Category Archives: submission

On being set aside…

“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

(Job 1.21)

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you… for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

 (Phil 4.9, 11-13)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God… Endure hardship as discipline… God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees!

(Heb 12.1,2,7,10-12)

The missionary Amy Carmichael wrote, ‘in acceptance lieth peace’, and surely this is the key to those seasons in our lives when all our plans are thrown askew by unplanned interruptions, and especially when through illness or accident, we are left by the side of the journey of life to watch and be waited on by others, wondering what our purpose is and fretting over those tasks undone.

The intellect may have assented to the proposition that my health, talents and productivity are all surrendered to God, to do with as suits his divine purpose. But when I am called to live out that surrender with a quiet heart and a cheerful face, the reality can be quite different. How can it be that God wants to suspend my useful activities? How can it help his purposes for me to be unable to labour with the talents he has given? It is extremely tempting to believe that without my particular input, nothing can usefully be achieved, and that somehow, by my inactivity, I am failing God, my neighbours, and his kingdom-building work.

All of these thoughts demonstrate that I haven’t really understood and accepted just what it means to fully surrender all that I am and have to God, to be used as he sees fit. If the Creator and Lord of all wishes to lay me aside for a season – whether long, or short – that is his business, and mine is to accept his decision, to look for his lessons for me in this time, and to expect that he has things for me to learn and do even in this unwelcome inactivity. Some of God’s most productive saints have been those who have embraced his unexpected, apparently limiting, plan for their lives – consider Joni Eareckson Tada, wheelchair bound and crippled for life, who has been enabled to minister to hundreds of thousands of people, sharing the love of Christ through her weakness.

Perhaps I need to learn to be served, to embrace the humility of asking for assistance and graciously waiting until someone is able to give it. Perhaps I need to learn again that I am not the only person who can do my tasks, or that they are not quite so important as I like to pretend they are. My true worth lies not in how significant my labours are, but in my Lord’s love and sacrificial death for me. If I were to be laid aside for the rest of my life from active service, yet I know that his love and delight in me would be undiminished.

Perhaps I need also to learn a deeper sympathy and compassion for those who are truly limited in their activity – the long-term housebound, those with life-limiting conditions. Lord, let me take to heart the frustrations, losses and narrowed opportunities which are mine in these days, so that I might be more sensitive and imaginatively loving to those who are denied so much all their days.

Above all, perhaps I can live more slowly and deliberately, willing to be quiet and still, to truly see the beauty around me, the good things with which I am so well supplied, and to be profoundly thankful as I consider from whom all has come.

May I accept this discipline from my Lord with grace and cheerfulness; trusting that as he has called me to it, so he will give me the strength to bear it with a stout heart and in hope that it will not be wasted. May I look for and learn the lessons he has for me in it, that I may come through stronger in faith, and more able to serve, glorify and love him in the days ahead. As the clouds of heavenly witnesses testify with glad shouts to the faithfulness of the Lord, may I be encouraged to prove for myself by obedient acceptance, that he is indeed worthy to be praised.

Purpose and expectancy

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

(Jos 14.6,10-12)

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

(Ps 92.12-15)

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

(Phil 1.20-22)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And when I pray…

Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses…Only be strong and courageous.

(Jos 1.17&18)

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus…. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what  is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.

(Phil 1.3-6&9-11)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

(Col 1.2)

It is always good to learn from others how we might serve the people of God more faithfully, and perseveringly – at least, I know that I have much to learn. The writings of Paul to his beloved churches give us a glimpse into the life of intercession which he followed so faithfully, and I was struck recently by the fact that he seems to start praying for people by being thankful for them! Perhaps this is not new for you, in which case, read no further..

What happens when we look at the prayer list, when the array of burdens and requests mounts up and it seems that all we are doing is bringing a shopping list of our demands to God? I think that I lose perspective, I become absorbed in the – important but not crucial – details, and forget that God’s overall plans and purposes are so much greater and so utterly other than my own. I begin to think that if I don’t see the answers I want, then prayer doesn’t work, or that I am somehow failing to ask properly.

But, when I start by giving thanks for God’s people, each unique, each beautifully crafted for his purposes and saved by grace through faith in Jesus – each one a beloved child and sibling of min in Christ – then my perspective shifts. They are no longer a duty to be ticked off, but a person in relationship to the Almighty – and to me. They are fearfully and wonderfully made and to be rejoiced in. Their salvation story is a reason to celebrate God’s goodness and power in transforming broken humanity – as is mine.

Their heart’s desire, like mine, is to know Christ and to make him known, to play their part in God’s great plan of salvation and new creation. While we may have our own human ideas of what that ought to look like in a given situation – healings, job opportunities etc – actually, we all know and ultimately trust in a God who so often confounds human expectation.

