grace towards us grow ever greater!

What am I saying?

Look at the birds in the sky. they never sow nor reap nor store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you much more valuable to him than they are?

Consider how the wild flowers grow. they neither work nor weave, but I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was never arrayed like one of these! Now if God so clothes the flowers of the filed, is he not much more likely to clothe you?

(Matt 6.26,28-30)

Two sparrows sell for a farthing don’t they? Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Never be afraid, then – you are far more valuable than sparrows.

(Matt 10.29&30)

At a recent bible study, we were praying for the young people in our fellowship, remembering how hard they find it to speak about faith in front of anyone else – especially one another – and how vulnerable they are as they take their first steps into adulthood. The silence of our teenagers can be baffling, frustrating, and discouraging – I do not argue about that! But our reaction to them and the way that we choose to speak and act can be a very powerful force for good – or bad – in their lives.

In fact, this is true at every age isn’t it? As members of the family of God, we are all given the power to build one another up in Christ, but too often fail to use it, and waste opportunities or even manage to hurt and bring people down. What am I saying, when I brush past an older sister, who is living alone and needing some conversation, in order to spend time with someone else? What would Jesus have done? I can show the love and respect which is due to her by spending some time, listening to her stories and showing genuine concern. When I do this, I say ,”You matter, to me and even more, to God; He loves and cherishes you as his beloved child, and loves to bless you.”

If I am not willing to make time for people, then I am missing an opportunity to affirm them, to encourage them – and if my own experience is anything to go by, I am also missing out on a blessing for myself, since the act of blessing others brings many rewards of its own!

When we take the time to really see the individual person, look into their eyes and walk with them a little way, then we can be a means by which God loves them – they are significant and precious; their joys and sorrows matter; and God is present with them in every step of their journey. Yes, it may require some sacrifice on our part to love in this way – but is that not what we are called to? We are people who follow a Christ who was crucified, who calls us to love by laying down our lives for one another, whose sufferings we are privileged to share that we might grow in fellowship and union with him. Love hurts; love costs; love gives, sometimes with bleeding hands. If there is no cost, there is no love, only sentiment and that will not last.

We find our ultimate value, our worth, in the love which God showed to us when Christ in his great act of redemption, died for us. The language which we use to describe that great transaction is saturated with images of cost, price, value. As broken human beings, we desperately need to know that we matter to someone, matter enough that they will come through for us and be there for us. THAT is what the cross tells us..

I am a beloved daughter of the King of heaven. I wear the crown of an heir to the riches of Christ. In God’s sight, I am a precious jewel, and one day I will shine along with my brothers and sisters, in the great assembly as Christ and his people come together for eternity. I matter enough to the maker of the universe, that his very own son should pay the price for sin which was mine. Me, with all my faults, doubts, and failings… that very same person is destined for glory and a place in my Father’s house for ever.

And this, all this amazing truth is true also for every member of God’s church – and indeed is his desire for all people he has made, that they might know how much they are loved, and turning to him, find their significance and  be at peace.

We each have the power, by our words and actions in dealing with one another, to release God’s transforming power into our lives, by saying loudly and clearly – “You matter; your destiny is God’s passion; you are uniquely gifted to glorify him through your life, and everything about you is important to your heavenly Father”.

May God open my eyes more clearly day by day, to see other people as he sees them, and to speak his truth into their lives, so that they might grow in faith and rejoice in their state as heirs of the Kingdom of God!