Category Archives: Resilient faith

Pride of man…

 

For you have rejected your people, the house of Jacob…. Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots. Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made. So man is humbled and each one is brought low – do not forgive them! Enter into the rock and hide in the dust from before the terror of the Lord, and from the splendour of his majesty. The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.

For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up – and it shall be brought low;.. and the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. And idols shall utterly pass away. And people shall enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from before the terror of the Lord, and from the splendour of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth.

Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?

(Isa 2.6-11)

If we lived as though it were true that the creator of all things, the all-powerful and eternal God is our God; if we had no fear of humanity, nor pride in humanity except in so far as we are the beloved children of the Creator and bear his image; if in all things and at all times, we gave God all the glory – the loyalty and devotion and pre-eminence – which are rightly his… what would be different?

If we recognised the utter futility of depending upon humanity for the deliverance of our race and our planet form the mess it has gotten into; if we were free from placing our trust in politicians (of whatever hue) or human schemes and philosophies; if the body of Christ in this world didn’t pursue social status, cultural influence, material prosperity but devoted itself to the glory of God in Christ and the searing, healing power of the gospel… what would be different?

If we acknowledged that we are as dust in our transience; if we would discern the immanent, eternal realities which glow through our experience of the everyday and the voice of the Almighty in conversation with his children through his handiwork and their daily experiences of love, loss, labour and joy; if we recognised our humble (and yet exalted) position in creation and chose to accept it, delighting in God’s authority and sovereignty over us…. what would be different?

Our God is a jealous God, and he will not share his glory with anyone or anything. The experience of humankind on this earth is a lived exposition of what happens when that glory is given to another – humankind, nature, beauty, power, status, wisdom – anything which is not the Lord Almighty, the Lord God of hosts who reigns supreme, the only one worthy of worship and in whose power all things are made and sustained. When God is not at the centre of all we do, and his glory is not the aim of all we plan, then nothing is in its right place, and even our most significant achievements are flawed. 

As I read the words in Isaiah, this old hymn came to mind, and I leave it with you today as a prayer, a meditation and an affirmation of faith. Friends, let us continue to purse whole-hearted loyalty to our God, seeking in all things to glorify him, and learning to depend on no one and nothing else.

All my hope on God is founded; he doth still my trust renew.

Me through change and chance he guideth, only good and only true.

God unknown, he alone, calls my heart to be his own.

Pride of man and earthly glory, sword and crown betray his trust;

what with care and toil he buildeth, tower and temple, fall to dust.

But God’s power, hour by hour, is my temple and my tower.

(J Neander, 1650-80)

Frail as summer’s flowers…

Bless, O my being, the Lord, and everything in me, His holy name. Bless, O my being, the Lord, and do not forget all his generous acts… As a father has compassion for his children, the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. For He knows our devisings, recalls that we are dust. Man’s days are like grass, like the bloom of the field, thus he blooms- when the wind passes by him, he is gone and his place will no longer know him. But the Lord’s kindness is forever and ever over those who fear Him and His bounty to the sons of sons, for the keepers of His pact and those who recall His precepts to do them.

(Ps 103. 1&13-18. R Alter translation)

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me… It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking by the arms; but they did not realise it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love…. My people are determined to turn from me….. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?  

(Hos 11.1-4,7&8)

Our human affections, as God’s image bearers, can teach us so much about the character and love of the Creator, and I have been considering how my experience as a parent has led me to a much deeper appreciation of all the rich metaphors in the scripture which speak of God as a mother or father.

Do you have any memories of your first encounter with a new-born child, of the sense of wonder and awe which is engendered as you see the beauty, fragility and intricacy of this tiny being? This is an echo of the delighted wonder with which our God greets each and every new life – He never grows tired of the miracle of unique human identity, but values each one just as they are. Frail we are indeed, and yet He lavishes upon us so much love and care, not willing that any should perish without coming into relationship with him. My challenge is to love those around me with this same open-eyed wonder and delight, to see them as He sees me each day, and to love them as He has loved me.

