Category Archives: submission

It all depends who you are talking to…

” I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God: Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me. Does it please you to oppress me?…”

(Job 10.1-2)

May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; may the Lord rejoice in his works – he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke. I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord. But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord.

(Ps 104.31-35)

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life..

(Phil 2.14&15)

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..and the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

(1 Pet 5.6&7, 10)

‘Do everything without complaining…’, do you ever feel with me that this is an impossible instruction from the apostle Paul? It is so easy for us to moan and grumble, to argue that we will feel better if we get things off our minds, to look for sympathy and support from friends. And yet, the command is there, quite explicitly and without any loopholes. I am convicted and silenced, and realise that I make a habit of complaint – dressing it up as ‘sharing my burdens’, but actually I am talking to other people in a negative way about how God is choosing to deal with me. And that speaks of a lack of trust, a shortfall of faith, an unwillingness to accept his will as my best.

For this reason, I was intrigued to find that the word used by the psalmist in psalm 104 for ‘meditation’ is actually used in other parts of the bible for a complaint! The same word is used by Job as he lamented his sorry condition – the complaint to which he gives free rein in God’s presence. The same word is also used when Hannah bewails her childless condition in the temple, lamenting her barrenness and calling on God in her distress. It is this kind of pondering, meditating, which the psalmist commends to God – the same God in whom he rejoices!

It appears then, that if we take our legitimate complaints to God, then we are doing something right; while if we take them to other people, we are failing to grow in faith and Christ-likeness. What makes the difference?

The context of the word in Psalm 104 suggests that the writer has taken time to consider the God of creation; the sustainer of life and worthy of reverence and praise. As one who has put their trust in this God, depending upon divine love and faithfulness, the psalmist comes with confidence as well as awe to lay all his burdens down. This commitment of everything that concerns him to the Almighty takes God’s promises and character seriously, and constitutes acceptable worship. In his own letter, Peter puts this same message very simply – tell God about EVERYTHING, because he cares for you (and by implication, is the one who in his loving wisdom will act for your best interests).

When I choose to honour God by bringing my complaints and sharing them completely with him, I am demonstrating a trusting and humble spirit, acting as though I believed that he has my best interests at heart and has good purposes for every situation in which I may find myself. In sending Jesus to die for me, God demonstrated the depth of his love and how much he wants to bless me – so shall I not honour him by refusing to complain to others about his dealings with me now?

Job was not rebuked for bringing his complaint to God; Hannah was answered in a wonderful way after pouring out her heart; Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not removed, but he received wisdom and grace to accept it as God’s best for him. I pray that I might learn this lesson for myself, learn to think before I grumble or moan and instead to talk honestly with my loving Father about what I am experiencing. May I choose to accept life from his hand with an expectation of blessing, and the assurance that I can always rejoice in him. May this be my worship and witness, and God-honouring choice in the days ahead.

A sovereign remedy…for self-pity

But David thought to himself, “One of these days I shall be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand.”

(1Sam 27.1)

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord, ” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

(1 Kings 19.3&4)

I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done. The Lord has chastened me severely but he has not given me over to death. Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. …..You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever.

(Ps 118.17-21,28&29)

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man, And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

(1 Cor 10.13)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your  requests to God.

(Phil 4.6)

I am profoundly thankful that my heavenly Father unveils my faults to me in very small doses, so that I am not overwhelmed by the truth and instead can lean hard on his grace, the truth of his forgiveness, and acceptance of me. I rejoice that he can use me in spite of those faults, but I know too that they are revealed and made plain for a purpose – I am being called to repent, by his power to change, and to grow in maturity and likeness to Jesus.

Each of us has predispositions towards particular sins, and away from others, for a whole host of reasons, but that predisposition is never an excuse for refusing to recognise them and repent. I have a strong tendency toward self-pity; it is frighteningly easy for me to end up in that particular place and I am thankful that God is pressing me in these days to recognise and address this – it is a sin. It speaks of a profound distrust of God, and a resentment of what he is permitting in my life.

