Category Archives: trust

Against self-pity

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him…and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

(1 Peter 1.6-9)

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 God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

(Hebrews 12.2)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

(James 1.2-4)

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ…..I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings…

(Philippians 3.7&10)

I am often guilty of wishful thinking; of comparing my situation to that of other people and wondering why I should have to bear my particular burdens. I know this is foolish – who knows what hidden struggles and trials plague the lives of others? I know it is sinful, and yet I find myself longing, wondering, scheming to find a way out of my own personal darkness.

I resent my sufferings; I don’t want anyone else to have to bear them, but I don’t want them either! And then I read these words from Paul…and Peter…and James, and am rebuked and see clearly what my attitude is saying.

I am accusing God of dealing unfairly with me; of giving me a burden which is too great for me to carry; of asking too much; I am refusing to trust that this God – who has so devastatingly shown his love for me on the cross – has my best interests at heart. I consider Jesus, my saviour, and also my example of obedient, holy living, and am ashamed of my disobedient, grumbling attitude.

We are taught that our sufferings have a purpose – the maturing of our faith, until it becomes like pure gold in which the maker can see his own likeness clearly reflected – but that can produce a stoic, teeth-gritting determination rather than a humble, thankful acceptance. I believe that there is another element to the process, which can transform our attitude. Have you ever considered that once we are in glory with Christ, we will never again have the privilege of suffering anything at all in his name and for his sake? There will be nothing to endure, only to enjoy!

Our trials in this world are our opportunity to prove God faithful in his promises to strengthen, comfort and keep us.  When, in the mystery of his will, we are permitted to experience trials and troubles of every kind, then I believe that he is inviting our partnership in the process of creating Christ-likeness in us. The late Helen Roseveare, missionary doctor and one who suffered much at the hands of the Congolese rebels in 1964, wrote of how God spoke to her in the midst of great suffering:

Was He saying to me,’Yes, I could have kept you out of this situation: I could have rescued you….but I thought I could trust you to go through this with me, as I have a plan and purpose for the future..Can you thank me for trusting you with this experience even if I never tell you why?” (Count it All Joy; Helen Roseveare 2017)

If, when faced with our own particular trials, we take refuge in self-pity, in blaming God, and devote all our energies to getting out of the situation by our own efforts, then I believe we are neglecting an opportunity – to grow in faith; to let God shape us through this particular experience of leaning and depending on him; to witness to his power at work in our situation and above all to glorify Jesus by our desire to offer our suffering up in worship. In my own experience, it is in the darkest nights that the tenderness of my Lord’s love is most dear, most present – shall I refuse to meet him there again?

I, the least of the Lord’s servants, am being counted worthy of suffering in his name – and I have his example to inspire me – scorning the shame, and for the joy that is to come, I can receive my trials as a means of blessing. The missionary and author Elisabeth Elliott – who like Dr Roseveare proved God faithful through many trials – puts it perfectly:

“Refuse self-pity. Refuse it absolutely. It is a deadly thing with power to destroy you. Turn your thoughts to Christ who has already carried our griefs and sorrows.”

Oh Loving God, Heavenly Father, grant me wisdom, faith and courage, to trust you and embrace all that you choose to permit in my life, for your glory and the blessing of others.

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Going home..

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

(1 Thessalonians 4.13&14)

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see….since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin  that so easily trips us up. and let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

(Hebrews 11.1, 12.1)

‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in  my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. 

(John 14.1-3)

This year will be the tenth anniversary of my father’s death, ten years since we said farewell to a gentleman, a humble servant of Christ, a faithful and prayerful member of his christian family. In the last fortnight, three more believers of his generation in my life have been called across the final divide, called out of bodies which had failed them into the arms of the God who never did.

How do we deal with our losses? Even when those who die are full of years and leave a great legacy, we mourn and feel the parting, feel ourselves diminished by the loss of what they gave us. I believe it is right that we should grieve, recognising and giving thanks for the miracle which was that particular person, like no other. God never designed us to be separated from one another in this way, and that is why it hurts so much and causes us so much pain. But his great rescue plan for us includes a final reunion, in resurrection bodies, after which there will be no more death!

