Category Archives: Tenderness

Looking for my lover…

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing..

(1Peter 3.8&9)

Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her lover?…Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away…

(Song of Songs 8. 5,6-7)

As a sinful creature – saved, yet vulnerable to the old temptations and weaknesses, open to many distractions and easily swayed – among other sinners, I am answerable to the King of Kings for the way I treat his precious children. I am commanded to live peaceably, and not only that, but in a way which consistently seeks the good of others.

I don’t know about you, but I find it easy to love people when they are a generalised grouping, strangers whose lives have little impact on mine. It is a good deal harder to love those whose daily lives impact directly on me – for good and ill – because my own experience of them seems to get in the way all the time! It becomes hard to know what will be good for them, and harder still to do it, when I am preoccupied with how their latest actions have made me feel. It is as though “I” am getting in the way of the calling which God has given, to love and serve him in his people. My own needs for unconditional love, forgiveness and tenderness shout too loudly, drowning out the quiet voice directing me to obedient love for others.

I love that verse in the Song of Songs where the bride is described as coming up from the desert, “leaning on her lover”. She has found in a dry and arid place, the one who delights in her, and because of his love, she has the courage to return to the city and face the business of life again.

I too, have a heavenly Lord and Lover, who loves me – sacrificially – and who delights in me, who actually likes the person I am. He enjoys the playful spirit he gave me, so that while I may feel oppressed when the company of others suppresses it, when we are alone together, I can play and be glad, knowing I am loved.

He gave me a heart which loves to share, to listen to the hearts of others. When those around shut me out and refuse to be known by me, I go back and listen to his heart, and it speaks strong and loud of his joy, his beauty, his goodness. All these things are spread before me like a rich feast, with his great ambition for creation together with the pain which it is costing him. Here I find one who never keeps me at a distance, but reveals himself and is glad that I should be learning to know him. What a marvel, that God should choose to reveal himself to such as we are.

And this, my God loves all his children thus, seeing and cherishing each one; full of compassion for the struggles and pain which they feel. This, my God, longs to be known and delighted in by his people, and holds out his arms in welcome.

When I experience rejection by those I love, when I am not at liberty among them to be myself gladly and be delighted in, let me remember the heart of God. That great heart which is continually rejected and shut out by those he loves, whose tenderness is wounded again and again by their refusal to enjoy and accept him as he reveals himself through Jesus Christ. God knows my pain, and calls me to accept it in obedience, not dwelling upon it, but coming back again and again for refreshment and to lean upon the strengthening arm of my lover.

Then I will be in the right position to react as God reacts to us – in forgiving, loving patience, bearing with us in spite of all we have done and continue to do. As he has loved me, so may I love others, depending upon his strength and drawing on his love, so that all my needs are met in him and I am free to give as he does – to overflowing!

 

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When it hurts too much…

Hasten, O God, to save me; O Lord, come quickly to help me. May those who seek my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace. May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!” turn back because of their shame.

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, “Let God be exalted!”

Yet I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay.

(Ps 70)

I have never known what it is to have my life threatened as David did, nor to have people who actively sought to cause me harm. I am blessed and thankful to know such peace, and have an obligation to pray for those who are oppressed in this way.

But I do not think it is inappropriate to apply this psalm to those times in our lives when it seems our spiritual life is under threat, when we are assaulted by doubt, fear, and the relentless voices which wear us down into a dungeon of self-pity and hopelessness. The devil is wily and knows how to use our experiences to twist our perceptions and undermine our faith in the goodness and faithfulness of God.

When I am under such assault, it may take a while to realise what is going on, and to gather my wits to claim the victory which is mine in Christ. This happens most readily when it is my feelings which are attacked, and the resulting emotional storm is hard to ride out. It happened today.

There is a grief in my life which has been my companion for many years, and which, like Paul, I have begged to have removed. The Lord has thus far answered me as he answered Paul, saying that his strength will suffice for me, and I must trust that means he can be glorified through the wounded soldier and servant that I feel myself to be!

