Category Archives: Sovereignty

When there seems no way out of the woods..

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you….I am God and there is none like me..I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do as I please.

(Isa 46.3,4, 9&10)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed…

(2 Cor 4.7-9)

..rejoice in the Lord..whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ..I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me..our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body…

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received from me, or seen in me – put it into practice…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

(Phil 3.1,7,14,20-21; 4.6-9,12&13)

The words spoken by Isaiah from the Lord came to a people who were on the edge of catastrophe, of military defeat and exile, from which many would never return. They were likely to spend the remainder of their lives under alien rule, far from the temple and all they knew of comfort and familiar ways. To these people, God speaks of his faithfulness, making no exceptions regarding their future place of residence or the impossibility of carrying on temple worship in Babylon.

Their departure from the land was entirely within God’s purpose, the Babylonian invasion would not take him by surprise, any more than the circumstances of our lives do. When believers find themselves called to hard places, we have this precedent to which we can turn, seeing God declaring his commitment to his children as they live in hard places, deprived of much which others take for granted, and consequently finding life a struggle.

I do not in any way intend to make light of the dreadful conditions in which many live, poverty, political and social persecution, violence and pain, the realities of disease and disability, of mental illness and abuse. But I do believe that the bible refuses us permission to treat these things as beyond God’s knowledge. We cannot understand why these things are permitted but we can know that we are never out of His sight or forgotten by His love.

Some are called to situations which – humanly speaking – are unlikely to change for the duration of their natural lives; always walking in what can feel like thick woodland, sometimes a very dark and frightening place, with little light upon the way, and no mountain top from which to see a clear path ahead. Each day can be a huge struggle, and the temptation to despair is real. The snare of comparison with others more fortunate than ourselves is equally fatal to our perseverance and joy, and for this reason it is good to remember Paul’s words to his churches as he exhorts them to persevere and find contentment through trials and uncertainty.

The only comparison Paul makes is between the trials which he is facing, and the glorious inheritance which is guaranteed to him by Jesus. He looks not to the relative ease and prosperity of other Roman citizens, but to the inexhaustible grace of God, to the goodness and beauty revealed in salvation and shining from Jesus to enlighten us. The ultimate in noble and good things to contemplate in our darkness, when the wood seems never-ending and our courage fails us, the Lord Jesus is within us by his Spirit, and therefore, we cannot be lost.

My path may be harder than I had hoped, but if it is the one to which I am called, then I can expect and  thankfully depend upon the sustaining of the God who put me here. I can trust in his power to provide each day’s resources, and can fully empty my load of care at his feet as often as necessary. It is his desire that I glorify him in my dark wood;  surely he will then provide me with all I need in order to prove him faithful.

When the fields seem barren..

Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength.’ All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But in the Lord all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.

(Isa 45.22-25)

He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.

(Lk 10.16)

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God…I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes..for in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last..

(Rom 1.1,16&17)

You must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed..by the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men..

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

(2 Pet 3.3-9)

When all that I am is for God, and it seems that he has chosen to put me on the shelf. Oh Lord, have mercy!

When I can see that he has gifted me with abilities and character crafted to his work, and he calls me to situations where those abilities are not needed. Oh Lord, have mercy!

When I know that he has called me to share the gospel, to speak his word to anyone and everyone, to give the shocking invitation of illuminating grace to those in darkness, and he surrounds me with people who politely, firmly and tolerantly refuse to let me speak..Oh Lord, have mercy!

When my heart burns to see his glory in transformed lives, to see communities healed and individuals blossoming in the light of his love, and he permits me to be smothered by indifference. Oh Lord, have mercy!

When I have promised to serve the body of Christ in a particular situation, looking to see his power at work in spite of the weakness of human institutions, and instead am faced with decline, denial, the collapse of vision and hope on every side. Oh Lord of the church, have mercy!