I have watched friends and family live through the trauma of miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death, teenage suicide and extreme, prolonged physical and mental illness, and through their traumas have glimpsed the acute and debilitating pain which such losses bring to loving parents and extended families. Does this pain not also reflect the depths of the love which existed? The more we love, the greater we can hurt when our loved ones are threatened, and how much it hurts only the secrets of the heart, the night agonies, the deadening, hopeless dragging days can tell. Our capacity to love and suffer with our children in this way is surely another echo of the heart of God for his own beloved children – we are told again and again, that because of Jesus, our pain is known, is affirmed and given its full significance before God’s throne. None of that suffering is wasted, or unnoticed – the Lord in heaven sees and feels the weight of whatever is crushing you as your young ones suffer.

And when these beloved children, nestled in our hearts and yet free to choose for themselves, walk away from the faith into which they were born, oh then how great is our agony.. The one thing which above all we covet for them, is the one thing we cannot in any way force them to receive. And then our ability to identify with God in his depth of agonies over the unfaithfulness of Israel is really established. Only when I began to feel it for myself, with a degree of desperation and fear, did I appreciate the passion and pain that lies behind God’s wrestling over the disobedience which took Israel to worship idols and reject their covenant-keeping God.

In our frailty, we find the burden of love almost too much to bear when it brings with it so much pain. And yet, we too are God’s beloved children; our pain matters to him too, and he knows our weakness. In his unbounded compassion, he invites us to take advantage of his loving heart in the same way that we welcome our children’s suffering as part of the privilege of being their parent. And here we find just how great is our God, how faithful, how good, how loving. We are never rejected or dismissed as too weak, too fearful, too anxious. We are heard and loved and grounded in order to go on, loving like our Father in heaven because of the ways He loves us.

Father, in our weakness, be strong that we might love well; in our grief, be comforting and giving hope that we might bear witness to your goodness; in our failings, pour out your grace to bring blessing to us and to those whom we love as best we can, in the name of the Son whom you love perfectly, Amen.

I will… He will!

The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? When evil people advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon 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 tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, O Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Saviour. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not hand me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence.

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

(Psalm 27)

What are the enemies lined up against you this week, the ones that make your flesh shrink and your spirit quail as you consider their threats and are aware of their power? It is unlikely to be physical foes for most of us, but I don’t think that robs this psalm of all it has to say to us, as believers who are nonetheless on the front line in our faith.

We face the arch-enemy of our Lord, who delights to attack Christ by attacking Christ’s followers, the ones for whom he died and with whom he so closely identifies. This identification is the reason we are attacked, but it is also the reason that we can be sure of our ultimate security and victory. Our Lord Jesus will not let any of his little ones be carried out of his arms by the evil one – NOT ONE, no matter how weak or foolish they may be. As we learn to recognise our assailant – the driving force behind all our very real temptations to despair, hopelessness, cynicism and disobedience to Christ – so we learn to pray with the psalmist to the one who has decisively crushed and triumphed over the enemy.

We affirm our heart’s desire, which is to know and see our God; we look forward to sacrificing with joy and praising his name for his power in our salvation and ultimate deliverance to glory. We affirm our confidence in him as victorious, and as totally good, anticipating that we will see that glorious goodness in our lives and the world around us. As we do these things, we are reminded of who God is, and strengthened to resist the temptations which it would dishonour him to succumb to. Whenever his children look up by faith and say, Lord, for your name’s sake I choose to resist this temptation, then all heaven rejoices!

Almighty God, who for the sake of your dear Son, our Saviour, looks on us with love and delight, we rejoice today in all that you do for us. Thank you that as we face our great enemy, we can pray with David, standing on the solid ground of your character and promises. Lord, sustain your servants as we seek to live godly and Christ-glorifying lives. May we wait with confidence, trust with hope, and rejoice always in who you are. Thank you that you welcome us, though all others reject us; that you set us high upon the rock of salvation and hide us from the destructive power of evil; thank you that you keep us safe unto eternity and the resurrection life you have prepared for us.

