Category Archives: trust

To arms, to arms!!

You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light…..It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great.

(Psalm 18. 28,33-35)

Finally be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

(Ephesians 6.10-13)

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  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. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

(1Peter 5.8-11)

It sneaks up on me, little by little, one cord here, another there. I stumble, something bruises me, my eyes are clouded by some distress and I lose sight of the path. Before I realise what has happened, I am struggling desperately in a trap, as hopeless and terrified as a child stuck in the dark of a strange room at night, unable to find the way out..

I am surely not the only follower of Jesus who has experienced such ambushes, oppression and assault, realising only too late that my adversary, the devil, is playing with me for his own devious and harmful ends. My failure to recognise and deal with him promptly has left me vulnerable to a tightening of the trap, a deepening of the darkness, and the emotional confusion makes it hard to think clearly.

I thank God that he opened my eyes to what was happening, that he showed me how the accumulation of small things was all part of an assault on me and on my family – and something not to be surprised at, since where God is at work, there the evil one will also come to undermine and oppose. My husband is a minister, he deals in proclaiming the gospel and making disciples – is it any wonder that his family should be in the firing line? We should not be surprised at such things, and yet all too often, I am; I fail to recognise the enemy until I am down and weakening.

Thank God, who opens our eyes to see and our minds to understand these things, and who graciously forgives all the times we failed to perceive soon enough what was going on! And thank God for the friend by whose conversation I was reminded of the call to arms, the call to strike in defence of who and what I am in Christ!

We shy away from the language of warfare which is used in the bible, but it is surely the best way to understand our part in God’s work in the world today. In Christ, we have ultimate victory over death, the wages of sin are paid and the devil has NO jurisdiction in our lives. But he is fighting a desperate rearguard action, and if he can, he will render us useless for Christ by binding us in traps of despair or even just indifference.

It is for us to claim the victory we have in Christ – hence Paul’s rousing words to the Ephesians! We have the armour, and in Christ, we have the king who has dealt the fatal blow to our enemy. Christ is my king, the Lord of my life, and the evil one has NO right to interfere and no authority to destroy. I can and must take all the weapons given me and stand firm, resisting until he flees. My marriage is God’s calling of two into one, and the devil has no place in it; in Jesus’ name I can shut him out. Our congregation is God’s family in this place, and we can claim the protecting arms of the great Shepherd around his sheep.

Praise God, for in him we have a final victory; and also the strength to stand firm and claim that victory in each part of our lives. I do not say this lightly: we don’t presume that every difficulty will be removed, but rather that in Christ, we can and will bear suffering with hope, and confidence. There is – as Paul so famously says in Romans 8 – NOTHING, that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and that is our victory!

A gentle prod in the right direction..

So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion, for the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help.

O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries. Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. ..Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or the left.

(Isaiah. 30.18-21)

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone.

(James 1.5&6)

I believe in a God who promises to guide and direct his children; a God who desires their ultimate good, which may lead through times of trial and suffering as well as times of ease, comfort and plenty.

I have experienced in my own life these last 18 months, the clear directing of that loving hand, as my husband and I were invited to consider this new place of ministry, and one by one, the objections fell away, and the doors opened even before we pushed them! As the days and months go by, we are deeply at peace here, absolutely convinced that God desires us to work and live in this remote place, within a small community, things we have never done before. He called, and He is enabling, generously!

On a personal level however, I am still seeking guidance and direction, since I am not the parish minister, only his backup team, and that is not a full-time job! I do not know yet, just what my life here is to consist of – whether paid employment alongside housekeeping and church work; or a small mosaic of voluntary occupations, serving as well as I can. I am waiting..a recent job application led to a clearly closed door – an answer of sorts for the moment.. and I wait.

I am getting to know people, using my own interests and things which bring me joy to make connections which might grow into relationships within which I can share Christ. But these are quite selfish ways to use my time, and it has been pointed out to me quite forcefully, that the relationships are principally with folk my own age or older, not the younger members of the community..

There are many good things which need to be done – both church and community based – but I don’t think awareness of a need constitutes a call that I should fulfill it – God knows that none of us can stretch that thinly. How am I to discern what to do? I follow the advice of James, the ever practical apostle, and ask – and keep asking, not only for guidance, but that I might recognise it when it comes! I wait, trying to use my time well, but not committing to anything permanently, testing out the different opportunities and asking for that voice to speak clearly.