In the meantime, what do we do? We give thanks for all that was, and look forward in hope to what will be, trusting in the word of Christ, who went before and showed us that resurrection, a new life in a transformed body, was the inevitable outcome of his victory for us over sin and death. Our lost loved ones, if they were believers, are safe with Christ, secure for all eternity, and the best memorial to them in our lives is to follow their example of faithful living.

I remember being overwhelmed at my father’s funeral by the number of people who came to pay their respects, and honour his memory. I remember thinking that I could never live up to his example, but wanting most desperately to try. I think that is what the passage in Hebrews is about – not the thought of eyes upon me to see if I can perform, but the power of their testimony. I think of these three people who died recently, all facing different trials and tests, all seeking to live godly and useful lives, all striving to give of their best for God and to those whom they could reach.

When I am tempted to complain about my lot; when I am feeling resentful and envious; when I am tired of the struggle or of a load which seems too much for me; when I am conscious of so many blessings and the danger of taking them for granted or hugging them selfishly…then, I pray that I will remember these lives which have ended as 2018 began. Pray that I will learn to live each day obediently, generously, humbly, and thankfully – always looking to love; looking to serve; looking to witness to my saviour.

May we, like those who have gone before, look to Jesus, and find in him our joy and hope, our guide and friend, our saviour, redeemer and Lord.

Looking around…

Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath..Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: he bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it…But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.

(Psalm 39. 4-7)

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. so don’t be afraid: you are worth more than many sparrows.

(Matthew 10.29-31)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

(Matthew 16.24-26)

For many people, the end of a calendar year is a time of reflection, a time to reassess their lives and discern patterns, changes, new opportunities which might be opening up. There is also much – often hidden – pain at this time of year, as people remember those whom they have lost, to death, to breakdown in relationships; and also recognise disappointments, dashed hopes and unfulfilled expectations. Look around, and all the people you know will be experiencing this potent cocktail of emotions to varying degrees. We carry joy and pain simultaneously; anger and bitterness alongside thankfulness and appreciation.

Those who follow Jesus are human too, not immune to this annual malaise, and we need to think carefully about how we deal with these feelings. The bible shows us humanity in all its variety, expressing every emotion under the sun; and in the book of Psalms particularly, we find such transparency and honesty as should give the lie to any idea of the “stiff upper lip” and brave smile being the correct Christian response to life!

We have a perfect loving Father, and a great Saviour who is also a man. We have nothing to hide from our God; no emotion which can shock or make him turn away. Indeed, I believe that it is when we refuse to recognise and name our feelings before God that they begin to rule us, and that is so dangerous.

Our feelings change like the weather – and in my part of the world, that means from minute to minute! But our God is unchanging, and as followers of Jesus, we have a relationship with him which is grounded and held in his character, his promises, his love – not our feelings. The truth about our lives is not how we feel about them, but what he says about them!

So I bring my sometimes toxic cocktail of feelings to my Father, pouring it all out as I sit close and then I listen for his voice. In the place of my sense of failure and loss, I hear the loving voice which says that I am precious, that in him I can do all he desires for me – and all that he knows is good for me. I hear his repeated forgiveness for my failures and sins, and the promise that I have a fresh start. I hear the heartbeat of his love which is the only thing that matters, and which drowns out the clamour of the world around me, to measure and value myself on the basis of my looks, my status, my talents, my connections and achievements.

As I sit there, I receive confidence and courage to go on living quietly, living for him, living without worldly acclaim and trusting that this portion is all I need. My days are brief, but in his eyes they are not wasted; my voice is small, but he always hears me; the hairs on my head are increasingly white, but his hand is still over me in loving and tender protection. I am indeed worth more than many sparrows!