In David’s case, he had recently experienced a number of miraculous escapes from Saul, and could testify to God’s keeping, and yet suddenly he has had enough. He no longer feels able to trust God for the future – who am I to judge David in this, I who so readily make my own desperate little plans to protect myself and so easily forget all that God has already done on my behalf.

Elijah had just come from the triumphant defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, the Israelites had seen and acknowledged the power of the true God, and yet on receiving news of Jezebel’s threat against his life, Elijah goes to pieces and begs to die – has he forgotten God’s power on the mountain?! I forget too easily in my own life, and have no right to judge this great prophet for his temporary weakness.

So how should I respond when I find myself like Elijah, or David – at the end of my tether and tempted to give up on God, disbelieving and fed up? I believe that there is a sovereign remedy for this complaint, although sometimes it takes a great deal of self-discipline to apply it – thanksgiving, praising God for what is and has been and deliberately concentrating on gratitude and trust.

As Paul tells the Corinthian church, God never leaves us without a way out under temptation, so when I am tempted to wallow in self-pity I have a choice. Shall I choose to sin against my Lord’s love, faithfulness and promise, by sulking, harming myself and others, and frustrating his work in my life? Or will I choose to recognise the inherent sin of self-pity, and reject it? God’s plans for my life may include many trials, difficult times and painful experiences – but self-pity is not the fruit which he designs they should produce. Rather, a godly thankfulness, a humble awareness that I cannot understand his ways, but must and CAN trust him should inform my attitude.

May I commend this discipline of gratitude, and thanksgiving most earnestly to you? It has brought more consolation and help to me than I can begin to explain, and – I trust – will continue to be used by God to shape me into the likeness of my dear Lord Jesus.

Give thanks to our God, for he is so good; his love endures for ever.

It’s not my job….

A discerning person keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth.

A person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way?

There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord

(Pr 17.24; 20.24)

Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come?..When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labour that is done on earth..then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.

(Eccl 8.7,16&17)

The arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear….Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?

(Isa 2.17&22)

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear..Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?….do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink, do not worry about it…your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well..

(Lk 12.22,25,29-31)

We are called to live in exceptional days, placed here for this time and purpose by God who holds all time and space in his hands and is at work to bring all things to their completion in Christ. The bible narrative encourages believers to continually consider what God has done, and to remember that all that happens is part of his great redemptive plan – each detail of our lives has a place, and in his hand nothing is wasted.

To me, the global experience of pandemic illness has been such a graphic demonstration of the truth which lies behind that instruction of Christ to his disciples – all our worrying achieves nothing, and our job is to trust God and instead look to our role in his work here and now. In the face of this ‘plague’, where governments, armies, wealth and privilege are powerless to  defeat an invisible enemy, we see most clearly that humanity is not in control, cannot be trusted for ultimate security, and must fail. We see our limitations written in the statistics of deaths, in the as yet unseen economic costs, the long term social costs, of this extraordinary time.

A discerning person looks to wisdom – which in the bible is described as the fear or proper respect of the Lord – rather than scanning all the range of human achievement in search of meaning and solutions. When we rightly fear God, recognising that we are mortal, limited and flawed while he is holy, almighty, just and good, then we regain some perspective on all that happens in the world. We STOP thinking that it is our job to fix things, or even to understand why they are happening. We ARE NOT GOD – and what a relief that is! When there is so much pain and suffering to be borne, who could be sufficient for this? Only the Lord Almighty, whose thoughts are emphatically not our thoughts, but whose love can be utterly depended upon.

So in these days, I rejoice that it is not my God-appointed task to find the reason for this pandemic – or any other source of suffering. I give thanks that I can trust God through all my unanswered questions, and instead ask what my job is. While mankind is not meant to know the answers to “Why?”, we are incredibly gifted in finding out “How?”, and so I give thanks and do what I can to support the efforts to address the consequences of the virus – in prayer, in financial and practical support, and by obeying the instructions of our own government.