Father God, your child is  stumbling a little; unsure of her footing and of the way, she looks for your hand and strains to hear your voice: Fulfill your promise and guide her.

Lord God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: you spoke to your children so clearly at times, directed their ways and they knew what to do: Fulfill your promise, and guide this child now.

Delivering God, who confronted Moses in the desert from within the fire, speaking with power and then led your people by fire and cloud up from slavery, fulfill your promise, and lead this child.

You see her heart’s desire is to glorify you; and she longs to know how this is to be done, here, now, in this place; fulfill your promise Lord, and grant her heart’s desire.

Purify her heart and thought of all that would mislead her, tune her ears to hear your voice, strengthen her will that she might obey if the call is to some work which she finds daunting.

Above all Father, so fill her heart with love for her precious Lord, that any labour for him is a privilege, no matter how humble, and any sacrifice of selfish pleasure is worthwhile.

Only let her know that she is doing your will, for the blessing of her community and the glorifying of your Son’s wonderful name.

Amen

But Lord, you promised!

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

(Proverbs 13.12)

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 

(2Cor 1.20-22)

We are human, you and I. We have hopes for ourselves, our loved ones, our communities and our world. How often have you tasted the bitterness of dashed hope? Too often to entertain the thought that everything we wish for can be ours if we will only believe in and work hard enough for it!

Where do you go with your broken expectations and hopes? Some may have been unrealistic, and in retrospect we recognise and learn from those experiences – while also acknowledging the very real pain which our disappointment has caused us. It is good to know that our Father God understands how easily we set our hearts on the wrong things, and is patient and compassionate with our grieving. By his grace, we learn to set our strongest hopes and expectations only on those things which he has promised, but even here, we must learn wisdom and discernment.

I recently spent a little time looking at the life of Sarah, wife of Abraham, and was reminded of the explicit promise which that couple received from God – a son of their own, founder of a nation which would be numerous as the sand on the shore. It was an outrageous promise, but coming from God they had no reason to doubt it would be fulfilled….No reason except human weakness and impatience, which is our common lot, so we can’t really criticise Sarah when she resorted to manipulating circumstances in order to get a son by other means! Certainly, it gave Abraham the son he craved, but it also set in motion a train of events which continues to this day to cause great trouble and grief in the world. We all have reason to regret Sarah’s decision to give her servant as child-bearer to her husband – and Abraham’s willing cooperation with that action!

In the end, God’s promise was fulfilled in the supernatural way he had always intended, and Isaac was born to the elderly parents, bringing delight and joy and that sweet fulfillment of hope which is indeed like a tree of life. If only…if only Sarah had been more holy and faithful than we are, she would have waited and trusted God even when it appeared that he had forgotten his promise. Let us be wary of judging this woman for acting as we are so often tempted to do – trying to find ways to get what we think God has promised us in any way we can make it happen! May we be restrained from acting rashly, causing more problems than we solve, and may we find ourselves willing to go on trusting, and meantime praising the God who has promised – who is good and who keeps his promises.

The shepherd boy who would one day wear the crown in Israel had learnt that lesson, and all through the long years when David – as the anointed and future King – was on the run from Saul, he never took the opportunities available to him to kill Saul or injure him in any way. He maintained his respect for the king, and waited, and waited, until his heart must at times have sickened within him and murmured that God was only waiting for David to act…

Then came the word of Saul’s death in battle, and David’s hour had come – without any need to dress up as obedience an act which would have been in truth a rebellion against God’s law – and the first thing he did was to mourn for Saul, honouring even in death the man who had pursued him so viciously  for many years.

What has God promised me? Health and happiness? No. Suffering and struggle? Yes! Let no one convince you otherwise, than that our life in this world will be marked by trouble, and our response should not be ‘why me?’ but rather ‘why not me!?’ Far more significantly, we are also promised the constant presence of our Saviour and God, dwelling in us by the Spirit and continually strengthening us, counselling and directing us. We are promised complete forgiveness, and freedom from guilt about the past, and we are promised a future more glorious, exciting, fulfilling and fun than we can possibly imagine!

All God’s promises to us, are ‘YES’ in Christ – and we don’t need to manipulate anything to receive them, but freely accept them as God’s gift to us. Oh let me learn to live in those promises, to set my heart and desire on them, that their fulfillment might be for me a tree of life!

It’s ok to be small..

Let the whole world fear the Lord, and let everyone stand in awe of him.

For when he spoke, the world began! It appeared at his command. 