Purpose and expectancy

Caleb son of Jephunneh said to Joshua.. “Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years.. while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.”

(Jos 14.6,10-12)

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. 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)

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as ever Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me..

(Phil 1.20-22)

Do you sometimes struggle to believe that there is still purpose in your life? That sounds rather dramatic, but is perhaps a more common thought than folk like to admit. A change in our circumstances can leave a sense of dislocation, emptiness, and often intense weariness of life, so that we long for our heavenly home as a means of escape. 

And yet Paul, writing from prison was eager and willing to continue in his mortal life, as God willed, anticipating fruitful and purpose-filled days. If I am still here, it is because the Lord has something for me to do, or to bear in such a way that Christ will be exalted – honoured and glorified both by human onlookers, and also the spiritual realm. Job’s continued faith and submission to God under excruciating loss and agony brought great honour in the courts of heaven, and we are assured that all who follow that example of fidelity and trust are welcomed home with the words “Well done, good and faithful servant, come and share your master’s happiness!”.

Whether it is advancing years, physical challenges and limitations, or other devastations which are leaving us feeling useless and worthless, we can learn much from what we read in the bible about purposeful perseverance. 

Caleb is a glorious example of a man who – after 45 years of waiting and what may have seemed pointless persistence – finally came into his inheritance. He claimed a promise from long ago, and not only that, he acted by faith in the God who promised, to enable him to take full and peaceful possession of that inheritance. He didn’t let his age restrict his expectations – he looked to the God who had made the promises and said, “Yes! we can do this!” Caleb encourages me to go on asking God to fulfil his word, not growing bitter over perceived delays, and willing to put my effort where my faith claims to be – in doing the work which is involved as God leads me. 

The psalmist speaks of those who grow into old age like trees rooted in a place of fertility and security. Their nourishment comes from the Lord, faith flowing through them to keep them hope-filled and expectant, bearing fruit in good deeds, praise to God and service of others – praying, encouraging, testifying to God’s power, giving of time, talents and money as they are able. I am blessed to have many examples of such people in my life, and pray that as I grow older, I might grow sweeter, more wholesome, more Christ-centred and therefore more fruitful, even as they are!

I was pondering these things as I toiled up this hill, and thinking what a good example it was of how life can feel like a steep and challenging climb, with little rest in sight. How do we tackle such a challenge in a way that will exalt Christ?

I take small steps – I choose to do the next thing which the Lord has placed in my way, no matter how small it may seem, trusting that I will be led right.

I put my feet on the smoothest spot I can see – I ground all my living in the truths of God’s love and salvation, in his character. This is a solid and safe foundation from which I can live each day and face each challenge.

I don’t look to the top of the mountain! If I look too far ahead, I am overcome by the scale of the challenge, but if I look to each step as it comes, I keep moving on.

Father God, give me grace for each tiny step upwards, give me hope to keep on moving, and may peace in Christ be the solid ground under my feet. May Christ be exalted, Amen

Lessons from history..

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever.

(Isa 9.2,6&7)

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no-one deceives you. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of the birth-pains.”

(Matt 24.4-8)

“..The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you want. “

(Mk 14.7)

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

(Jn 18.36-37)

One of the things which most bewildered Jesus’ followers was his insistence that he was not a warrior or freedom fighter, that his mission was not the removal of Roman rule from Israel. It was not until after his death that they began to glimpse the truth, the glorious reality of an eternal freedom – not from mere human tyrants, but from the greatest enemy of humankind – death, and its handmaid, sin. Jesus always had his sights set on something greater than they could possibly imagine.

We are saved from sin and death in order to enjoy citizenship of God’s kingdom – and crucially, that kingdom surpasses every human kingdom that has ever existed, in glory, justice and duration. When human beings dream of a world without fear, oppression, suffering and sin, they are tempted to believe that if only we could fix ourselves – through education, through better technology, through justice and equality – then we would realise that dream.

