Category Archives: Resilient faith

Choosing to look for the light

But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour…

(Isa 43.1-3)

We have been having some grim weather these past months, and the statistics from the weather watchers confirm the feeling that we are light deprived – the days may be getting longer, but there is so little sunshine that we barely notice and our spirits are heavy. The sun is there, but it is hidden and how dreary the days can feel. 

So we have a choice.. do we behave as though the light were never returning, and live as those condemned to twilight? Of course not, because we know the truth – that glorious light and life giving star is out there, and we shall see it again. In the meantime, it continues to give daylight, to bring increasing warmth to the land, stimulating the birds and the plants into the activity of spring. Perhaps you can see where I am going with this? Surely the Lord of Heaven’s armies, the creator and sustainer of the universe and so much more that we can’t imagine, is even more dependable than the sun which he made? 

The clouds which obscure our sun are real, we feel their impact on our lives and spirits every day. Sometimes we see them as beautiful, but often only as barriers to that which we crave. Yet without them there would be no rain, no life-giving water, and none of the drama and glory which they bring to our experience of this beautiful planet. So we need them, and must trust their maker for the pattern and purpose of their coming and going.

The bible is absolutely clear on the sovereignty of God in all human affairs; on his power and purpose in shaping everything that happens all the time towards his great kingdom revelation and the re-creation which will usher in our eternal lives with him. Nothing is outwith his knowledge, and if we trust him for the atmospheric clouds, we are are also called to trust him for the things that cloud our spiritual lives, and can bring us so low and near despair for lack of light.

We are not promised sunny days and smooth paths; on the contrary, the prophetic words of Isaiah say ‘when’ not ‘if’ the children of God walk through fire, and are near overwhelmed by floods. Jesus said that we would always have the poor with us – the world will never be put to rights until he comes again in glory to make it new. Jesus said that we will always have trouble, and our security lies not in the lack of it, but in his victory over the world and all its power to disturb, destroy and defy the Almighty God. 

Friends, let us take God at his word, and go looking for the light. It is shining as surely as if there were no clouds of disease, sin, grief and hardship to obscure it. We can always find glimpses of it, and the lives of so many saints testify to the faithfulness of God in sustaining us under our clouds. This song was brought to my attention this week, and it perfectly expresses what faith looks like under clouds, I hope it blesses you as it has me.

God has not promised skies always blue, flower-strewn pathways all our lives through; God has not promised sun without rain, joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

But God has promised strength for the day, rest for the labour, light for the way, grace for the trials, help from above, unfailing sympathy, undying love.

God has not promised we shall not know toil and temptation, trouble and woe; He has not told us we shall not bear many a burden, many a care.

But God has promised strength for the day, rest for the labour, light for the way, grace for the trials, help from above, unfailing sympathy, undying love.

(A.J. Flint; 1866-1932)

 

On the way home

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock…. The path of the righteous is level; you make level the way of the righteous. In the path of your judgements, O Lord, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul. My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgements are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.. O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works.

(Isa 26.1-4,7-9 & 12)

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

(Jn 16.33)

As a follower of Jesus, I live in an in-between time, a waiting and watching time, and yet a time when my Lord commands my full commitment to living with and for him in the present and place where I am. For over two millenia, Christians have existed with this tension, and still we wait, reading history through the lens of God’s revelation of his ways with humankind, and discerning how as time goes by, the truth of that revelation is underscored again and again. Therefore, we wait in hope, as those who are confident in the fulfillment of their expectations and content to be busy meanwhile about their master’s business. I cannot know when he will return, but I want to be actively working and worshipping when he comes!

The passage in Isaiah is a meditation on what it is like to inhabit this now-and-not-yet state; to be saved and yet still live with temptations; to be on the victor’s side and yet still experience the pain and damage of warfare; to be transformed into God’s beloved children and yet still live in a world and with people who do not know him and with all the devastating consequences of sin. The believer recognises that peace is the gift of God, indeed, all that is needed for our salvation and eternal life is from God’s gracious hand. It is his choice to make us secure in his family and give us an inheritance in the city of salvation which he has made. It is by God’s grace that we are able to keep faith, in spite of sin and failing in this world, to go on desiring his glory and a better, closer, truer relationship with him every day.  

As we choose to live according to his judgements, accepting his definition of right and wrong, living within the boundaries which he lovingly appoints for us, we walk in his paths. As we choose to accept those troubles which he judges permissible, living in a fallen world, under all the consequences of our sins and those of others, accepting them by faith as his decrees and continuing to seek his glory and to obey him, then we walk in his paths. In both those kinds of walking, we are waiting for God to reveal himself through our lives to others – to demonstrate his grace and goodness and love and speak to them.