Sometimes, I can bear it more easily than others, and have my eye fixed more securely on God’s faithfulness and less on the pain and my own weakness. But not today.

Today, as I floundered on the brink of despair, God has been pouring out extravagant love gifts of beauty upon me, as brilliant winter sunshine picked out the snowy summits of our mountains, each one clear as a razor edge against the blue sky. Each fresh sight cut me afresh, like a wound. The contrast between the grief and darkness within my heart, and the tender love which was being proclaimed across the land, was just too much to bear. It was as though I was on one side of a chasm, with my pain; and the beauty and my dear Lord were on the other side, taunting me with my inability to reach them.

All I wanted to do was run away home, to leave this weary world of warring emotions, messy lives, and endless struggle to keep in step with the spirit of God. I wanted to be where there is no more need to endure, only the privilege of enjoying our God for ever. But of course, I couldn’t run, I have to stay until the time God decides is right for me, so how can I bear it?!

There is no magic formula; this life of faith is indeed a struggle, and at times a bitter one. But I can testify to the power of God to keep me in and through each fresh bout – because by his grace and mercy, he draws me back again and again to Christ.

There I find one who knew the pains which we bear in our human experience; and who can enter into the feelings which torment and drag us down. I praise God, that he turns me toward and not away from him in my need. I confess that I am still far more poor and needy than I like to admit, but rejoice that he will never give up on me and never abandon me to destruction by the forces that assault me.

There is no place for pride here, only profound thankfulness that our God is sufficient, ever-attentive to our cries and never running out of patience with us. Let our cry  in our need always be that of the psalmist:

..come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and deliverer; 

Just wondering….

For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband – Christ. But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted…

(2Cor 11.2&3)

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ…For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.

(Eph 5.25-27)

Fear not; you will no longer live in shame. Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth and the sorrows of widowhood. For your Creator will be your husband; the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth.

(Isa 54. 4&5)

What does it mean, to call God ‘Husband’? Why do the hymns refer to Jesus as the ‘Lover of our souls’? What does it look and feel like in daily life, to live the reality of this aspect of our relationship with Almighty God?!

I wrestled for a long time with this particular imagery, and it is only in recent years that I have come to understand a little better just how sweet and precious a picture it is, and to rejoice in the reality which lies behind it. I am not planning to write some profound analysis of marriage in this column, only to try to articulate something of the blessing which it is to have Jesus as the lover of my soul, my Redeemer as my husband…

In many cultures today, the situation for women is still as it was in biblical times – an unmarried or widowed woman was without rights or status, vulnerable to exploitation and without protection. A husband was a woman’s guarantee of security, with prospects for a peaceful and fulfilling life. He took upon himself the right and duty of providing for and protecting her, and as a unit they would grow together in affection and through their daily labour, relying on and complementing one another. It is crucial to remember that the bible does not give us examples of perfect marriages to follow, but the real messy stories of human beings making an attempt to live out the ideal which God always intended for us. What we experience is only a pale imitation of the depth of union and love which God made us capable of before sin broke the lines of communication and left us vulnerable in this most foundational of relationships.

When I call Almighty God my husband, I claim the right to use his name as my own, his authority gives me status and rights to an inheritance. When I call on my Redeemer as my husband, I call on the one whose strength is sufficient to keep me through every trial and to bring me to a place of honour. The stigma of being unwanted, rejected or abandoned, is gone, because I have a husband who makes public his love for me and his commitment to my well-being – that is what happened on the cross! Jesus stretched out his arms, and said “I love you.. I am for you…you are precious and beloved, and I will do anything to ensure that you can be mine for ever”.

The words from Ephesians make it very clear that Paul understood the ‘husbanding’ of Christ in this way – “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy…to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or blemish..”

A human husband knows that loving his wife should mean seeking the best for her – encouraging, nurturing, sometimes perhaps confronting or challenging, but always putting the fullest realisation of her potential first. A human husband also knows that he will fail, and fail often…

But our heavenly husband, our divine lover, is one who never fails in love, patience, compassion and tenderness. Oh how good it is to have such a lover, one who never fails me in my need, who never gives up on his ambition of seeing me made perfect, radiant and lovely!