This has never been possible – that is why Jesus came to die for all who would believe and accept his remedy for the blight of our brokenness and rebellion. The kingdom of which we dream will one day be realised, when God winds up time, and ushers in a new creation, where his children are welcomed in to live with him forever.

In the meantime, we should listen to Jesus’ words to his disciples, as he warned them of the darkness that would continue to haunt human life until he returned. Wars, natural disasters, political upheaval, and all the poverty and suffering that goes with such things – all these things dominate our media, and people react as though they are somehow surprising, new and in some way avoidable! They have been part of human history for as long as it is recorded. Our species spends itself, in every age, in conflict, in oppression, in exploiting the world’s resources and its people. These open wounds in the experience of our race are – according to Jesus – normal. They are the inevitable consequence of sin. And we are not to be alarmed, but to hold fast to his promises, obediently working and praying for his return and the final elimination of all that lies at the root of suffering.

Please don’t misunderstand my words. I am in no way saying that suffering doesn’t matter. But, we are not to be unsettled by these things, not to allow them to unseat our faith and make us doubt God’s goodness. He is working on a bigger stage and scale than we can possibly comprehend, and one day, when he reveals the new kingdom, we will no longer have to trust, but will see for ourselves. And then, our response will be to worship in fear and trembling – that we should be loved and saved and adopted by such a God, for such a purpose! Then we will join with the numberless throng in praising our King, resting in his love, and all the pain and darkness will be swallowed up in light.

Stout… but in a good way!

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for me. He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me. 

Selah

God sends his love and faithfulness. I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts – men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. They spread a net for my feet – I was bowed down in distress. They dug a pit in my path – but they have fallen into it themselves. 

Selah

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast: I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.

(Ps 57)

Humble yourselves.., under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith… And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong and firm and steadfast.

(1 Pet 5.6-10)

How often the psalmist gives us words, helps us find relief for pent up feelings and concerns, and the expression of the roller-coaster which happens inside as we face the ups and downs of life. In Psalm 57, David is in acute distress; on the run from Saul and in danger of losing his life. He has no power or authority in the situation, but clings for dear life to the promises of God, the God who has been his lifelong companion and in whose name Samuel anointed David as the future king.

David is quite realistic about the situation – and rightly estimates his enemies as ruthless men who would destroy him. But rather than simply bewailing the situation, David is enabled by the Holy Spirit to stand firm, calling his scattering and fearful thoughts back to focus on the God in whom his trust lies, instead of the threats which lie so close.

Here is the key for me, as I face major threats and discouragements, or merely the daily trials and disappointments which are the lot of humankind in a fallen world. Will I chose, like David, to ensure that as I bring my concerns and fears to God, I am continually disciplining my thoughts to focus on the strength, goodness and faithfulness of the One who hears me? Or will I instead turn my prayers into litanies of self-pity, continual recounting of my trials and a refusal to acknowledge that God is on the throne of my life, but also over the whole world, and is at work for his good purposes even if I can’t see them?

David prayed for help from God – in other words, he humbled himself and didn’t even pretend that he could deal with this situation safely alone. Will I follow that example? Will I ask God to help me exert the self control needed to stand firm in the face of troubles large and small? Without that divine assistance, I will surely fall into despair and fail to honour God. But if I follow David in casting my burdens at the feet of the sovereign who has given his life for me, then surely I will be able to face what comes stoutly, confident in His strength and trusting that my obedience is the channel through which His victory is realised in my life.

These words from the daily prayers of John Baillie are a monthly reminder to me of the absolute necessity to humble myself and depend upon God, may they help us all to pursue our way like steadfast followers, confident and uncomplaining, looking to Christ our leader and friend as we go.