The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations and thwarts all their schemes. But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever; his intentions can never be shaken.

The Lord looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race. From his throne he observes all who live on the earth.

He made their hearts so he understands everything they do. 

We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone.

(Psalm 33. 8-11,13-15,20-22)

How do you react when something forcibly reminds you just how frail your existence is, how insignificant your life? Does the grandeur of a mountain landscape bring feelings of panic, or of worship? Does the increasingly frantic parade of disaster and woe across our newspaper headlines bring a sense of helplessness and despair, or compassion?

I firmly believe that human beings are created by God, in his image – that is to say we dimly reflect his loving nature, his capacity for compassion and mercy, his creativity and appreciation for beauty. but I do not believe that means we ought to attempt to share his capacity for bearing the burdens of the world which he created!

Time and again we see human beings in the bible rejoicing that it is God, and not they, who are in control, and handing over the burdens which they feel with huge relief to the one who alone is capable of carrying them. The psalms often show us the process by which God’s people come to him with some great grief or worry, and having lamented, raged and bewailed a truly dreadful situation, they find that once again they are conscious of God’s power to deal with it and are able to rest in him.

If the devil, who is always on the lookout for ways to undermine our faith, can create in us a spirit of anxiety, so that we are constantly worried about something far beyond our human power to influence, then he has effectively disarmed us and stopped us growing as followers of Jesus. We become paralysed by fear, angry with God for not acting as we have decided he ought, and increasingly oblivious to the immediate opportunities we have to love, serve and witness in our own lives.

I choose now to sit lightly to the world news, even the national news, because these things are burdens beyond my capacity to solve them. I can pray for leaders to be wise, restrained, compassionate; for wars to be ended, for the needs of refugees and those affected by natural disasters to be met. I can give to charities which take my small contribution and by wise use, turn it into great blessing to those in need. But I refuse to see these things as my responsibility.

I am responsible for being the eyes, voice, ears and hands of Christ in my family, in my community. I am called to witness to an all-powerful God by choosing to accept that my small life – in his hands – is an instrument for good, though I may not see what he does with it. I can pray that my speech and actions will be a means by which love is expressed and precious individuals for whom Christ died are nurtured, honoured and brought to fulness of life in him.

Living a faithful, honest, disciplined christian life; rejoicing in Christ through the real trials of human existence; fighting the battle daily against the weaknesses and persistent sins which remain – these are my appointed tasks, and in God’s eyes, I think they are not insignificant. He is at work to make all things new – even me – and the beauty of Christ being formed in me is his goal. Small but infinitely significant; beautiful, worth devoting my energies to, knowing that I have all the power of God at my disposal.

Let me be content with the task appointed for me, and leave the business of bearing the world’s burdens in the hands of the Almighty. I am the creature, let me trust the Creator to know his business, and concentrate my energies on faithfully following and serving him in the place appointed – as one of the small ones!

All the little things

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our Salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.

For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

(Psalm 95. 1-5))

It has been an ordinary kind of Saturday, no special parties to go to or visitors to entertain; no heart-stopping drama or sporting event to watch. But oh what a day of glory it has been!

A cloudless dawn under a frosty sky, with the sea moving imperceptibly under a polished silver skin. A day of full sunshine, of October heat, with enough breeze to set the white shirts dancing on the washing line, as the late low sunlight glowed through them. A day spent out of doors, digging, painting, sorting out storage and finally putting some plants into the ground ahead of the winter. We drank coffee in the sunshine, and treated ourselves to a carry-out for tea, feeling the tightness in our skin that speaks of a day outdoors in idyllic conditions.

Across the bay, I see the mountains, rearing greenish grey velvet heads against the sky, great dramatically moulded monuments to my creator’s genius. The sea, after days of driving gales and huge waves, is like a silver or brilliant blue blanket, spread gently around the base of the hills and forming the perfect foil to their stark slopes. Closer at hand, the great swathes of bracken which have been invisibly green against the grass all summer have suddenly gone intensely fox-bronze, burning brightly in the sunset.

I continue to be astonished that it should have been our privilege to be called to live and work in a place where this world’s beauty is so lavishly displayed – I feel permanently stuffed with good things! And is it not so often the case that we do not need to look far to find things which speak of God’s greatness in creation, his passion for colour, texture and light, which he has made us able to appreciate and which feed our spirits so deeply? I am profoundly grateful, and delight in knowing to whom I owe my daily debt of thanksgiving!