My life surrendered into his hands, is lost to me, but given back to be lived for him and in that transaction, I am the winner, the prize of eternal life is mine. A soul saved, a child brought home, who can look around her beautiful and troubled world, and be at peace because she knows the one who keeps her in it. May this be your experience in the year ahead..

Accepting my limitations

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.     “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, ” declares the Lord.

(Isaiah 55.6-8)

Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted…Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know….My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.

(Job 42. 1-6)

Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

(Habbakuk 3. 17&18)

Has it ever struck you that many of the stories contained in the biblical narrative are of people in really horrid situations? The bible is not shy of confronting us with the brutal realities of life – war, torture and destruction; famine and starvation; murder, rape, abuse, enslavement and humiliation inflicted by one human being on another; abuse of power and status – and we recognise them all around us today.

Why are the stories there? It is not because in every case, God intervened to make everything right again and to create some fluffy happy endings. There are individual examples of particular provision, miraculous escapes, healings and even resurrections, but they are the exceptions not the rule. Why?

I believe that one of the main reasons we have these stories, is to help us to face our own realities with faith – not in a God who makes everything ok at once, or even in our own lifetimes; but a God who is big enough to see from beginning to end, to see the roots of the trouble and to be willing to deal with it. This is what the bible narrative reveals – a God who never gives up. Many generations of Israelites died in abject slavery in Egypt before Moses arrived to lead them out. Countless, nameless thousands died over the centuries in wars and famines, just so much collateral damage in the power games of nations.

And yet, we have the testimony of prophets like Zechariah, that in the midst of the apparent chaos, lawlessness and despair, God is not absent, that he is and is good, and that justice, healing and wholeness will come. We have the examples not only of the psalmists, but also men like Job, who when things appeared to have gone hopelessly wrong and God was surely absent or even powerless, chose to respond by passionately appealing to him for justice, and lamenting their wrongs.

We don’t need to have faith in something when we can see and understand how it works, we need faith when there is a mystery, when we cannot make sense of what is going on. The stories of the bible show us what such faith looks like – the faith that says with Habakkuk that we will rejoice in the God who is our Saviour even though there is no sign of his salvation.

In our time, the pride of man in his achievements has made it hard to accept that anything can or should remain mysterious, and it is common for people to use the mystery of suffering as a condemnation of a just and loving God. But, as Job learned, who are we to put the creator upon the stand and accuse him of being inscrutable? Am I willing to accept that God is beyond my understanding, with all that implies? Indeed God has revealed himself to us in Christ Jesus, and there we see love and purity and so many of the wonderful characteristics of God. But surely it is only to be expected that a God who can create on the scales that we now perceive, a God who is outside time and space, must be utterly other than we can comprehend?

In the face of suffering and evil in all its dreadful manifestations, as the hand of God in judgement is still withheld and creation groans, I have a daily choice. Either I allow the inexplicable darkness to poison my mind and spirit, and bitterly reject any notion of a sovereign and good God; or I turn to him in faith, in that trust which says, “I cannot begin to understand this Lord, but I see your love laid bare upon the Cross of Christ; I see there the pain that this darkness causes you, and I will choose to believe that none of it is wasted, and that you know what you are doing. You will not delay a moment longer than you need, and in the end, the judge of all the earth will surely do right!”

And is it really possible?

If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it – you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked – well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.

(Romans 4)

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is. He’s the father of our master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ.

Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the cross, we’re a free people – free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making.

(Ephesians 1)

Both taken from the Message, the New Testament in contemporary language.

Five hundred years ago, a theological fire raged across Europe, one which left relations between church and state in tatters, and transformed culture and social life for ever in many nations of the north. The varied rumblings and outbreaks of discontent with the established Roman church found a focus in the life and work of Martin Luther, and in 1517, he publicly appealed for a debate on the many areas where he believed reform was needed.