This is the lived experience of so many of God’s faithful under-shepherds today, on their knees before their Lord, begging for some sign that he still has worthwhile work for them to do, wondering why he called and gifted them only to set them aside to waste away in the dying churches of the west. There is only so much that one preacher, pastor or teacher can do, and without the work of the Holy Spirit, there will be no fruit for all their labour.

The prophets and faithful servants of God have known this experience – think of Elijah despairing in the wilderness, of Jeremiah called to preach to a people who WOULD NOT listen – and it is one of the hardest things that he calls his followers to do, to be apparently redundant.

No one wants to see life drifting by without satisfying outcomes for their work, to feel abilities atrophy for lack of use, to sense the springs of life and zest for the task dry up and vanish. The good news burns within them, they feel shame that they cannot reach their communities and give this priceless news of forgiveness and life eternal. And it is very, very hard to find reason to hope. We know in our hearts that God could break into our country, our culture like an earthquake, breaking the thick protective coating of indifference, sending men and women running to find someone who can answer their desperate questions about eternal things. But we also know that – for his own good reasons – it hasn’t happened yet, and we begin to doubt that it will.

Friends, let us pray for our pastors, and teachers, those called to ministry and leadership. Let us intercede for them, praying against despair and for a fresh anointing of courage. Pray that in their sense of futility, God will meet them and teach them that obedience and submission to him in this situation are not wasted. Let us pray for ourselves as their flock, that we might grow in our own faith and hope, believing that God will yet raise up many in our land to call him Lord, and that we might be privileged to serve him and be part of that revival.

When it seems like nothing..

..the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai;”..who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong..Be strong, all you people of the land,” declares the Lord, “and work. For I am with you..this is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”

This is what the Lord says:”In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come and I will fill this house with glory,” says the Lord Almighty. “The silver is mine and the gold is mine….the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house..And in this place I will grant peace”

(Hag 2.1-5,6-9)

After Jesus was born..Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star,..and have come to worship him.”..On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts..

(Matt 2.1&2,11)

the Holy City..shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel..The wall was made of jasper and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city..were decorated with every kind of precious stone..The twelve gates were twelve pearls…the great street of the city was of gold..The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will  bring their splendour into it…The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it..

(Rev 21.10-26)

Be strong…work..my Spirit remains among you…Do not fear.

As we contemplate the global pattern of church growth in the 21st century, these words are so important for us in the lands where the church appears to be dying. They were addressed to a group of discouraged folk, returned from exile and attempting to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. But how painful it must have been to compare the fruits of their labours with the memories of what was lost, how easy to mourn that departed glory as if it would never come again.

Does this not ring true for us in Scotland today? We remember fuller churches, an enthusiasm and confidence in ministry, and how christianity was welcomed within institutions like schools, hospitals, and public life. Today, we are marginalised, suspected of all kinds of bigotry, tainted by association with past wrongs, and our attempts to share the good news of Jesus meet largely with indifference, and occasionally with hostility. The glory has departed..

We are tempted to hopelessness by a sense of our own futility, and the apparent lack of fruit in people’s lives and in our communities. And into this, comes God’s word through the prophet to his toiling remnant – be strong, work, do not fear, I am with you!

God promises to be present with them – as he always is with his faithful servants, whether in exile in foreign lands, in prison, under oppressive regimes, prospering or suffering, we are never separated from him. He promises his power will accomplish what he intends – and the vision from Haggai is of all the nations of the world bringing their tributes to God in his glorious temple, it is his might and power – not the efforts of the people – that will fill it with majesty and honour. And God reveals to them his purposes – even though they may not see the fulfilment with their own eyes.

We share in the promise of a glorious future, where peace is established and flourishes according to God’s word. We share this fuel for hope in our own struggles, in our situations of discouragement. The vision of glory is for our encouragement, it is the ultimate fulfilment of God’s purposes to usher in a new heaven and earth, where redeemed humanity from every tribe and nation will reign with him in perfection, peace, joy and mutual delight.