I pray that God will be at work to fulfill his own mysterious purposes, and that along the way, we will see God’s love in action as people care for one another; as churches reach out in new ways to show Christ; as scientists race to find vaccines and medical professionals put their lives on the line to save others. God will do all that he plans through this great trial…will I do what he asks me to do?

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6.8)

In caring, praying, speaking and acting, may I do what the Lord requires of me in these days, and may I be given grace to let God be God, to leave the unanswered questions at the foot of the cross, where the blood of Christ silences them.

When forgetting is hard..

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions….Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight..

(Ps 51.1&4)

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.

(Ps 130.1-4)

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel'” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people….For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

(Jer 31.33&34)

In Christ, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us…

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

(Eph 1.7; 6.16)

The enemy of God’s house and family, the so-called ‘accuser of the brothers and sisters’, is skilled in disguising himself and getting past our guard. How often have we had that mental shock when we catch ourselves going down a thought -path which seemed to start out well, but end up in places of bitterness, resentment, or flat out rebellion against God? We have been beguiled – as Eve was – by smooth and plausible words and ideas, and failed to recognise the personality of our companion.

This can be particularly painful when, as was my experience recently, the accuser takes our own lived experiences of sin and failure, and under the guise of our good conscience, stirs up a perfect storm of anxiety and grief over past hurts to others. The memories return too clearly – of hasty words; careless forgetfulness and selfish behaviour which have left a legacy in the lives of others. They may have forgiven us, but the damage was done and cannot be undone by all our tears and genuine repentance.

It was a dark time; swamped by awareness of my sin and the impact on others, I cried out to God for mercy and help as a drowning man calls for assistance. And the word came, the gracious reminder that this accusing voice did not come from God. My God has promised to keep no record of my sins, to make no effort to remember them and certainly not to use the memory of them to rob me of strength and joy for today.

What is the truth of our situation? Yes, we have sinned against others – and will continue to do so until we die. Yes, those sins have consequences. BUT, God in his mercy has provided forgiveness for our sins, so that we are released from guilt over our past, and it cannot define who we are anymore. AND, God in his grace promises that the consequences of our sin in the lives of others are all within his providential care for them – none of it is wasted, all is formed into part of the whole!

Even as God uses the consequences of other people’s sin in my life to teach me about his faithfulness, and my own need to depend on him alone – so he also teaches others through my failures. How wonderful, how marvellous; to know that even my most grievous wrongs are not able to thwart God’s purposes, and my loved ones are not somehow disqualified from God’s best for them by my sin.

As this year draws to a close, I rejoice in the daily mercies of forgiveness from God, and the ability which that gives me to forgive others. I praise him because nothing can separate us from his love – and that includes our sins against one another – because in Christ, we are securely adopted into his family. I choose to take up my shield of faith – faith in the effectiveness of Jesus’ blood to deal with sin, to quench the painful attacks of the enemy of my redeemed people, and faith in the Almighty God, who is working all things together for the good of those whom he has called.

God has forgiven me, let me never dare to refuse to forgive myself; but rather humbly and gladly accept that I can depend only and always on him to do what is right and best. I pray that I may never treat sin lightly, but I rejoice that forgiveness is always free, and I need not be crippled by fear of the consequences of my failures. I serve a great and awesome God, nothing is impossible with him!

There is a time…

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend,

A time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

(Ecc 3.1-11)

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands…Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.

(Ps 31.14-16)

Jesus…prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you…

(Jn 17.1)

…You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

(Rom 5.6)

When my spirit is filled with an ache of longing, and wearied with the unruly, ugly and frightening deeds of humankind, dear Lord, let me remember that you have set eternity in my heart, and that is why I am homesick.

When it seems that the pride of man, and the prince of this world have frustrated all potential for good, for redemption, for hope, dear Lord, let me remember that you are the eternal God, and they are nothing in your sight.