Oh Lord my God… give me grace, I beg Thee, to understand the meaning of such afflictions and disappointments as I am called upon to endure. Deliver me from all fretfulness. Give me a stout heart to bear my own burdens. Give me a willing heart to bear the burdens of others. Give me a believing heart to cast all burdens upon thee.

(from ‘A Diary of Private Prayer’ by John Baillie,1936)

Making it real..

In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind…. to God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his… To him belong strength and victory;.. He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings deep shadows into the light. He makes nations great, and destroys them;… He deprives the leaders of the earth of their reason; he sends them wandering through a trackless waste. They grope in darkness with no light; he makes them stagger like drunkards. My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it.

(Job 12.10,13,16, 22-25)

“This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of… For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name…, though you do not acknowledge me… I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things… This is what the Lord says – the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshalled their starry hosts. I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness….

(Isa 45.1,4,7,11-13)

Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

(Ac 2.22-24)

The King has come. The new kingdom has been birthed in the lives of those who confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, and their loyalty is now to him. But is it?

When the state of our world, or the state of our neighbourhood, fills us with sadness and threatens to flood our hearts with fear for the future of our children; when long cherished plans and hopes for our lives or those of our loved ones are shattered and we are tempted to despair instead of to hope; when our situation seems utterly futile, and existence seems pointless… what does it look like in these circumstances to live as loyal subjects of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?

Friends, this is something I find to be a constant challenge, and I am thankful for my heavenly Father’s patience and gentleness with me as I fail time and again. I will worry; I will find myself doubting that God will get it right, and that what He is permitting in our world just now can possibly be good and right when so much pain is involved for so many. I am indebted to the Canadian writer, Ann Voskamp for the most recent reminder that when I choose to let my thoughts run down this path of worry and doubt, I am dethroning Jesus and putting myself back onto the throne. 

The message of the Hebrew Scriptures, the gospels, Acts and all the letters (and especially of Revelation) is absolutely consistent. God is in charge; God is good and just, powerful and righteous; God can be trusted to keep His word. But, God is capable of doing the utterly unexpected, we cannot and must not try to constrain his actions  – the recognition of the heathen Cyrus, King of the Persian empire, as God’s agent to fulfill the divine plans must have caused consternation in Isaiah’s audience!

So what should I do next time the news in the papers, or the message from a friend threatens to send me down the well-trodden path of worry, fear and doubt? I take those thoughts captive; I recognise that I am on the top of a familiar slippery slope and choose to step back! The power to do this will come only as I depend by faith on God, asking his help to honour his name in my life – honouring him by choosing to trust and giving him the glory in the midst of what I do not understand.

And when God’s will seems most incomprehensible, I will remember what Peter told the crowds in Jerusalem at Pentecost, will remember that God purposed to bring the greatest good out of their greatest act of betrayal and rebellion. My God is so much greater than I can possibly understand, and he is in the business of turning darkness into light, death into life, and mortal into immortality.  I will keep on crowning him King, and choosing trust.

King of my life, I crown thee now – thine shall the glory be; Lest I forget thy thorn-crowned brow, lead me to Calvary.

Lest I forget Gethsemane, Lest I forget thine agony, Lest I forget thy love to me, Lead me to Calvary

(JE Hussey 1874-1958)

Whose headlines?

The Lord reigns for ever; he has established his throne for judgement. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”

(Ps 9.7-10)

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

(Jn 16.33)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

(Rom 5.1-5)

It is some years since I stopped watching news programmes on TV, and I mean stopped altogether, not just the late night bulletin which would upset and depress me just in time to go to bed…. all of them. My preferred radio station has the briefest possible bulletins, and no chat shows or analysis programmes. Our family newspaper is only skimmed by me, and I pay more attention to the articles on rugby union than UK politics!

Why? Because I am fully aware of the impact on my attitude to life and to the world around me that the ‘news’ can have. How often do we hear really good news on the radio or TV? When did a headline in the papers last make you think, ‘How really wonderful!’? The sad reality is that bad news sells, attracts and keeps attention, and so our media news channels focus on that – on disagreement, on the dramas of international disputes, on natural disasters and the threats of more.