As I go into another year, with trouble on all sides and many voices clamouring for my attention, I pray that – with Isaiah – I might say the name and renown of the Lord is the desire of my heart, and that I yearn day and night to know and honour him more. I pray that I might trust that the peace which is my portion in Jesus is indeed fully mine – that I might face trials steadily and base my life in God’s promises and the knowledge that he makes my path smooth as I follow in faith where he leads. I am on the way home, to a glory, a love, a family all beyond my wildest dreams; let my heart therefore not be troubled as I walk through  this shadowy realm, waiting on the Lord in my spirit and finding him ever present as my unshakeable rock and salvation.

Looking through..

In that day the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.. He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel.. There will be a highway for the remnant of his people …

In that day you will say: “I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. In that day you will say: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you .”

All you people of the world, you who live on the earth, when a banner is raised on the mountains, you will see it, and when a trumpet sounds, you will hear it.. At that time gifts will be brought to the Lord Almighty from a people tall and smooth-skinned, from a people feared far and wide, an aggressive nation of strange speech, whose land is divided by rivers – the gifts will be brought to Mount Zion, the place of the Name of the Lord Almighty.

In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the Lord at its border. It will be a sign and witness to the Lord Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors, he will send them a saviour and defender, and he will rescue them. So the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the Lord…. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed by Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.

(Isa 11.10,12&16; 12. 1-6; 18.3&7; 19.19&20,25)

Our ladies’ bible study is currently reading the book of the prophet Isaiah, and recent weeks have seen us immersed in foretelling disaster, destruction and suffering – grim stuff indeed. And yet, we have found much to encourage and inspire us as we get a better understanding of Isaiah’s double vision – of the immediate future for Judah, and also the long-term future of God’s purposes in the world. The realism of the prophet is comforting – echoing the world in which we live now, with human pride and power dominating the stage, and resulting (as it always has and always will) in misery. Isaiah never pretends that bad things are not going to happen to God’s people in this world, but what he does time and again is to remind them that what they are seeing is but a tiny glimpse – and a distorted one at that – of what is really going on.

God gave Isaiah many opportunities to intimate coming events which would validate his prophecy as from the Almighty. This encouraged the faithful in Judah to believe the bigger prophecies too, and to put their whole trust in God. In our turn, these prophecies encourage us to discern God’s purposes at work behind human actions, and the dazzling of power or the darkness of destruction. What is promised is wonderful beyond our imagining, a blazing vision of true power and authority wielded for good, by a perfect and just ruler, under whom all can dwell in perfect peace and fullness of life.

The One through whom God has appointed this deliverance to come is the Messiah – whom we know as Jesus, son of Mary, born into Joseph’s family and raised in Nazareth. He came to suffer and to die for us, to remove all the barriers that cut us off from God and to defeat the power which drives us continually away from God. BUT one day he will come again, this time as the Judge and King, as the banner to whom all the nations will rally and whose place of rest will be glorious! It is this future to which we look now, as we live between these first and second comings. And Isaiah’s prophecies still encourage us in this interim period, to look through our history and by faith to discern God at work.

We pray for the nations – like Egypt and Assyria – whose regimes resolutely oppose the revelation of God’s authority and power, because we see from the prophecies that their people too are God’s beloved handiwork, that they will worship him and find in him their salvation. There is no race or tribe or tongue which is excluded – not even our own godless nation!

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, let us take courage from Isaiah’s prophecies. Let us press on in endurance as the darkness deepens in a world besotted by human power. Let us believe in that darkness that divine light has dawned, and cannot be extinguished. Let us pray and work for the sharing of the gospel with everyone and rejoice that it was given even to us. Our songs of gladness and thanksgiving are our witness to the hope we have, so let us sing them loudly and stand firm!

A renewed vision

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous: it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skilfully and shout for joy.

For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.

By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him.

For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm for ever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance. From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling-place he watches all who live on earth – he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.

We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

(Ps 33)

When my heart is troubled, and my mind filled with anxious thoughts about my life, and my loved ones, or about the distress of the world in these days, it is always good to return to the biblical perspective, to regain the larger vision.

The Hebrew scriptures reveal a creating, loving, powerful and just God; a God who desires to know and be known – in so far as any created being may know its creator! We find there glimpses of a mighty being, beyond our comprehension in character and eternal existence, who nonetheless claims to be intimately aware of each and every one of his people. It is clear that we cannot begin to grasp the magnitude, might and holiness/otherness of this God who makes himself known, and yet he invites us into a relationship with him, based on what we do see and can know.