When the pattern of my own life is not what I had hoped, or expected; when it holds gashes and stains, rough and dark streaks, when the threads are weak and like to break, dear Lord, let me remember that all my times are in your hands and none of this is wasted.

When my own persisting sinfulness, the temptations within and assaults from without would bring me to despair, dear Lord, let me remember that you have died for me, declaring forgiveness and cleansing, and that nothing can prevent you from bringing me triumphantly home at last.

 

We are creatures burdened with a divided loyalty – to our own time and place within an earthly span of years; but also to the place which God is preparing for us at his side in the new earth, where time has no meaning, and in a glory which our limited minds cannot begin to comprehend.

To this time, belong the peculiar mixture of gladness and mourning; building and tearing down; living and dying. In this sphere, we are given the privilege and opportunity of receiving all things from God as opportunities to glorify him, even as Christ prayed on the eve of his greatest ordeal.

The times of plenty, of peace, of fulfillment – these are an opportunity to push past the gift and to glory in the Giver. I need not be ashamed of the blessings I receive, but rather hold them thankfully, humbly, and seek to share them. Our suffering too, in its own small way, is a platform on which – by his grace – God may be exalted. I do not write this lightly, for I know that God’s children have experienced incredible trials, and yet the testimony of the saints remains – God is good, and worthy of our trust. All that happens to us can be surrendered to this supreme purpose, and our obedience, submission and sacrificial praise are an acceptable, fragrant offering to God. Will I not, in my turn, seek to honour my beloved Lord when he chooses that I should suffer?

May I choose not to question what my God may send me in the days ahead, but accept all things as from him – rejoicing in the hope which Christ has birthed in me; fortified by the presence of the Spirit; and resting in the tender love of the Father who may be trusted to do all things well.

Learning to speak…fluently!

Then Abraham approached [The Lord] and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?…far be it from you to do such a thing…Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

(Gen 18.23&25)

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven….”O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name….”

(Neh 1. 4&11)

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.

(Ps 32.5&6)

Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I…

(Ps 61.1&2)

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 all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(Phil 4.6&7)

what is prayer?

Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will in the name of Christ with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.

(Shorter catechism, Question 98)

Jesus taught his disciples about prayer both in formal exhortation, and also through his own example – he gave them what we now call ‘the Lord’s prayer’, and they were present on many occasions when he prayed aloud. They could also testify to his habit of spending prolonged hours alone in prayer. They learnt that when they spoke to God, they came as beloved children to a Father who cherished them; they learnt that prayer could be short and confident – as when Jesus spoke before the raising of Lazarus – and also that it could be prolonged, agonised pleading – as in Gethsemane. They heard for themselves the final words addressed to God from the cross, prayers for forgiveness, of lament and cries of desolation.

It is clear from the record of the Acts of the apostles, and from their letters, that the disciples embraced prayer as integral to their lives as believers – and the foundation for the work which God called and anointed them to do. They prayed for one another’s faith and witness; for the work of God in far off lands and also close at hand; they prayed against the power of evil, and faithfully offered sacrifices of thankful prayer no matter what their circumstances might have been.

We don’t really need to know much about how they prayed – sitting, kneeling or standing; eyes shut or open; hands raised or clasped before them; aloud or silent; in a group or alone. The point is, that within a very few weeks of Jesus’ death and resurrection, these uneducated men were praying – fluently and confidently, in the face of attack and in times of rejoicing. We have much to learn from their example, if we too desire to honour God and bear fruit for him as faithful, obedient disciples.

If we have not learned to submit ALL our desires to God in prayer, and to share with him everything that is on our hearts, then we may find it hard to begin when we face severe trials. If we have never practiced prayer in the easier times of life, then the crises may find us woefully inadequate, unable to articulate our thoughts, and more seriously, unable to call to mind the promises of God, the teachings of scripture about his character and plan for kingdom building, and new-creating. We may find ourselves unable to echo Christ’s words in Gethsemane – “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”(Luke 22.42)

Cultivating fluency in prayer is not about eloquent speeches, but is about knowing by experience how readily we can bring all our thoughts, fears and hopes to God – and doing it. Prayer is not some emergency helpline for believers, which we call on only when we can’t cope ourselves, it is the language of the kingdom, and one of the primary means by which we grow in faith and dependence on God. Failure to grow in prayer, leaves us stunted and vulnerable as believers – with only ourselves to blame for the trouble that may bring upon us.