I know that some outlets are more reliable than others when it comes to an accurate and unbiased reporting; I know that some sources are more likely to take account of all the facts and avoid pursuing some political agenda of their own. But, I also know that since none can actually take a broad, complete picture, they will inevitably distort and fail to convey the full picture.

And so, as a follower of Jesus, I choose to place little weight in the news as reported. I choose instead to rely on the statements by the one who truly sees and knows all, who holds the nations in his hand and sees into every heart, discerning motives and desires which are hidden from the world. I choose to trust God’s headlines over those of the media, and to find in his viewpoint, my security and my analysis of the situation.

There is so much more going on than we ever hear about. There are so many things which are good, and true and beautiful that never make the news. God’s love is in action, all around me people are caring and giving and celebrating because He is, and has loved them. I believe that only eternity will show the full significance of all the apparently ‘small’ good things that are happening all the time. If I am to hold a balanced view, I need to make sure that the reality of God’s love and goodness, of his beauty and power are at the forefront of my mind, balancing the pain, evil and misery which is also part of our broken world.

And what are God’s headlines?

The Lord reigns for ever. He will judge in righteousness. He has overcome this world’s evil, and the victory is given to all who trust in him for forgiveness and eternal life. We are on the winning side! Whenever you are being overwhelmed by the latest tidal wave of bad news, dear friends, take a step back and remember what God says about this world and all that is happening and will take place.

Not only is our Lord reigning already, but he is also present with his people in their journey through this place so painfully compounded of joy and sorrow, light and darkness, beauty and ugliness. This holiness came and lived with our sinfulness. Nothing that we encounter can shock or defeat him. Nothing that the darkness hides goes unseen by him. We never walk alone….

So much good news, from the most trustworthy source imaginable: my friends I pray that we might never lose sight of it, and might indeed discern it every day in the lives of those around us – the faithful love of a spouse for a failing partner; the committed work of missionaries, carers, healthworkers and emergency services; the unselfish generosity of neighbours and the positive community efforts to care for the weakest and least visible in their midst. God’s headlines may not always be the most dramatic, but they will always help me to walk more steadily through our troubled world, and to offer hope to all who will receive it.

Where are my wells?

The angel of the Lord found Hagar.. and he said,..”go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.”

…God said to Abraham, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant… I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bow shot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink…

(Gen 16.9&10; 21.12-19)

But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand….the poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.

(Isa 41.8-10, 17&18)

On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

(Jn 7.37&38)

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful..

(Heb 10.23)

Hagar, servant of Sarah, concubine to Abraham, mother of Ishmael, suffered greatly at the hands of those who could and should have known better. Abraham and Sarah, in their abuse of Hagar, did not honour the God whose call they had obeyed and whom they worshipped. God showed grace and compassion to Hagar, as the mother of Abraham’s first son, she entered a relationship with a covenant keeping God and this long story shows that faithfulness of God’s character at work. In all the machinations of Sarah, and complaisance of Abraham, yet God was at work for good for this slave woman and her unwanted child. And when the crisis came, Hagar found that God intended to do for her all that he had promised.

I was greatly moved by this story when it was preached in our church last week, as we were encouraged to recall that we too are those who have received God’s promises. As his chosen ones, called through Jesus to be his children, we are the object of his love and it is his purpose to bring us to glory. While the world may leave us tired and vulnerable, and those close to us may hurt or neglect us, yet God is at work and cannot be thwarted.

Friends, are you, like me, oppressed and feeling as though life is a desert? Can you see only the death of your hopes and no purpose in carrying on? Let me encourage you to be like Hagar, to cry aloud in your distress and to listen for the voice of the Lord who has promised that he will quench your thirst abundantly.