The scriptures also reveal and ruthlessly detail all the ways in which we, the creatures, have departed from what we were made to be. Our realm is now so full of the rebellion we choose, and the evil, pain and destruction which are the consequences of that choice, that to believe and depend on the possibility of innate human goodness and progress seems to me utterly naive. It is in these ancient texts that we find a convincing, clear and relentless analysis of what is wrong in the world, and why humankind is as far as ever from dealing with the root of the trouble.

There is so much that we do not understand about the ways of God in addressing the brokenness of his creation – but he asks us to trust him because of what we do see and know. We see his power revealed in creation, and in mighty deeds of deliverance and preservation. We see his faithfulness to his promises, in preserving the people whom he called to be his special possession. And ultimately, we see in the good news about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the plan that God has to address the malady once and for all. It may seem odd to us, but the whole agonising ancient problem is so deep, so real and so far beyond our solving it that I find relief in letting God know best, and trusting that when he acts, it is because there is no other way.

I will therefore join with the psalm writer and all who sing; I will put my faith in God, the one who spoke – and it was. I will ‘urgently wait’ for the Lord as one translation puts it – making him my refuge in trouble, the only recipient of my praise and thanksgiving, my foundation of trust and dependance.

Just… tired

You pushed me into this, God, and I let you do it. You were too much for me and now I’m a public joke.. all I get for my God-warnings are insults and contempt. But if I say, ‘Forget it! No more God-messages from me!’, the words are like a fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer.. Oh, God of the angel armies, no one fools you. You see through everyone, everything… I rest my case with you.. Curse the day I was born! The day my mother bore me – a curse on it I say!… Why, oh why, did I ever leave that womb? Life’s been nothing but trouble and tears, and what’s coming is more of the same.

(Jer 20.7-9,12,14&18, the Message translation)

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

(Matt 13.44-46)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

(Matt 16.24-26)

I cannot unsee what I have seen. I cannot unbelieve what I have believed. I cannot undo a life of willing and glad surrender to a loving Father. I do not want to do these things, in the deepest places of my spirit, I am bound absolutely in love to my Saviour, and worship with gladness. And yet, I am so tired. I never realised properly before that this is what it means to bear a cross daily – to live as one belonging to another kingdom, who must yet be fully alive to all that is wrong here and now, and suffer all the evils of this broken world.

On the one hand, I know myself beloved, redeemed, securely bound for an eternity and fulness of life beyond my dreams – free from burdens of guilt, free to love and forgive others, free to spend myself for them knowing that there is one who cares for me more than any human creature ever could.

On the other hand, I live with a weight of knowledge – of sin and judgement to come; of the impending departure of so many precious souls to eternal exile; of just how badly broken this world is, and how there is no hope for it apart from Christ; above all, of my own failure to be what I desire to be for him. I live with the reality of prayers which appear unanswered; of the disastrous consequences of human sin, and the deafening noise of suffering on every hand.

I am near to be crushed by the guilt which comes over me when the burden of daily realities is so much more present in my mind, so much more effective in setting my attitudes and influencing my feelings. I am ashamed that I, for whom life has been so smooth and easy, should be finding faith such a struggle. Where is the victorious life of the disciple? Where is the ability to rejoice in trials; to fix my eyes on God’s promises and thus to find joy and hope in the present? The disconnect between how I ought to live, and how I actually live is so great. I could find it in myself to envy the birds, the dumb beasts, all the lively creatures which glorify God by being, and have no spirit to discipline and subdue, no will to wrestle back into obedience. I know that I do sometimes wonder at the cheerfulness of unbelieving friends who seem to navigate life – and often troubled lives – with a spirit of optimism and lightness, unburdened by faith. Why should faith be such a heavy weight to bear, when it is also such a blessing?

Lord, I am just so tired of fighting to be faithful in face of grief, and loss; to be hopeful in the face of profound discouragement; to believe in the teeth of denial that you are at work and doing good things.

I am ashamed of this weakness, and yet convinced that you – who walked this earth, bearing in your body all our human experiences – do indeed understand and have compassion on me. I do not want to dishonour you, but to learn how to walk humbly and fruitfully through this shadow place in trust and obedience. Show me ever more clearly what is mine in my Saviour, that I might value him ever more highly as my treasure beyond price and infinitely worth persevering for. Stir up my desire for a closer walk with you, may your Spirit within enable a cheerful and persevering spirit, to cast out the weariness and lassitude which drain hope and joy. Have mercy Lord, Amen.

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.