I fear that I have yet much to learn about persevering, faithful prayer; but I rejoice in the ways that God has taught me through godly friends and leaders. May I not give up, but rather press on earnestly, growing more fluent in prayer, that I might fulfill what God is calling me to be and do for his glory in our world. Lord, teach me to pray!

(photograph courtesy of Peter Geddes, 2019: Carloway, Lewis)

When it all goes dark…and silent

..yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brothers house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead.. At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;

Surely God, you have worn me out; you have devastated my entire household…Only a few years will pass before I take the path of no return. My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me.

(Job 1.18-22: 13.15: 16.7&22-17.1)

Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death..You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief…You have taken from me friend and neighbour – darkness is my closest friend.

(Ps 88.1-3,6,8&18)

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted.

(Isa 53.5)

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind, and God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

(1 Cor.10.13)

 

Sooner or later, it comes to each one of us. The pain of the world suddenly becomes our pain, the tragic headlines become our headlines, our lives, and our future. There are some trials from which there can be no return – the premature death of a beloved child, a fatal diagnosis, a destroyed relationship. These things in themselves are painful enough, but when those involved had not professed faith in Jesus, when we fear that they had no hope for eternity, the loss becomes unbearable.

These things are common trials to mankind down the centuries, not unique to us here and now – this is not some new thing which God is doing. It is a mystery which his children have wrestled with since Cain murdered Abel and broke his parent’s hearts, since Job’s children were destroyed, since Jeremiah was broken and despised by those to whom he was called, since Hosea’s tragic marriage to Gomer.

We are made to call God our Father, to trust in him and to receive all the good things which are our inheritance, most of all to be in intimate loving fellowship with him. When we are wounded in these ways, we feel betrayed, and abandoned; we become angry because we are scared and alone in the darkness of our suffering. We cry out for answers;  we long for the suffering to be undone, for the bad things not to have happened – and in Job and Jeremiah’s case, we wish that we had never lived to experience such depth of trouble.

God doesn’t give us answers, nor – with a handful of exceptional miraculous interventions – does he restore the dead to us. He promises that he will never leave us, and that he is sovereign to rule over all that happens, working it out for his glory – and our blessing. And he gives us his son, to suffer betrayal, injustice, physical pain and ultimate agonising separation from the Father – a darkness which we will never know, because Christ endured it for us.

Let us be merciful to one another, we are all living with unanswerable questions –  like open wounds, amputations or paralyses which impede our every function for the rest of our lives, and at times make us feel permanently cut off from joy, light and hope. Let us be filled with compassion for those whose burden of grief is inexplicably heavy, and refrain from offering easy comfort.

We pray for others, as we would be prayed for: that they might be kept from the temptation to despair of God, He is powerful to protect his children; that they might be spared the aggravation of comforters such as Job’s so-called friends, but instead receive compassion; that they might be upheld by God, and able to cast all our cares on him, over and over again; and that they might know – even in such agony – the peace which only he gives.

Reality check..

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it only leads to evil.

(Ps 37.3-8)

Jesus said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

(Luke 9.22-26)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things…Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord..It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

(Col 3.1&2, 23&24)

It is terribly easy to fall into the habit of selective reading of scripture, picking out those passages which make us feel comfortable and good about ourselves, and losing sight of fundamental truths which present a challenge to our thinking and acting.

Psalm 37 makes us feel good; we think about how God will give us our heart’s desires, and vindicate our good name, and it is reassuring! And then, the Holy Spirit prompts a recollection that this would have been one of Jesus own songs, one of his prayers too…..what did it look like for this to be fulfilled for him? He was the only perfect human being who ever lived, and therefore surely his cause was righteous, his desires were fulfilled and his way vindicated by God?