Friends, look out at the global church, and behold, the glory of the Lord at work, in the farthest reaches of our planet. Look ahead and depend upon these promises and visions of what God is surely doing even now, and will surely complete. Even as the magi from the east brought treasures to the God-child, so today, people bring their own riches to lay at his feet – silver and gold, but also the priceless treasures of their unique identities, characters, cultures and qualities. Those travellers from the east represented an early trickle of that flood which will finally be realised. 

Let us not lose hope, but work on without fear. Our God is with us by his spirit, and in his strength, we obey, leaving him to put his power to work.

In the breakers

But I pray to you, O Lord, in the time of your favour; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. Rescue me..do not let me sink; deliver me…from the deep waters. Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up..Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.

(Ps 69.13-17)

I cannot keep my footing, the waves come with such force that I am tumbled over and left breathless. I can barely stand, as the churning waters have stripped the sand off the shore and all is stone, bruising my feet and leaving me off balance. The wind sweeps my breath away, and the hailstones sting my skin like bullets. I am vulnerable and nearly in danger, but not quite, as I stumble out of the sea back to my clothes and head for home.

The sea this morning matched what was happening in my heart and mind – wave after wave rolling in, before which I have no defence, leaving me weary from the conflict, and longing for a place of security and peace.

What is the right response of a follower of Jesus in these circumstances? As I scramble to find my footing again, what restores my balance?

I follow the example of the psalmists, and all God’s people down the ages, as they cry out to God. I turn in all my bewilderment to my heavenly father, and like a small child, ask for his comforting presence, for his loving arms to be my shelter. I bring my grieving questions to him, knowing that there may be no direct answers but also that he understands my pain and I do right to speak first to him.

But in the same way that a chilled swimmer cannot feel the rope around their body to bring them to safety, I cannot feel the comfort. I know that God who promises to work through all my trials for my blessing and his glory will do what is right. But when the breakers have been over me, I cannot feel the security that this should give me.  I am chilled by hopelessness, by a sense that these waves will keep coming because I have caused them and cannot make them stop. I am wearied by the prospect which they present, year upon year of this pain and aridity.

You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves..I am confined and can not escape; my eyes are dim with grief..

(Ps 88.6-9)

Oh Lord, God of heaven, you are just and holy, pure beyond my conceiving and mighty in creation. What am I that you should consider me? Yet, you have laid your hand on me and called me to be your daughter, beloved and delighted in. How ashamed I am to confess the many ways that I have failed you, hurting others, myself, and setting up consequences which I must live with for as long as it may please you to sustain my life.

Lord, you promise not to leave your children in their troubles, but to sustain them and bring them through somehow purified and made more like Jesus. I want to believe this, but am so weary of the turmoil, and of seeing so little change! How long, O Lord, how long, before you say “Enough” and let me come home, away from the battle and the sin, the wearisome burden of years living with my sinfulness and that of other people?

You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them… Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long; they exult in your righteousness. For you are their glory and strength..

(Ps 89.9,14-17)

I will praise your name, my God and my Salvation. Eternal hope is mine, regardless of what you permit for my temporal days, and that hope grows ever brighter in the darkness of the here and now. Only give me the ability to live day by day in that hope, and let me know your presence through the chillling cold of weariness, so that I might not disgrace my calling and bring your name into dishonour by despairing of life itself. Lord, have mercy, that I may know how to glorify you in these breakers, how to shout your name in praise over the winds, and to exult in the God who is sovereign and will do all things well – even in me!

Broad and strong, warm and sheltering…wings

May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.

(Ruth 2.12)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

(Ps 91.1-4)

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms…so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ…..Humble yourselves, therefore, 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.

(1 Pet 4.10&11, 5.6&7)

While there are no perfect people in the bible – apart from our Lord Jesus – there are many whose lives are recorded so that we might catch glimpses of how God works through fallibility and frailty to achieve his sovereign purposes and to bless his children. This week I returned to one of the loveliest of these tales, known as the book of Ruth but which might justifiably also be called the story of Boaz, or of Naomi! It is a small-scale drama, and yet in God’s providence these three lives are woven into the great narrative which will in due time arrive at the Messiah. It speaks powerfully to me of the way that our wonderful God knows each of his children, working our own good into his own over-arching will, encouraging me that I do well to focus on obeying him and humbly handing over my own cares for him to handle.