So, when I pray, I can use some of the great prayers of the scriptures like these:

  • that God would go with us in all we do
  • that the Spirit will make us courageous and confident in God to work ahead of us
  • that we might receive daily grace – God’s work in us to accomplish what we can’t do
  • that we might live in the peace which is experiencing the blessings of being fully reconciled to God hour by hour and day by day
  • that we might grow in love for Christ and for one another, a mature and self-denying love which builds community, and witnesses to the power of the gospel in our hearts
  • that we might bear fruit for Christ, the changed lives which result from continual re-orientation of all our thoughts and attitudes according to his word
  • that we might bring glory and praise to God

All of these are things that I long to see happening in my life, so should I not also pray them for others? These things all underpin the details of daily life, so that our attitudes and decisions are increasingly godly and discerning, and fully aligned to whatever God is doing in and through us. Each and every situation is an opportunity to chose to live for God, and to trust him to use that glad and obedient submission for his own purposes.

When I pray in this way for others, I am reminded all the time that God’s agenda is so big and that whatever the details of each life may be, we are together in fulfilling his plans. Our sufferings and struggles gain significance, and also are drained of their power to bind us in despair and half-heartedness when we remember the great story in which we are playing a part, and the adversary who seeks to thwart every blossoming of God’s work in human lives.

Friends, let us pray with joy, because the one who began this good work in us will bring it to completion, and in the meantime, he has promised never to leave us. Then let us pray with confident thanksgiving, and to him be all the glory. Amen!

But…Lord, I don’t understand, forgive me…

The Lord said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!…Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God’s and can your voice thunder like his?”

(Job 40.1&2,8&9)

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion…..The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished…

(Ex 33.18&19; 34.6&7)

Watch out that no-one deceives you….You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of the birth pains.. you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death because of me.. many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations

(Matt 24.4-14)

I am back on familiar ground, wrestling with the sheer scale of human suffering – today and in the past, and in the future as it seems to be unfolding before our very eyes. Wrestling with the tension between the revelation of God’s love and power and will to save as seen in Jesus, and the heartbreaking cry which is going up every hour of every day as people face pain, horror, oppression and death without hope.

The very doubts which arise in my mind make me feel guilty – adding to the messy and distressing nature of the fight. And yet, I think of Job who cried out in his agony and loss, and whom God commended for speaking truth about the Almighty – truth about God’s justice and holiness and absolute trustworthiness. And I think of Jesus, in very nature God and able to heal, resurrect and create new life, who nonetheless spoke to his disciples that they would ‘always have the poor with them’, and whose mission in his short life was not to tackle social justice, create an ideal state, overthrow the oppression of women, or heal every illness and deformity which could be found in the world in his time. 

If Jesus had a different, and greater, agenda, then is it not possible for me to try to grasp that other agenda too, to begin to see beyond this world and its very real troubles to the greater and more glorious reality beyond? Am I so embedded in the physical present that I cannot even begin to understand or imagine there might be something immeasurably better? May I not learn to trust that there is something worth hanging onto beyond the immediate and enveloping misery which clouds my vision of the world?

God tells us that his ways are higher than ours, and yet to our shame we continue to fall into the devil’s trap of sitting in judgement on the Divine, of weighing God’s plans and purposes by human values. Surely this must be one of the forms by which ‘wickedness’ has increased, so that so many in the world today are deceived into condemning God without really listening to the gospel and to the claims which Jesus made for himself. As CS Lewis put in the title of his book, we put ‘God in the dock’, and having found fault with the plans of the Almighty, decide he is untrustworthy, and not to be considered in any of our thinking about life and creation.

With shame, I confess it again, I really struggle with these great unanswered questions, these mysteries which surround God’s great plan of redemption. I pray, “Thy will be done..” and then am tempted to add a qualifier – “but not if anyone is going to get hurt by it…” 

Father God, I believe that you could end all human suffering and pain tomorrow, if it were your plan and purpose to do so; if by that means, all glory would go to your Son my Saviour. And so I pray, “thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven”. Help me, dear Father, to trust you for the prayers which seem unanswered, for the answers that involve ongoing mess and pain for billions around the world. And dear Father, forgive and cleanse me of this arrogance, this pride which keeps on rearing its head and demanding that you give account of yourself to me, for my approval. I am so ashamed to recognise this attitude in my heart. Thank you for the mercy which I have in Jesus, so that my sin is forgiven in his name. May my passion be for the proclamation of that mercy to all nations, so that he might be glorified, and your kingdom come on earth.

If not me, then who?

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfil the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you – may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem…..” Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites – everyone whose heart God had moved, prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem….

Now these are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles..they returned..each to his own town, in company with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum and Baanah: The list of the men of the people of Israel: the descendants of Parosh, 2172; of Shephatiah, 372…the men of Bethlehem, 123; of Netophah, 56…

(Ezr 1.1-5; 2.1-4,21&22))

The great Hebrew Scripture narratives of exodus and exile are associated with lists….huge lists of names and numbers, relating to the people who were involved in these historic events. As modern readers, we are tempted to skip over them – we can’t pronounce most of them, and they mean nothing to us! But consider their significance to generations of Jews, who would trace their own family name back to one of these, and remember with awe that their ancestors were part of those hugely significant events. The inclusion of these names is a reminder that all of God’s work in history has involved individuals, real people like you and me, whose lives were caught up into his overarching purpose. 