Our Lord delighted in God the Father, we read so many times of his prioritising time alone to pray and of his speaking of his love and obedience to God. And what did God give Christ? Hardship, foolish and faithless followers, persecution, injustice and finally an agonising, humiliating death. Jesus committed his way to God the Father, from his earliest days he sought to be about his Father’s business and publicly declared that everything he said and did was as directed by God. And his righteousness was despised, his name was blackened, and he was condemned as a criminal.

He was still before his accusers, he waited patiently through the agony of crucifixion to accomplish his allotted task, to achieve his desired end; he refrained from anger, and prayed forgiveness for his persecuters. His road to glorious and absolute victory led through what looked like abject failure and defeat…and he calls me, he calls you to follow him.

Our victory is assured in Christ, we cannot fall out of God’s loving grasp; but even as we will share in his future glory, so we are called now to share in his path of obedient self-denial and submission. God calls me to follow Jesus in doing the hard things, the painful things, the lonely, secret and insignificant things which are involved in dying to myself – a sacrifice which is for God’s eyes only, not to make a public performance or to win human praise.

My heart’s desire may truly be for the glory of God and the building of his kingdom, but am I really prepared for what that will mean in my own life? Being a follower of Jesus is not meant to be easy, smooth and comfortable – his path was none of those things! All those things which self clings to as its right – health, security, family and a good name – are disposable in the will of God, and I must hold them lightly, ready to yield them up if necessary with an obedient and willing spirit.

May God in his grace grant me his strength to do the work of dying to myself, that I might live for Christ; may the vision of the glorious and risen One draw me on steadily through my own path of self-denial, keeping me steady and full of hope that even as I share his sufferings, so also I will share in his glory.

 

When it hits someone you love…

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

(Jn 11.1-3)

Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this..they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat..into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

(Lk 5.18&19)

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

(Jn 16.33)

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. …so then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

(1Pet.4.12&19)

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord….The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

(Jm 5.13,14&16)

Like a dark stain spreading across all of life, comes the news that one whom we love is sick, struck down in mind or body, and suffering. The thoughts of their trouble colour everything else we do, and so we do as the bible shows us others have done – we tell our Lord all about it, bringing the beloved to him in prayer as trustingly as those men brought their paralysed friend on his mat.

The reality and irrationality of suffering are one of the greatest trials which we are called to bear as followers of Jesus. We know from the bible that in God’s plan for his children, there should have been no such thing – and that is why at the very root of our distress, lies the sense of outrage that such things should happen. This is what God feels about all the consequences of human rebellion, all that has come upon us and our world since the fall. It is wrong, it goes against the grain of God’s blueprint for creation, and we were never designed for this. It is right and proper that we should be appalled and agonise over these things – and this can in some way help us when the bad news comes, because we know our reaction is not ungodly, but right and true.

But all too often when we have prayed…and prayed…and trusted..the illness does not lift. The world is full of believers who are living with chronic conditions of pain and disability; living with the crippling effects of mental illness, all in spite of faithful prayer for many years. The disability campaigner and noted Christian writer, Joni Earicsson Tada is perhaps the most famous of these faithful believers at this time, having suffered not only paraplegia but also depression and cancer, and all the side effects which arise from life in a wheelchair. Sometimes it must seem that God is mocking his children, when those who are already weak and suffering are knocked over again by a new trial.

The bible is adamant that God loves his children, that everything he does and permits is wholly designed for their blessing and his glory. But the bible also reminds us that God’s ways are so far beyond ours that we cannot begin to comprehend them, and we will probably never get answers to the bewildered plea of our hearts ; “Lord, why should this happen to them? How can this possibly be good for anyone?!”