Let me never give up on saying ‘I do’ daily to this dear Lord, but go on seeking to know him and his love as the foundation for my life, and as the sweetest blessing that I can share..

Whispers of comfort

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. “O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires. 

 (Isa 54.10-11)

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 

(2Cor 1.3)

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

(Rev 21.3&4)

Lashed by storms and not comforted, surrounded by a land laid waste by disaster and conflict.. This image in Isaiah’s prophecy of the desolation suffered by Jerusalem is a powerful and heart-rending one – calling to mind for us in these days places like the Syrian city of Aleppo, where distress beyond telling is the daily experience of so many people. Our globe continues to suffer the consequences of human rebellion against God – and humanity’s exaltation of itself.

Sometimes it can be a very private and personal desolation, a series of losses, setbacks and disappointments – in others and ourselves – which leave us reeling, breathless and weak. It was into such a personal situation many years ago that my mother read these words to me, bringing word from God of his tender compassion for my grief and agony. They were a lifeline, a trustworthy and secure connection to the solid ground of God’s over-arching provision for me through Jesus’s death and resurrection. All would one day be well, and I could hang on in the dark to that promise.

Is this not one of the most precious elements of the riches which we find in the coming of Jesus to be our Saviour? We are to be comforted – held closely by loving arms, like frightened or lonely children; warmed by the fiery love of God dwelling within us; quieted in our spirits by the knowledge that there is one in control who is all-powerful and ultimately victorious. Do we not all carry around in our adult bodies the spirits of little children, looking for a home and security, a place to lay down a burden of responsibility which is too great for us? Surely this is what Jesus meant when he called us to bear his yoke, which is light, and to allow the Almighty and Everlasting God to be God, to take from us those things which crush and destroy?

Our guilt for past sins – gone, by the grace of God in the atoning death of Christ on the cross. Our regrets for what might have been – lifted by the promise of eternal life in a new creation with infinite possibilities for good, and by God’s ability to work all things together for good for those who love him. Our fears for the future – transformed into quiet hope and expectation, that with God, we can do all that needs to be done, and that He sees and knows how to value our desire to obey and keep faith with him.

“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned.”( Isa 40.1)

The comfort which God offers is ultimately guaranteed by the fulfillment of all the prophecies about the coming of a Saviour. That comfort comes to us at the price of God’s son taking on human flesh, and then taking that flesh to the cross – for me, for you – where he was not comforted in his appalling isolation and pain, but mocked and abandoned.

What we receive, Jesus gave up. In his darkness there was no comfort, only agony and degradation as sin shut him out from his Father’s presence. Do I even begin to grasp what the perfect Son of God suffered for love of me? No, I can only wonder, and worship, and reach out passionately to grasp the precious comfort which his death provides for me – how I need this!

Be comforted, be warmed and reassured this Christmas, as you celebrate the coming of such a Saviour, and have confidence in telling others. We have tidings of great comfort and joy!

Take a deep breath…

Trust in the Lord and do good…Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires..

Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him and he will help you….be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.

(Psalm 37. 3,4,5,7, 23&24)

Have you ever found yourself in the privileged position of holding the hand of a small child while out on a walk, or trip to the park? Without thinking, in pure trust, the hand is given and you as the adult are able to guide, steady, reassure and if necessary rescue the little one from the hazards which may be encountered.

Look again at that line of the psalm – “they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.” And say it to yourself over and over… yes, I will stumble or trip; yes, I may be faced by some apalling obstacle or fearsome foe.. BUT my Lord holds my hand, he is beside me, and he is supremely capable of dealing with everything which I may encounter! And everytime I do stumble, I prove once again his readiness to assist and strengthen me, pulling me out from the hazard and reassuring me so that I can go on. What a tender picture of our Father’s love and of the wonderful grounds we have for trusting him in all circumstances.

But perhaps you sometimes suffer from the same problem as I do – you forget that you are held….