As those called to be God’s people, we are pledged to obedience and faithfulness (as God enables us), and we are not free to dictate the terms on which we will follow where God is leading – we are slaves to Christ, not his employees and certainly not his employers! If all the exiled Israelites had responded to God’s prompting of their hearts by saying – ” returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple is a great idea…let someone else do it, I am quite comfortable here with the way things are and I don’t like change..”: then there would have been no return from exile. I wonder how those who chose not to go felt in later years? Did they regret their failure to be part of that work of return and rebuilding, or had their faith never been in God at all, but rather in the trappings of prosperity and security which they now found in Babylon?

It is our personal commitment within the body of Christ which leads to corporate obedience. If I choose to delegate obedience to another, what is to prevent them doing the same? It is entirely possible for us to miss out on being part of God’s work in the world – but we will be the losers, and our faith and spiritual health will suffer. Is my trust in Jesus as my Lord, or in the habit of meeting in a certain place at a certain time? Is my faith a matter of habit and laziness – of letting someone else tell me what to think and avoiding the difficult questions and self-disclosure which might prompt self-examination, confession, repentance and change? 

Most of us recognise that many formal church structures are collapsing, and that perhaps it is time for far-reaching change if we are to support local believers in authentic witness and outreach to our communities. What will my response be to change that hurts? Will I reject it and cling to my own comfort, or will I allow Christ’s love to compel me along the difficult path, trusting his provision and enabling? If each member of the church in turn says, “Change is good, but let other people change, I am comfortable here”, then there will be no corporate submission to God’s leading into new things.  We will have shown that even the abundant grace shown to us in Jesus, and all the lavish promises of God are not as valuable to us as our comfortable traditions.

Change starts within each one of us….

Do I worship Jesus as Lord of my life? Then I must at the least be willing to set aside anything which hinders his work – including cherished music, forms of worship, translations of scriptures – and also to make myself available to do things differently – perhaps to learn in new ways, to be more active in sharing with others. The pain or struggle of doing this will be real, but is his love not worth anything I can give? What does the old hymn say?

Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life my all.”

I hold my personal comfort in an open hand, I offer it to the Lord and say, take this and use it according to your pleasure. I will trust you to be with me, no matter where and when I meet with your people; no matter what we sing – or don’t sing; and to speak to me whether there is an ordained minister present or not! Lead me into whatever you have for me, and I will follow, all that matters is that Jesus is honoured and obeyed.

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Whose church is it anyway?..

I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace..Keep watch over yourselves..Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood..

(Acts 20.24&28)

For [God] 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. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

(Col 1.13-20)

To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you form him who is, and who was, and who is to come…and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

(Rev 1.4-6)

It may seem an odd question, but the implications are far-reaching..

If it is the church of Jesus Christ – expressed through all the multi-faceted organisations which now exist across the globe under that single word’church’ – then I need not be too parochial in my concerns, not worried about the fact that another fellowship in my neighbourhood is experiencing a season of growth and deepening faith. Rather, I rejoice with my neighbour that the kingdom of God is growing, and the church of Christ is a living and loving presence in my community. I will resist being bound by denominational boundaries, and see only a place where Jesus is worshipped as Lord, where his people seek his face.

If it is the church of Jesus Christ – albeit expressed through human institutions of varied size and traditions – then I will be at home with my brothers and sisters wherever and however we meet, because in every case we are celebrating our membership of the family of God, and pursuing a deeper and purer relationship with our Lord Jesus. 

If it is the church of Jesus Christ, then it exists to carry out his will, to express his love to the world which needs him so badly, and to care in his name for the people to whom we are sent. As ‘church’, we exist primarily to enable one another to serve in his name, for his glory and for the saving of souls into his kingdom. 

If it is the church of Jesus Christ – and not a social club which exists to provide comfort and familiar rituals for a small group who like a particular pattern for their meeting together – then the driving force behind our gatherings is to see his face, to hear his voice; to repent together and individually of sin, to rejoice in our forgiveness, and to systematically let go of all the things which hinder us from obedience to his will.

The great voice which summoned the apostle John at the beginning of the book of Revelation gave him words to the seven churches, and in every case said: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Are we listening? What is the Spirit saying to us today? Or are we so used to our own idea of what church is about, and who it  belongs to, that we are deaf to the voice of him who died to redeem to himself a people, to call into being a church?

Am I really saying to the First and the Last, the Living One who was dead and is now alive for ever and ever, “Lord, I don’t think you are right about this, I like ‘my’ church the way it is”? 

At the very beginning, God’s chosen people decided that they knew, better than God did, just what was good for them, so they took it. What are we, as the church of Christ doing today? Will we humble ourselves, repent of our adherence to tradition, comfort and self-serving; our fondness for status and social acceptability; and ask Jesus to breathe new life into our moribund churches so that we begin to resemble our Lord and Saviour – the fearless one, the one who welcomed all comers, the one who had no time for empty rituals and salvation by merit?

Son of God, whose eyes like blazing fire see all things, uncover my false thinking about your church, and humble me to seek your face. Teach me to follow you, not my tradition; to love you, not my habits of worship; to live for your glory, not my own comfort. Spirit of the Living God, speak, and let me hear…

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!