Category Archives: self-fulfillment

How do I give…?

Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled. O you who hear prayer, to you all men will come. When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.

(Ps 65.1-4)

A generous person will prosper; one who refreshes others will themselves be refreshed.

(Prov 11.25)

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us..If [a person’s] gift is contributing to the needs of others, let them give generously…share with God’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.

(Rom 12.8&13)

Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each one should give what they have decided in their heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work…You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

(2Cor 9.6-8&11)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

(Eph 1.3)

The question is not “will I give?”, or even “what will I give?”, but rather “How will I give?”. I am rich in so many of the world’s good things, and have health and peace and security beyond the dreams of millions….what am I doing with them?

Am I tempted, like a miser, to hoard what I have for my own use – my space; my time; my energy; my intellect; my resources…because I am somehow worth it? As a follower of Jesus, one whose life is now under the sovereignty of the Lord of Life and King of Love, this is not an option! When I consider that everything I have is a free gift, part of God’s provision for His world, His church, it becomes clear that I have no right to hold onto anything He has given. I am merely a steward and the question is what kind?

So, I am commanded to give, to give generously – and cheerfully – of all I am and have for the blessing of God’s people and for his glory and work in the world. Some things are easier to give than others – less costly in terms of time, effort, privacy – but that doesn’t mean that I can put up a security fence around those things and refuse to part with them! Everything comes from God, the breath which keeps me alive, the beating heart which sustains my body, the mind which makes sense of it all; the family, friends and community which surrounds me; the money which buys food, clothes, insurance, fuel for the car, heating for the house. God asks me to withhold nothing from his service but to give when He asks, and gladly, how dare I hold back?!

So when I am called upon to set aside my schedule for the day in order to sit with someone who needs to be heard, I think of Christ, who always made time for people; when I forgo peace and privacy in order to give someone hospitality and invest in their refreshment and encouragement, I think of Christ who saw the needs of those around them and poured himself out in availability and vulnerability.

The testimony of God’s people down the years is clear, that when we give of ourselves and all we have received, we are more than repaid in the fellowship of the body of Christ, and in the joy of seeing God at work. This giving is a large part of our worship of God – a returning to Him in thanksgiving of the things we have received, and celebrating the privilege of using them in His service. Contrary to all that the world’s wisdom would tell us, Christ calls us to be poured out in service and giving, and to trust that here lies our true ‘self-fulfillment’. When a follower of Jesus loses ‘self’ in this way, we find our new ‘self’ within the body of Christ – an intimately connected, mutually enriching and enabling community where we are free to live, serve, love and be loved.

May we never forget to be thankful for all we have received, and to respond in obedient, trusting faith, by offering ourselves unreservedly and confidently for God to pour out in His work – let us be cheerful givers!

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What are my priorities?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your reasonable act of worship.

(Rom 12. 1)

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

(1 Cor 3.16 &6.19&20

 

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

(Col 2.6-8,20-23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Looking around…

Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath..Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: he bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it…But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.

(Psalm 39. 4-7)

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. so don’t be afraid: you are worth more than many sparrows.

(Matthew 10.29-31)

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?”

(Matthew 16.24-26)

For many people, the end of a calendar year is a time of reflection, a time to reassess their lives and discern patterns, changes, new opportunities which might be opening up. There is also much – often hidden – pain at this time of year, as people remember those whom they have lost, to death, to breakdown in relationships; and also recognise disappointments, dashed hopes and unfulfilled expectations. Look around, and all the people you know will be experiencing this potent cocktail of emotions to varying degrees. We carry joy and pain simultaneously; anger and bitterness alongside thankfulness and appreciation.

Those who follow Jesus are human too, not immune to this annual malaise, and we need to think carefully about how we deal with these feelings. The bible shows us humanity in all its variety, expressing every emotion under the sun; and in the book of Psalms particularly, we find such transparency and honesty as should give the lie to any idea of the “stiff upper lip” and brave smile being the correct Christian response to life!

We have a perfect loving Father, and a great Saviour who is also a man. We have nothing to hide from our God; no emotion which can shock or make him turn away. Indeed, I believe that it is when we refuse to recognise and name our feelings before God that they begin to rule us, and that is so dangerous.

Our feelings change like the weather – and in my part of the world, that means from minute to minute! But our God is unchanging, and as followers of Jesus, we have a relationship with him which is grounded and held in his character, his promises, his love – not our feelings. The truth about our lives is not how we feel about them, but what he says about them!

So I bring my sometimes toxic cocktail of feelings to my Father, pouring it all out as I sit close and then I listen for his voice. In the place of my sense of failure and loss, I hear the loving voice which says that I am precious, that in him I can do all he desires for me – and all that he knows is good for me. I hear his repeated forgiveness for my failures and sins, and the promise that I have a fresh start. I hear the heartbeat of his love which is the only thing that matters, and which drowns out the clamour of the world around me, to measure and value myself on the basis of my looks, my status, my talents, my connections and achievements.