I am ashamed to think how often I allow myself to get into a dreadful state of dread, panic or even despair, surrendering hope of deliverance, and wallowing in a morbid self-pity for my sad condition. I fix my eyes on whatever the problem may be – and therein lies the problem, where my eyes are!!

Recently I found myself wide awake in the middle of the night, heart-pounding, sweating, and generally not good… I tried to pray for others who I knew might be in need – sick friends, missionaries who would already be up and doing – anyone, as a distraction from the dreadful roller-coaster of thoughts which were rushing through my head. I didn’t exactly win the battle, but in his mercy, God gave me sleep again, so that my body had a chance to rest and gather strength. And as the following day proceeded, my feelings relaxed, a small hope began to gather – like the cloud the size of a man’s hand which preceeded the coming rains in the day of Elijah. I was given the gift of being still and trusting that God would act; of waiting to see what he would do. I was able to set my feelings to one side, and live the day on the basis of truth about my God, taking it moment by moment and not anticipating the unknown and so easily fearful future.

I am held, constantly, by one who loves me and knows me better than anyone else. I need not be ashamed of telling him all my fears, confessing the doubts that assail me, the terror of facing what feels like too much responsibility. It is his hand, his strength which should be my confidence, not my own. And – which is the most comforting thing – even when I am in a mess entirely of my own making, he is still holding me, and still able to keep me from going down under it!

So this is my prayer for myself this week, perhaps it may help you too:-

Dearest Father, behold your daughter, in her need, her foolishness, the muddle of her own making.

Have mercy upon her, even as you promise faithfully to do.

Grant her that childlike confidence which faces every hurdle so long as her hand is in yours – for your grip on her is unshakeable.

She is trusting you for the little details of her little life, because to her they are not small, and in the night they become overwhelming, terrifying foes, devouring sleep and peace.

Let her be still, let her breathe deeply of the wholesome airs of your truth, so that her soul might be restored, her trust renewed, and she might wait patiently to see your hand at work in her life.

Let her be again as a little child, in your mercy Lord, grant her peace.

Just keep walking..

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

(John 8.12)

I love to walk. I like to walk around new places, getting a feel of them by pounding the streets, hearing the voices and traffic, letting the smells and sights inform and enrich my experience. I like to walk with friends, to share time with them as we go together through parkland or by riverbank, or even just up the road to church. I like to run too, but due to persistent injury, that activity is forbidden for the present, and so the energy which I would normally expend in running is being channeled into walking as a way of relaxing!

One of my favourite times to walk is of an evening, as the light lengthens and the sky often clears to reveal a breath-taking depth of colours. And just as when I walk with friends in the park, it is a time of fellowship and friendship, this time, with the one who is always present, my Lord Jesus. He is my best friend, the one above all others who loves me as I am and delights in all that pleases me. He understands why I have to stop and caress a beautiful bud, smell the freshly opened rose, lift my arms to the stooping boughs of great trees. These things were made to be received with gratitude, and so I love to share them with my Lord, to notice each one as a gift from his love, just for me.

Sometimes, I will leave the house in darkness – the darkness of spirit which comes through sin; through the pain which our most dearly loved can cause us; or through despair as I have been reminded of the extent to which our race choose to reject God and to live without hope in the world.  On those walks, there may well be tears, there will be half-formed laments and protests against the agony I am feeling. But even as I walk, weep and talk, with my Lord, there will always be that profound assurance of presence. He never leaves me to walk alone in the darkness, never…

And his presence is light in my darkness; is it not the only thing which makes our struggles bearable, to know that we are not alone? And is it not true that even our greatest joys are somehow enhanced when we share them with someone who understands and loves us? What a blessing then, to have his constant presence bringing comfort for my pain, and enriching my life by receiving my thanks for all the good things I receive!