Ruth has embraced the faith of her mother-in-law, and lives this out by returning with her to a land where she is a vulnerable widow with no prospects, except as the God who she now worships may provide. Ruth is loyal to her relative, and puts her own strength at Naomi’s service, labouring hard to provide for them both – and it is God who leads her into the fields of a godly man, Boaz. She demonstrates exactly what Peter is talking about in his letter – humbly trust God, and then work hard with the gifts and opportunities you have been given.

Through Boaz, God will work to provide not only for the immediate but also the long-term future of this young woman and her relative – but Boaz himself will find great blessing through the connection, as he puts his social position, wealth and authority at Ruth’s disposal as her husband and the guardian-redeemer of the family. In this sense, we might say that Boaz became the answer to his own prayer for Ruth (the opening quote of this blog), that she might be richly rewarded by the God to whom she entrusted herself!

I rejoice to know that the Almighty Sovereign and Holy God, whose power in creation is revealed to be so far beyond my imagination, is also the tender and strong one who calls me to take shelter – like Ruth – under his protection. His eye is on an incredible eternal plan for glory, but amazingly, is also upon me. Not one detail of my life as his beloved child is beneath his notice – and he is able to weave together the tiny details of my circumstances into the majestic work of redemption and new creation.

Not only this, but he also gifts me the opportunity to be an active part of this dual narrative – I am privileged to use the gifts and opportunities he gives in order to further his work in the lives of others. I am also one whose needs may be met by others as God directs and provides for me – if I will be humble and honest enough to allow them to care for me.

A friend recently shared a song which included these lines, and I share them here as a beautiful expression of the way that God often shelters and cares for his children as they obey him in putting their gifts at the disposal of their fellow believers – as we are his wings…

Brother, sister, let me serve you; let me be as Christ to you; pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey and companions on the road; we are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.

[R.A.M. Gillard: 1953-]

Music ..while we wait?…

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.  I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.

(Ps 130)

Praise the Lord. Praise the name of the Lord; praise him, you servants of the Lord, you who minister in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God. Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praise to his name for that is pleasant..

(Ps 135 1-3)

Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is..be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Eph 5.15-19)

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say, ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us..and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

(Ti 2.11-14)

The concept of ‘waiting’ recurs throughout the bible, as a major part of our relationship with God and his purposes in creation and redemption. Consider the way that Abraham was called to wait upon God’s timing in fulfilling the promise of a son by Sarah – and the unintended consequences when Abraham became impatient and acted on his own (and Sarah’s) initiative. Consider the years which lay between David’s anointing as king of Israel and his final accession to the throne, while he waited for God to deal with Saul, and tried to keep out of trouble. Consider the generations who lived and died, ‘waiting’ for God to deliver the people from exile back to Israel, and those like Isaiah who prophesied of a glorious future for the land and people, but died before seeing it..

God himself waited, until the time was right for the birth of Jesus, and even now is waiting patiently, extending the offer of grace and the good news of Jesus to all who will believe, because he is unwilling that any should perish. He is still waiting, until just the right time comes to finally wind up this broken creation and make everything new – including us – so that his rule and reign can be fully realised. Jesus himself, as a human being, waited for decades before embarking upon his short ministry, trusting God’s timing and willing to submit to the years of quiet, hidden faithfulness and training.

It is so hard for us to wait, especially when what we are longing for appears to us to be entirely in accordance with God’s revealed purposes – perhaps the salvation of a loved one, the establishment of a new ministry to particular people, the creation of a new resource to share the gospel, the end of particularly bloody, destructive warfare or oppression, the restoration of the planet’s resources…whatever your particular longing is!