The failure of the church authorities to engage in this debate saw Luther push to clarify the proper relations of scripture and state, priest and people, and having once begun to rely on the scriptures for his guidance, he found more and more reasons to protest against the status quo. This ‘protestant’ movement against the claim of supreme authority by the pope over the understanding and interpretation of the bible was to set intellectual life free in Europe, empowering and encouraging enquiry and personal enlightenment.

What Luther found in the pages of the bible transformed his life, from that of a pious but desperate monk, unable to find any assurance of salvation despite a life of rigorous labour and upright conduct, to a confident, humble and passionate believer in the salvation freely and solely offered through the death of Jesus Christ. When Luther finally saw that all of the demands of God’s holiness or righteousness upon his life  had been met in Jesus’ sacrifice, and that it was God’s love gift to him received simply by faith, he wrote that it was as though the doors of paradise swung open to welcome him. The prospect before him was too beautiful to be true, and yet it was!

It was this which drove Luther in his work to translate the bible from Latin – unintelligible to his fellow-Germans – into their own language; to write books and pamphlets explaining the true means of salvation and sweeping away the confusion caused by false teaching; to teach and nurture other teachers in turn who could preach and bring this light to their congregations. In his defence before the emperor, accused of heresy and in danger of his life, he would say that he was “captive” to the word, and incapable of speaking of anything else, or of covering up what he found there.

In recalling with thankfulness the ways in which God used Luther and his fellow reformers – with all their flaws, and failings – am I guilty of forgetting what a wonderful thing it is that they restored to us in simple beautiful clarity?

We rest on the authority of Scripture, as God’s revelation of himself to us, and specifically the revelation of Jesus Christ as God incarnate. We trust solely in the atoning death of Christ to deal with the wrath of a holy God, accepting that of ourselves we are powerless to change our fate. We rejoice to receive solely by faith the power of that sacrifice, by which the holy God declares us to be clean, put right with him, and destined to share eternity with him. All has been done as a result of God’s grace, nothing is required of us but faith, and all the glory goes to God.

The door is open wide, the voice of love calls to me saying “Come child, hurry and be at home with me”, will I hesitate? Will I reject the price that was paid?

God grant that a fire may burn in our hearts too, as in Luther’s heart when he found the truth, so that we long to share the message and see others set free by our God, who has done all for love of us..

Leaning hard..

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.

My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help. This I know: God is on my side!

I praise God for what he has promised; yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?

(Psalm 56.8-11)

O Israel, trust the Lord! He is your helper and your shield. O priests, descendants of Aaron, trust the Lord! He is your helper and shield. 

All you who fear the Lord, trust the Lord! He is your helper and your shield.

(Psalm 115.9-11)

Do you ever find yourself wondering what exactly some familiar phrase means? This happens to me often in my life as a follower of Jesus – sometimes in the middle of a sermon – so that I want to stand up and ask the preacher to unpack the expression, explaining what is meant in hard daily life by the familiar words! If we cannot translate the phrase into meaningful action and understanding, then it is no use to us, and may even be unhelpful. The attempt to understand and grapple for myself is one of the motivations behind this weekly blog – if I can articulate it, then I have in some measure begun to make it my own and put it into practice.

“Lean on God”, is one such phrase, and I have been wrestling over recent days to work out what it means – because it sounds attractive, comforting and something I want to do very much!

Recently, I was part of a group who went out to climb a mountain, on a day when the weather was less than friendly, greatly adding to our difficulty in scaling the steep slopes and navigating the sharp ridge at the top. I walked with my poles, occasionally finding that they were in my way, but more often finding that they were giving me confidence and some measure of security as I struggled along the hillside, trying to resist the gale force winds which were continually threatening to topple me over. Here was an example of leaning in action! I was literally putting all my weight on these slim rods, trusting that they could bear it and would keep me moving safely in a very dangerous situation.

The words of Psalm 56 had struck me sometime earlier, where the writer declares that he is praising God for what has been promised – NOT what has been already received! Is this what trust is? For the follower of Jesus, we are called to look to the promises, and to put our faith in them, because we put our faith in the God who makes them.