By the light of his presence, the darkness is put into perspective, and I am reminded that I cannot see the whole picture, nor know the end of the story. His loving light shows me the sin that remains in my own life, reminding me of the cause of all the darkness and cautioning me against judging others when I am so weak myself. And above all, the light of Christ is the love of God the Father for me, his redeemed child – that love which paid the ultimate price to make me his daughter. When I remember that loving sacrifice, then I can be sure that even the deepest darkness in the world around, or in my spirit can never separate me from him. I may not understand, I may deplore my circumstances and the evil done in the world. But in the light of his presence, I can rest, sure that one day I will go home to be forever with my Lord, and all justice will be done, to the glory of God and the praise of his name.

There is an old song which expresses that deep conviction of my Lord’s constant loving presence, and I will finish today with some words from it to get you singing.

I serve a risen Saviour, he’s in the world today; I know that he is living, whatever men may say;

I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer. And just the time I need him he’s always near.

He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.

He lives, he lives, salvation to impart! You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.

(H.A. Rodeheaver.1961)

Glory and grace…

Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty ones, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name; worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the water; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters….

The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King for ever. The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.

(Ps 29. 1-3, 9-11)

I love feeling small, being dwarfed by beauty, might and power. This may be because I have never been at the mercy of nature as many of our race have – whether hurricane and typhoon, or flood or earthquake. I am awed and inspired by the beauty and power which God has released into creation – through all the laws which govern the air, earth and water. Do we sometimes forget to be in awe of these elements? It is good to remind ourselves that we are not as powerful as we might like, that ultimately we cannot control what happens, and that if we trust in our own strength, we will surely be disappointed.

Either through natural disasters, or man-made destruction, all the things which our race depend upon for life can be taken away. If our security and contentment are founded in those things, then we are looking in the wrong place for our peace of mind and hope for the future. But these great forces in themselves are not ultimately in control either!

This psalm positively reverberates with the sound of God’s voice: its power is proclaimed and celebrated in the most forceful ways to drive home the point that the greatest of natural forces is as nothing beside the Lord, and that He alone is worthy of our worship.

The word “Ascribe” in the psalm can also be translated as “Honour”, in other words we should give full praise to God as his right for his power and holiness. We do not in any way add to God’s greatness by our worship, but do we perhaps rob him in a way when we fail to recognise and exalt it?

Everything in creation apart from humanity brings glory to God simply by being, by fulfilling the purpose for which He created it – manifesting His imaginative power, His creativity and strength, His unfathomable command of physical laws which enabled the creation of universes beyond our comprehension. The flight of the tiniest birds; the obedience of the oceans to the forces which govern their movement; the infinitesimal growth of great trees over hundreds of years; and the haunting beauty of the Aurora Borealis, all bear witness to their creator’s greatness and glory.

And I? I struggle and pout and fret about getting things my way; I complain when life does not give me the opportunities I desire – for myself or my loved ones. I worry about the future instead of celebrating the present, and accepting that my maker in His wisdom and goodness knows what is best for me. This is our shame as a race, that we refuse to give God the glory which is due to his name, and instead set ourselves up as worthy of honour and all the effort and focus of our lives.

This is the miracle which time and again fills me with wonder and thankfulness, that this God, this Creator, whose glory fills the heavens and stuns me into silence, is the same God who knows and loves me personally. Through faith in Jesus Christ, my rebellion is forgiven and I am transformed into one who seeks to exalt and honour God as she ought – feeble though the effort may be at times… And through Christ, I know the tender and intimate love of God, the promise of a new start in this life, and eternal life to come. This is all grace, all the goodness of God poured out on the undeserving rebel to give her a second chance and set  her free from worshipping herself. I am never so full of life and joy as when I am abandoned in praise of my adorable Saviour; my tender Father; and my strong and powerful Counsellor. I am nothing, God is all!

These words from the great hymn by Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) put it so much more briefly and beautifully – may we all receive grace this week to glorify our God as He deserves.

Lord of all being, throned afar, Thy glory flames from sun and star;

Centre and soul of every sphere, Yet to each loving heart how near.

Lord of all life, below, above, Whose light is truth, whose warmth is love;

Before thy ever-blazing throne, We ask no lustre of our own.