In my own struggle with this ‘waiting’, with unfulfilled hopes, I find Psalm 130 particularly comforting in its honesty and encouragement. The psalmist reminds himself- and me – of God’s qualities, encouraging trust and confident hope. With God – my God, your God – there is forgiveness of sin, so that we can know and serve him without fear of judgement. With God – your God, my God – there is unfailing love,  that rich promised reliability and intent to bless which underlies the covenant promises on which God’s people rely down the ages. We look at the evidence, and as we see Jesus on the cross, at the empty tomb, and ascending into glory, we see the lengths to which unfailing love will go for me, for you, and we can have peace in the face of trouble.

I cannot know just how long my waiting will last – will I trust the one who has said ‘Wait, and see what I will do’?. With God – my God, your God – there is perfect redemption, so that I can respond to his love, unburdened by guilt, and free to make the most of the time I have to share the gospel, live a life worthy of his name, and praise him in all I am and do.

Heavenly Father, have mercy on your child in her impatience. Grant that profound trust in your ways, and your timing, which is your gift and her desperate need. Set her free to give thanks to you for everything, singing as she waits and doing good in your name to your glory and the blessing of your work in this needy world.

Seasonal labour..

I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.

(Ps 123.1&2)

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

(Ps 126.4-6)

Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.

(Ps 127.1)

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:..a time to plant and a time to uproot…a time to tear down and a time to build…a time to mourn and a time to dance..a time to search and a time to give up..a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate…

(Eccl 3.1-8)

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matt 28.18-20)

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour For we are God’s fellow-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

(1 Cor 3.7-9)

I was blessed this week to spend time with a wise woman – one who has walked long with God and proved his faithfulness – who encouraged and helped me as I wrestled with the heaviness of these days. God grant that I may be such a friend in turn to others in their need, as he uses us to bless one another! Two things in our conversation were particularly helpful and also connected with recent readings in the Psalms, and I share them with you now.

Firstly, the idea of seasons. As a gardener, I come close to the rhythm which God has placed at the very heart of our planet, and the mysteries of soil, water and life. I know that a seed must die if a plant is to live and bear fruit; I know that ground must lie fallow in between crops; I know that rain, cold and time must be allowed to do their work on soil which has been cleared and fertilised. There are activities which are proper to each season, and it is pointless and even destructive to engage in the wrong labour for that time – where would be the use in digging up daffodil bulbs to see if they are going to flower only 3 weeks after planting them? Those days call for expectant and patient waiting, not faithless digging!

As one who believes in a God who declares himself both Almighty and Sovereign, so that EVERYTHING that happens comes within the sphere of both his knowledge and great plan and purpose, I choose to trust him for this season in our world’s existence. I cannot know how long it will last, nor what will follow – perhaps there will be a time of glorious harvest as many find faith and hope in Jesus, what joy that would be! But this whole time – the political, economic, ecological, moral and social turmoil across the globe – is under his dominion, is part of his plan. I will only find peace in this season as I choose to accept that sovereignty, trust that He will prove his goodness and justice one day, and look for the ways He is already at work in it.

And this brings me to the second idea we spoke of – the choice to focus on what CAN be done in this season, rather than on what CANNOT be done! Yes, there are many restrictions on us, and our lives are not what we expected at this time. But that doesn’t mean that we are helpless and aimless, that God has nothing for us to do! I cannot say what your particular tasks in this season will look like – each of us has a unique place and a particular calling as God’s fellow workers – but they will be there.

Listen – to God’s word, ponder and be open to correction and surprises..to the stories of God’s people around the globe, let the stories of your brothers and sisters inspire and encourage and motivate you.

Pray – talk to Him about everything and everyone, asking for direction to be active and in tune with His plans.

Live – act on what you read and hear – love those around you, reach out to encourage and bless; rejoice in the life you have been given, instead of resenting what is withheld.