As I sit there, I receive confidence and courage to go on living quietly, living for him, living without worldly acclaim and trusting that this portion is all I need. My days are brief, but in his eyes they are not wasted; my voice is small, but he always hears me; the hairs on my head are increasingly white, but his hand is still over me in loving and tender protection. I am indeed worth more than many sparrows!

My life surrendered into his hands, is lost to me, but given back to be lived for him and in that transaction, I am the winner, the prize of eternal life is mine. A soul saved, a child brought home, who can look around her beautiful and troubled world, and be at peace because she knows the one who keeps her in it. May this be your experience in the year ahead..

I can’t hear you Lord!

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

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

(Matthew 3.16,17; 4.3,4) 

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

(Mark 1.35)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buried in the cause…

How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints..

I will sacrifice a thank-offering to you and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people..

(Psalm 116. 12-15,17&18) 

I recently heard this phrase used by a preacher who was referring to the Scottish athlete and missionary, Eric Liddell, a man who surrendered himself to the call of Christ to make disciples of all nations, and followed his parents to the mission field in China – where he would die in a Japanese interment camp at a relatively young age.

Liddell, and many others over the centuries, have been literally “buried” for the sake of the gospel, as they died in the lands to which they went – African deserts and Ecuadorean jungles – sometimes of disease, and other times deliberately martyred by those who opposed them. Some, like Jim Elliott and his colleagues, had their stories broadcast to the world, and God used their dying as a witness to the living, of how powerfully the gospel inspires and what an amazing gift it is we have to share. But so many others have died invisibly, silently, and only God knows their story. Does that make their lives and deaths of any less value?

The psalmist would certainly not say so! His words in Psalm 116 are such a tender declaration of God’s care and delight in every individual child, they always touch me deeply. But I think they also reassure me that my life is precious in God’s sight! So  many of the figures in the bible narrative are people who lived ‘small ‘lives, in a limited geographical area, without political or military power, and who were barely noticed while they lived, let alone died. And yet, time and again, our attention is drawn to them as the story of their lives is woven into God’s great plan for redemption. Consider Rahab, the woman of Jericho, whose courage protected the spies and who would be absorbed into the people of Israel after the destruction of her city. Or the young girl – whose name we do not even know – who sent her master Naaman to seek out the prophet Elisha, and receive healing. There is Mordecai, in exile and under continual threat from powerful opponents, who yet was used by God to protect and deliver all the Jews in captivity.

As our family prepare to leave the city for a new ministry, these examples of ‘small ‘ lives, faithfully lived in obedience to God are an encouragement to me.

It does not matter whether the world considers that we are burying ourselves in a small place and a small work. What is small about sharing the transforming power of Christ with the people for whom he died?! It is no matter to us whether we are called to 5,000 or 2,000; our worth does not depend on the number of people in our parish, but on the love which God has for us, his beloved children. We are called to obey: to pray for lives to be touched by the gospel: to make disciples, through teaching and walking alongside them: to walk closely in fellowship with God ourselves, so that our own lives might be a story by which the gospel is told. All of these are valid whether anyone is watching or not; and our worth does not even depend upon the fruit of our labours, but simply on God’s love for us.

Yes, it will be hard if we are called to work without seeing what God is doing, to sow the seed and trust that someone else will tend the crop and reap the harvest in God’s good time. But it is our calling simply to fulfill our vows, to obey, and to find our contentment in knowing that – however faltering the effort – our heart’s desire has been to say ‘ Yes Lord, I will.’ Our inspiration is the cross and our reward is his constant, loving presence.

Upon that cross of Jesus, mine eye at times can see

The very dying form of One who suffered there for me;

And from my smitten heart, with tears, two wonders I confess – 

The wonder of his glorious love, and my own worthlessness.

I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;

I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of thy face:

Content to let the world go by, to know no gain nor loss – 

My sinful self my only shame, my glory all, the cross.

(from “Beneath the cross of Jesus”, E.C Clephane 1830-69)

The quiet days

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

(1 Thessalonians, 4 v 11 & 12)

 Ambition? Those who have known me long and well will assure you that I never had any, and they will be right. This little verse from Thessalonians might have been written for me, as Paul encourages the believers in that church to be diligent, to be content with what they have and to let their quiet daily faithfulness speak of their faith and the God whom they trust. I love days when there are tasks to be done, but no pressing deadlines, so that I can be fully conscious of what occupies my mind and hands, not thinking ahead all the time to the next job and wishing it was all over! I can take no credit for this desire for quietness, it is natural to me, a gift for which I am deeply grateful to my maker. But Paul is advising the Thessalonians to adopt this attitude even if it does not come naturally to them, why?