This way is the one in which God is leading and calling you. This, therefore, is the place in which he will sustain and bless you. This way is the one where you will find wells, springs of refreshment. There may only be small springs, rations for each day’s journey – but herein lies the challenge of faith. Will I accept today’s refreshment and trust for tomorrow’s, even though I may not see it yet? Will I choose to follow and rejoice, one day at a time?

What wells lie in your way today? As you cry to your Father who sees all things, what will he give for your thirst? Perhaps a song, or piece of music which brings His faithfulness to mind and allows you to express worship and trust, or to lament and lay your burden before him. Perhaps the companionship of a fellow traveller with whom you can share your situation, and whose own burdens you can lift to God in prayer. Perhaps an opportunity to serve, to use the gifts you have for the blessing of another. Perhaps a fresh awareness of his power and majesty in creation.

May we learn to trust him more fully for our daily needs, and to journey in faith, like Hagar. May we see the wells which God’s goodness has provided, and having drunk deeply, go on.

What gets my ‘thumbs up’?…

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 statues 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.

(Ps 119.12-16)

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else and not your own lips….As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart….The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but people are tested by their praise.

(Pr 27. 2,19&21)

These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…

(Isa 29.13)

..store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also….No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

(Matt 6.19-21,24)

We know – because we are continually being told – that the great internet companies succeed in part through their ability to gather information about us, their customers. This enables them to target what we see every time we engage with our social media – stimulating our desires and generating (as they hope) more spending to keep the great money machine ticking over. By diligent monitoring of our habits, viewing activities, previous purchasing and ‘likes’, they build up a picture of what we are like, of our preferences, even our likely political opinions. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to see the ‘profile’ created for me by these companies, would I recognise myself? Would I see anything that would suggest that I am – as Christ instructed me – laying up treasures for myself in heaven?

It is relatively easy, when in the company of other believers, to say the ‘right’ things and give an impression of devotion and commitment to Jesus, but the Lord sees my heart and knows just how far those verbal affirmations go in telling the truth about me… He knows what really makes me glad, or sad. He sees when I am bored of being holy and instead choose self-indulgence, laziness and conformity to the society around me. Who am I trying to fool when I make the right noises, but live a lie? Shame on me, if I am trying to fool my fellow believers – surely it were better that I admit my struggles to remain faithful, and ask for the help of my sisters and brothers in Christ?

The choices I make, in doing and spending, in speaking and remaining silent, all add up to a clear picture about what really motivates me in daily living. As a new creature in Jesus, forgiven and transformed by the indwelling of his Spirit, the potential to be driven by love for my Lord and a desire for his glory is already in me. Do I choose to harness that potential, to ask for his help in setting my heart on heavenly treasures? Sometimes I do, and sometimes, I don’t have to ask! Just occasionally, I am blessed by the realisation that Christ is indeed at work in me, and the desires of my heart – the things that I value and praise – are the things of God, of eternal value, the glory of the Saviour himself. Thank God for such occasions in your life, for the encouragement they give to your perseverance and the testimony to his power at work in you.

The transformation of our characters into the likeness of Jesus doesn’t lead to a bland, half-lived life. Rather we enter into a fuller life, because our passions are now godly and can be expressed strongly and safely, they are all under his command and direction. We learn to love justice as he does – so we can be rightly angered by injustice, oppression and exploitation. We learn to see his power in creation, to realise the privilege of sharing in stewardship of this great gift, and so we can be passionate about looking after our planet, its ecosystems, and all the people whom God loves so much that Jesus died for them. We know the value of each human life, so we can be passionately interested in our neighbours, in what is good for them and our wider communities – we learn to love as God loves, appreciating each individual in all their unique glory. We see the devastating effects of sin, throughout creation, and so we long passionately to share the good news of Jesus and the defeat of evil which he achieved.

Our Father in heaven, stir up in our hearts all those desires for heavenly treasure which you have imparted to us. May we burn more steadily and more brightly for you, so that it is clear for all to see just where our hearts are. We pray this for the glory of Jesus our Lord, and for your work in the world. Amen