So what is my reaction? How do I pray? I remember Job, in all his sufferings and recall that the silent companionship of his ‘comforters’ was more precious than all their words – so I offer my presence and love-in-action to the one in need (and to their family who are suffering too). I note that Job’s trial gave great glory to God, and pray for this to be the result for my loved one – may they too acknowledge and praise God in spite of all that is happening to them. I think of the laments of the psalms and prophets, and bring my sense of outrage against these things to God, acknowledging that they are part of sin’s consequences in the world, and weeping with him for the suffering they cause to his precious children. I consider Jesus’ example of truly undeserved suffering, borne in humility and faith and obedience so that God’s will might be done – and I pray that I might learn to trust God’s ways more completely, and that the suffering beloved might be given grace also to see that even in the midst of their trial, Jesus is an utterly trustworthy Lord.

And ultimately, I thank God that my beloved one knows Jesus as Saviour, so that no matter when or how healing and deliverance may come, their future is not dark but radiant; not defined by a failing body or fractured mind, but whole, beautiful and flawless, thriving in eternity in intimate communion with the Lord. This life is not the end of our story, but in him, only the beginning! Halleluia, to him be all the glory, and to us his most bountiful grace.

It’s not about the chocolate..

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

(Mark 8.34)

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

(Galatians 2.20)

You 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.. he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!

(Philippians 2.5-8)

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

(1 Peter 2.21-23)

As followers of Jesus around the world take time over the next few days to remember particularly the events of the last week of his life, looking forward to his death for all who would believe in him, I have been thinking how easy it is to forget a very significant truth about how he lived for us first.

Before Jesus died to save us from the power and consequences of sin – to offer hope for all the brokenness that each of us carries and cannot by any amount of our own effort overcome – he died to himself.

He deliberately set aside his own desires, the urge for self-preservation, comfort and privacy, for a “normal”life and the freedom to grow old without pain, and in peace. He gave up his rights as the eternal Son, setting them aside in order to become as a servant, one to whom no honour was due; and whose life might be disregarded and set at little worth. He gave up his rights to have his needs met in the ways he desired; he gave up the right to justify himself and to have the last word in an argument; he gave up the right to seek justice on his enemies for the wrongs they did to him. He set aside any notion of status or human authority, and never fought for recognition for his gifts and talents. He did not sulk or scheme against others when their opinions prevailed and his was set at nought.

It is far too easy for us to read Jesus’ words about denying ourselves, and to take them in as 21st century people – immediately thinking of diets, or other forms of privation; as many people still do in Lent, even when they have no faith in the Saviour whose life and death that season is associated with in many church calendars. It is far too easy to confine self-denial to food, or tv, or our favourite social media, or some other relatively innocuous item which doesn’t touch the heart of the matter.

It is ‘self’, the root of all human rebellion against God which must be denied, and that goes so deep with us, that most of us will spend our lives discovering ever more ways in which it rules and must be toppled from the throne over again.

I have no rights. I can demand nothing from life which I am entitled to receive. As a believer, all that I am and have is a gift from God, freely given, for him to use or withdraw according to his purpose and pleasure – for a greater and more glorious future than I can currently imagine. Will I trust this God – as Jesus did? Will I choose to cling by faith to his goodness and his promises when all my dearest hopes are gone; if my health were to be chronically undermined, or my children materially to suffer? Will I choose to let him look after the honour of my name and reputation, if all around treat me like dirt? Will I choose to let the justice of my cause go undefended, trusting in God to see and know, and resting on his love and acceptance of me for all my peace?

Jesus did this. He calls me to follow, rejecting the self which weeps and cries, fights and resists, clinging to every last foothold in my spirit and mind with incredible tenacity and hiding itself behind so many specious arguments.

My precious Lord and Saviour, for whom every step along the road to Jerusalem, every word and deed that last week was an act of obedient submission to the Father, and of ruthless denial of self, may I receive grace to follow and to carry my cross as simply, humbly and selflessly as you. Put to death in me that fierce enemy of the King of my heart, so that he might reign alone, and be glorified by who he makes me.