Promises may seem slender and feeble when we are in the midst of a storm of life, and our own promises are often compromised by our circumstances. But our God is not one to break his word, and the revelation of his character in the stories of the bible encourage us to trust him – literally, to allow all that we are and treasure to be held by him, because we know that of ourselves, we cannot keep them safe.

When I am using the walking poles, they do not transport me out of danger, but enable me to move through it. When I lean hard on them, I am held up, stabilised, made stronger than I can be alone. So it is as I ‘lean on God’. My circumstances do not change; the storm rages, my emotions threaten to derail me and events to overwhelm me. But I trust in a God who is greater than these things, who has promised to be with me through all my life and to bring me safe home at last.

When I turn to this God, when I deliberately contemplate his works and praise him for who he is; then I am choosing to trust myself to him, in other words, I am leaning on him for the strength I do not have in myself. When I call to mind his promises, turning my thoughts in spite of my feelings, to consider the truths which never change, I can move(albeit slowly!) forward through the troubles and trials, always towards him, sustained by his word.

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth.

Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

(Isaiah 46.3-4)

What a faithful God we have; Alleluia! and Amen.

 

Will you sit with me?

O God, listen to my cry! Hear my prayer! From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed.

Lead me to the towering rock of safety, for you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me.

Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings!

(Psalm 60, 1-4)

Oh, why give light to those in misery, and life to those who are bitter? They long for death, and it won’t come. They search for death more eagerly than for hidden treasure. They’re filled with joy when they finally die, and rejoice when they find the grave. Why is life given to those with no future, those God has surrounded with difficulties? I cannot eat for sighing; my groans pour out like water. What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come true. I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest; only trouble comes.

(Job 3.20-26)

People don’t like to hear the truth sometimes…they find it upsets their own faith when fellow believers struggle and suffer for no reason. When depression or deep sadness come to faithful Christians and they walk in the dark, they may well find themselves reluctant to share what they are feeling, afraid of unsettling others and aware that no one can actually help them…

It is so much easier to be around those who are finding life positive, seeing much to be thankful for, obviously overcoming and triumphing by God’s help over the various trials they experience. Who wants to sit, like Job’s comforters(before they spoke a word!), in the dirt, in silence, weeping with him and pouring out an agony of lament? That takes courage, humility, deep love, and a deeper faith.

But is it more glorifying to God for me to pretend that all is well, when the reality is a bleak, numb hopelessness? If God is God, good and loving, holy and faithful, with our best interests at heart and a great master plan for glorifying his son in which we play a part, then my experience of darkness is not enough to undermine his power. Does the reality of my – or anyone else’s – struggle need to be hidden in order to protect his reputation?

As ever, the bible shows us the right response in the darkness. To tell it out. Tell it loud and clear. Tell it to the one who above all is concerned for my heart, who more than anyone else can understand and feel for my pain. Lament; weep and cry; leave no detail unexplored and lay the entire ugly, messy, appalling burden in the lap of God the Almighty, who although beyond our meagre understanding, is never far from us but close and tender-hearted toward us.

Can we extend this same grace to one another? Are you willing to hear a fellow believer share their experience of apparent defeat without jumping in to tell them what they should be doing about it? Will you sit and weep a while; listen to the truth of their darkness as it speaks without demanding that they focus on the light which will surely shine at some point? Will you comfort – that is to gently reassure someone that they are heard, loved, and never alone? All without judging or assuming that you have all the answers?

The time may come when you can give words of direction or even exhortation; but as a soul who knows very well how it feels to be in this darkness, may I encourage you to restrain your kind enthusiasm, and just let me know that you are with me. You may not know how I feel, but you can allow me the opportunity to feel and express it, without trying to shape my thoughts into forms which suit you.

When I am in the darkness, when I am unable to rejoice in God’s gifts and when hope is utterly gone, the best help you can give me is to pray for me; sit with me; and if you want to speak, then help me to bring everything to God. While he is my focus for lamentation, I am safe and you will have done all you can.