I wonder if there is a connection to the teaching of Jesus here, to the many times when the disciples grieved his spirit by their competition for the place of honour, whether on earth or in his coming kingdom. In every account of Jesus life, we find him turning their understanding of status and honour upside down. Time and again, they are told that in God’s eyes, greatness is nothing to do with social standing, wealth, race, gender or age. Jesus welcomed the children, honoured the disregarded women, engaged with the foreigners, commended and comforted the repentant sinners and infuriated the elite of the religious establishment by denying that they had any authority or special status. Towards the end of the gospels, each one in turn makes a clear statement about this issue, these words are from Matthew 23 v 11&12.

The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

A servant, one who seeks only the pleasure and approval of the master, and is content to do any appointed task for no other reward. That attitude requires the death of pride, of self- regard, of the spirit which claims authority over my own life and rejects God’s claim on me. If I am to be such a servant, to be ambitious to live a quiet life, then I must die to that self which seeks the approval of my peers in order to be satisfied, which looks for material prosperity, or security as a sign of my personal worth.

We have the example of Christ in this, as Paul reminds us in his words to the Philippian church :-

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! (Philippians 2 v 5-7)

Perhaps this is why Paul stresses the ambition for a quiet life, because it indicates that pride has been conquered in a believer’s life, that they are growing more and more like Christ, and His life in them is shining more clearly. This work of being made Christ-like is one which lasts all our lives, and which will not be complete until He returns in glory and raises us to new life. But we can take courage and hope that the work continues, and can rejoice when we are able to see signs that it is progressing. For me, the quiet days are such opportunities, when I find myself content with small and private service of others, prayers and works of love which only God sees, domestic chores which will need done again very soon, noticing of small tokens of grace and goodness and rendering thanks to the giver.

May we learn more and more to be content with the tasks appointed, seeking only our Lord’s approval, and rejoicing in the quiet riches of a life free from fretting ambition and the need to impress others.

Fasting and Feasting

For in Christ all the fulness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fulness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

(Colossians 2 v 9&10)

The first weeks of a new year are often associated with diets, new exercise regimes, and  rigorous attempts to cleanse our systems after a period of too much food and too little physical activity. There is an uncomfortable tightness about our clothes, and sluggishness about our energy levels, and we hope to deal with these by self-denial and the imposition of new disciplines… and that can be a very necessary thing to do!

But there is another, more significant aspect of our lives which need never diet, or deny itself the object it craves in order to flourish – our relationship with our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ. The passage quoted above is delightful in its use of the word ‘fulness’, stressing one of the foundational beliefs of Christians, that Jesus was and is fully God, as well as fully man! It is easy to skim read a passage like this, and only vaguely to register the notion of Christ’s deity, without  benefitting from the treasure trove of truth which it represents. Yes, indeed, Christ is as completely God as the Father himself, but that is only one sense of ‘fulness’. There is also the sense of being filled to overflowing, packed with goodness – and Christ is filled with all the attributes of deity.

The bible narrative reveals a God who desires to be all in all to his people, that they might realise that only through intimate relationship with him can they find true satisfaction and fullest life. Our folly has lain in stubbornly refusing to believe that such a relationship can fill our needs, and trusting our own judgement and inclinations instead. The desperate state of our world today reveals only too clearly the results of such folly. But what if God were right? What if we can truly find in him all the things we need? The security, the sense of self-worth, of significance and adequacy which we crave and chase through endless mazes of material goods, human relationships and activities. Listen to the words of the ancient prophet, Isaiah

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

(Isaiah 55 v 1 & 2)

And then to these words from Jesus, as he addressed the sincere, seeking religious people of his own time;

‘For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ Sir,’ they said, ‘from now on give us this bread’. Then Jesus declared, ‘ I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.’

(John 6 v 33-35)

The words in Colossians convey a stunning truth, if we will slow down reading long enough to recognise it.. When a believer confesses that Jesus is Lord, that their salvation depends entirely on Jesus, not themselves, they receive Christ himself – and all the glories of his divine character! When do I ever take enough time to really let this sink in and change how I live? Everything in the treasury of God is made over to us as believers, to equip, support, encourage and transform our lives, and enable us to fulfill our roles in God’s new creation. How often do we take that transaction seriously and claim those riches? We are summoned to a feast, and all too often make do with meagre rations!

This blog is part of my personal response to this question, an attempt to focus my thoughts for a sustained period of time and thereby to engrave another small aspect of the truth on my heart so that it might change my thinking and living. A recent gathering of friends saw us take time to meditate on the different titles and names given to Jesus in the bible – we found at least 35, and I am sure there are more – through which we began to catch a glimpse of the overwhelming adequacy of our Lord to satisfy our deepest longings and fill us with good things.

For myself, my experience has been that the more I feast on Christ, the more I hunger to receive and make my own. I close this week with the words of a great writer and preacher of the Scottish church from the 1600’s, Samuel Rutherford, whose language may sometimes seem archaic, but whose sentiments remain an inspiring expression of what it means to live for Christ alone.

Christ is as full as feast as ye can have to hunger.

I think I see more of Christ than I ever saw; and yet I see but little of what may be seen.

May God stir us up to desire ever deeper, fuller fellowship with Christ, as He has already provided all that is needed to satisfy that desire!