The habit of recording these daily gifts of good things, received from the Father from whom all such come, has become very precious, creating in me a spirit which looks for and expects to find – in every situation- something to give thanks for. Days like today make it very easy, because although in themselves, none of the events of the day have been noteworthy, yet all the little details have added up to something priceless. I may not remember it all in vivid detail, but it has been very good for me to be fully aware of all that I have received, resting in and relishing every moment.

Sometimes, it will be harder to find something to be grateful for, but the habit of looking has helped me to trust my Father’s faithfulness and grace towards me, as so often even the hard days prove to be full of gifts – whether of the kindness extended to me by others because of my distress, or the relief of bringing the whole horrid mess before my God. At times, there will even be the precious experience of finding an oasis in the midst of trouble, when for whatever reason, the burden lifts, the darkness is pierced by light, and we experience respite, refreshment and heart’s ease. If it were not for the trials, these times would go unnoticed, and we would have missed the chance of learning more about God’s faithfulness to us through every part of life.

Our lives are like a mosaic, so many individual little parts making up a whole, and as yet we cannot see it, we only guess at the final picture which will be unveiled as part of the new creation. But, we can choose whether we take the different pieces from God with confidence, or with fear; trusting the loving Father’s plan or fighting against all he desires to create in us. Today has been a day to build my confidence, a little shiny piece of golden stone which may stand out clearly because it is surrounded by darker pieces – but I will choose again to believe and say with the psalmist:

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;

For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.

(Psalm 95.6&7)

Choose life!

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life….

I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! 

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.

(Deuteronomy 30.19&20; 32.3&4)

I have  been listening to the early books of the Old Testament as an audiobook, read by one of Britain’s most respected actors – himself a devout Christian. It has been wonderful to receive the word in this way, and sometimes a phrase has jumped out with particular impact. This time it was those words ‘ for the Lord is your life..’

Moses, as God’s prophet and the one who stood between the inconstant Israelites and their jealous God, is pleading with them in his last days as their leader, to choose life, to choose to faithfulness to God. He has poured out his life in their care, leading them according to God’s guiding word, out of Egypt, through the wilderness, to the brink of Canaan’s promised bounty, and back again into the desert. He will see the land, but not enter it, because the burden of leadership on one occasion was too much even for him, and he dishonoured God. How he must have yearned over them, longing that he might have assurance of their future obedience, even as believing parents long to see their children grow up into true personal faith in Christ.

By this time, Moses could have no illusions about the capacity of this people to forget all that God had done and to choose other paths to follow, other gods to worship. Nonetheless, he obeys God, and sets out before them the terms of the covenant relationship, reminding them of all God’s wonderful provision for their race, of all the promises of blessing which were to come. And he reminds them of the consequences of breaking the covenant, in the most horrific details.

God would not hold Moses responsible for the future disobedience of this people, because Moses had been a faithful servant, proclaiming God’s message, living out for them the words he spoke. Moses’ exclusion from Canaan was for his own particular failure, not the repeated disobedience of the people he led. There is some comfort here for those in leadership – whether parents in a family, or individuals in a church family  – as we are reminded that a person’s destiny is ultimately a matter between themselves and God. As leaders, we must proclaim truth, we are not held accountable for what others do with our message.

But the way in which we tell the message will have an impact. We can be sure that Moses’ words were heard with greater weight because everyone who heard them knew the story of his dedication to their people and his life of service. And this service had not been merely with his mind and body, but with his heart. He had been passionately committed to seeing them through many trials, allowing his heart to be wrung over and over again. Moses had not only led the people, he had loved the people, and surely it is that love which made his final words to them hit home so powerfully.

Do I allow myself to love those to whom I am called to bring the word of God’s love, his offer of salvation, his equally certain promise of judgement to come? Does my life demonstrate the commitment to their well-being which Moses showed to the people he led? I wonder if this is, in part at least, what the apostle Paul meant when he said that the gifts of oratory, or wisdom and prophecy, of faith and sacrificial giving are worth nothing if there is no love.

If, after loving and serving them, weeping and rejoicing with them, I tell people of the faith I have, and of the promise which is for them too, then are they not more likely to listen as I plead with them to choose life? To choose the Lord, who alone is life and hope and health for our souls?

May I be given strength and courage to love, so that when I speak, I may be heard, and God’s word will bear fruit in other lives – to their blessing and his glory!

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.