We look to God, as to our master, to see where He would have us act; remembering that it is He who builds, not us, He who gives life and increases the kingdom, not us. We may weep as we sow, but God can still grant fruit and we may hope for joy in harvesting .

Not our will, but yours O Lord….

Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is not breath in it. But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him. …Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.

(Hab 2.18-3.2)

“What about you?” he asked. “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you..for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

(Matt.16.15-18)

..You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord…His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Eph 2.19-21, 3.10&11)

One of the hardest lessons in the great narrative of the bible is that God consistently acts in ways which bewilder his people; they stumble and falter as time and again, he works through gross evil and hostility to accomplish his purposes. We consider the role which Pharaoh played in the great redemption story of the Exodus – how the adamant resistance and pride of that ruler played directly into God’s plan to reveal the full magnificence of his power to deliver the people of Israel. 

Perhaps most shockingly, and hardest to keep in focus for those like me who have known the story all their lives, is the role of the Jewish establishment and Roman authorities in crucifying Jesus and thus bringing about the salvation which God had ordained from the very beginning. The injustice, malice, and concentrated evil which was at work to overcome Jesus acted instead to achieve exactly what had been intended, and from apparent defeat, God drew absolute victory. 

What happened next? The sustained persecution of the new believers in Jerusalem sent them far across the known world, spreading the gospel as they went and bringing hope to every people whom they met. Our God IS working out his purposes – but how ready we are to assume that those must be the same as our own, and how wrong we may be!

The ‘church’ is the people of God – those privileged to be citizens of heaven, members of God’s family – and our ultimate purpose is to demonstrate to the heavenly powers that God is good and wise and powerful, not that we are! It is God who is building, not us. It is God who sustains and inspires, and his Spirit which breathes life into those who are dead in their sins – not our strategies, or missions, or institutional magnificence. We are being built up together in Christ – not into a human organisation – and our purpose is to be the place where God’s presence dwells in the new heavens and the new earth. 

We are not there yet….by a long way, and I am just wondering whether part of God’s purpose in these days of global turmoil is to shake us as believers completely out of the complacency which continues to trust in human institutions. Is it possible that all the trappings of Christianity which we still cling to – buildings, hierarchies of clergy, denominations, ritual and pomp – all these have been hindering us from seeing and obeying God’s call? As we are forbidden to meet together, and are forced to take responsibility for our own spiritual lives in unprecedented ways, is God pruning off dead wood? This trial is revealing whether people are putting their faith in God, or in the human institution which we call the church, but which perhaps never really merited the name…

Let us pray in these days that God will find us ready to listen to his direction; to obey his call; to put away those things which are hindrances to gospel living and loving. Let us cry to him for direction and above all for encouragement that through this trial, he will reveal his power at work in building his church – in spite of all the obstacles which our ‘church’ has put in his way. 

Thy kingdom come..

“Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all..

(1Chron 29.10&11)

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

(Matt 6.9-13)

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit…You must be born again”

(Jn 3.5&7)

 We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

(Col 1.9-13)

Now and not yet – a kingdom come and coming.. The Old Testament stories are full of references to God as ruler, sovereign in his glory and a call to the people of Israel to live as loyal subjects of that kingdom. Their loyalty was designed to set them apart from other nations, so that they might demonstrate to the world just how wonderful their God was and so glorify his name. Sadly, the OT is also full of stories of how his people rejected his sovereignty and instead lived like people of other nations, loyal to other gods, giving lip service to their covenant God, and trusting in deeds and ritual instead of depending by faith on his love for them.

When Jesus came, preaching that the kingdom of God was near, many thought he meant a military power that would overthrow the tyranny of Rome. But once again, they had got the wrong idea, as Jesus taught repeatedly in his parables and directly, showing that God’s kingdom is not like a human kingdom. Its values are totally different, and ultimately we can enter that kingdom only by new birth, by becoming new creatures with a nature and life designed for that kingdom. Thanks be to God that in Christ Jesus, we are offered that new birth, that new life, and that God does everything necessary to establish us securely in his glorious kingdom of light!

This kingdom – inaugurated by the first coming of Jesus – continues to grow in the world today, but not as human kingdoms grow. Not by conquest, not by political or popular campaigns, not by adroit financial investment, bribery or coercion. Rather, this kingdom grows as heart, after heart recognises Jesus as Lord, and accepts his sovereignty in their lives. As this happens, that life becomes a place where the kingdom of God is realised in this world. My life, and yours, are to be lived examples of the values and atmosphere of the kingdom of God – where he reigns, our loving Saviour.

While we will not see this kingdom fully realised until God winds up time and ushers in the newly re-created earth and heaven, we are living in its light, by its time, and by its values. In effect, we are part of the answer to the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to say – “thy kingdom come….”, and we are also part of the work in realising the kingdom as we witness, pray and serve the Lord in our own turn.

Thank you Father, that by the gift of faith in Christ, I live now under his sovereignty, a subject of your heavenly kingdom. Thank you that a glorious day is coming when that kingdom will be visible, tangible and supreme, wiping out all trace of this shadowland where your reign is still disputed.

Let my life truly be a little part of that heavenly rule – a place where the Spirit dwells as honoured sovereign, unquenched, active and in charge. Let me live as one honouring my inheritance, delighting in my name and stake in your promised land. Let me in all things acknowledge and exalt my king, treasuring his word, engaging with his work, delighting to introduce him to those who have never met him, and resisting his enemies.

Even as the seed sown bears fruit a hundred fold, Lord so may your kingdom seed be fruitful in many lives; invisibly taking root, and then bursting forth in newness of life to your glory and the hastening of the day when all shall be finished and Christ return in glory!

 

The potency of patience

 

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you…..I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning…I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please…What I have said, that will I bring about…

(Isa 46.3&4, 9-11)

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

(1 Tim 1.15&16)

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.

(Jas 5.7&8)

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

(2 Pet 3.8&9)

Do you ever stop to consider that it is only because of the ‘umlimited’ patience of God that you and I are alive? God’s patience with sinful humankind has led him to wait, to wait for hundreds of years since the resurrection, looking for those who will repent and recognise their need. Our God is holy and just, and at any point in those long years, he could have decided that enough was enough, and it was time to bring an end. Yet in his wisdom and power, he has chosen to wait – to go on working out all our mess and pain for good,  in bringing people to repentance and new life in Christ. I can trust him with the world, in all its turmoil, because he has not finished…

The bible assures us that God is at work in history – His Story – and that all he plans will be accomplished. Although it may seem that he is absent, yet his timing is perfect and when the right moment comes, he acts. The rebellion of his people did not deflect his purposes; and their very betrayal became a stunning demonstration of his patience with those whom he has chosen for his own. I can trust him with myself, because he does not give up on his children – in spite of their failings….

The patience of God is powerful indeed – drawing people to repentance; painstakingly weaving history into a complete and purposeful whole; bearing the unimagineable pain of a Creator who sees his handiwork spoiled and yet restraining his anger against the despoiler; wooing his redeemed children ever closer to his heart as they respond to his patient love and kindness.

 As I consider the mess which has been and is being made by humankind, both of the world and of each other, Lord, I marvel at your patience. Your works are despoiled, and you are misunderstood, reviled and dismissed – yet your hand is restrained. 

I praise you because in your patience, you wait to see all the chosen called into the kingdom; because you know the end and can wait; you can contain your righteous anger perfectly.

Thank you for your patience with us, your children. You use us in spite of our persistent faults – we don’t have to be perfect to be useful; you invest in us over years and gradually reveal our sin as we are transformed by your spirit. How marvellous to know that in spite of all our flaws, you are glorified in us, and we can serve you as we are.

Help us Lord, to see your patience for the wonderful quality which it is – forgive us when we chafe at ‘delays’- and let us by faith fully trust your timing, for ourselves, our loved ones, and our world. And let us cultivate patience with ourselves and others, that we might live and love to your glory.