Category Archives: trust

It’s all about Him, not me

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. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart…Endure hardship as discipline.. If you are not disciplined, then you are illegitimate children and not true heirs.. God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 

[But] you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous ones made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks…

(Heb 12.2,3,7,8,10,22-25)

What goes through your mind when you hear of people who used to profess faith having drifted – or run – away from God? This happened to me recently, and I found myself grieved, but also unsettled, as I realised afresh how easy it is for us to become distracted from the gospel truth by less challenging secular ideas about goodness and self-worth. I don’t know what particular events in those individual lives led to this drift, and I pray that God will restore and renew them to a living hope and dependence on him. But I wonder if they just found it easier to erase Jesus from their lives, to dismiss the idea of sin and shame, of guilt, the need for forgiveness and the claims of Christ on their whole being. Those are not comfortable concepts for many in our time who would urge that they are unhealthy and to be rejected.

But how does their more ‘comfortable’, secular, self-care and self-fulfillment philosophy sit alongside the realities of human evil, the grievous persistence of war, torture, abuse and every other way in which humanity manages to turn good things like power, wealth, beauty, relationships, and creativity, into ways to hurt, destroy and pollute? I see no answers to the growing darkness of the world from our secular thinkers, no grounds for hope. It is only in the gospel of Jesus, of God-made-man for us, that we find the hard answers to these hard questions.

Being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, is to believe that God is in the business of making all things new – not because we as a race have the capacity to fix things for ourselves with a little help, but because we are helpless to fix things. God has come to do for us what we cannot do, so that we might join the firstborn whose names are written in heaven and be at home with our God. It’s not about somehow overlooking all the bad stuff and being as good as we can be by thinking positively and fulfilling our potential. It’s about accepting – confessing – that we are broken, and that only God can make us whole and beautiful, and that in so doing, He has to deal with the ugliness of sin and the power of death. There is a place for everyone who will come in faith, in dependence on Jesus – every colour and tongue, all have a part to play in glorifying their maker – and accepting the blood which had to be shed to make us clean. It’s not about how good we can feel about ourselves, it’s about what Jesus has done for us.

This gospel gives me hope not only for myself, but for the beautiful and broken world in which I live. It gives me hope for the millions who have never known peace or prosperity, health or security – because when they believe in Jesus who died and rose again for them, they join the family of the beloved in glory, and will receive a glorious inheritance which will cast all their sufferings into oblivion.

Believing in Jesus doesn’t make life easier – but that’s not why we do it! Believing in Jesus is the response of faith when we see who God is, what He has done for us, and what He is doing in the world. I want to remain part of that work, not because it brings me self-fulfilment (although it might), but because I long to be useful to my God, to be part of his work and to see his name glorified. Jesus paid the ultimate price for me, and when I consider that sacrifice, I am ashamed of my preference for a comfortable life, of my leanings toward to the secular, self-centred ways of thinking about what is important.

Great God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood has made it possible for me to be your beloved child, let me never close my ears to your voice or reject your discipline in my life. Keep me needy, keep me raw and fully aware of my weakness; open my eyes afresh to behold the fierce light of your holiness so that I might detest sin and resist temptation with your strength and for your glory. Renew in me a humble but deep hunger to reach others with the gospel of Jesus, to live as a faithful believer whose greatest joy is to see Jesus exalted. Let him be magnified, and let me see it, 

Amen

Stout… but in a good way!

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for me. He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me. 

Selah

God sends his love and faithfulness. I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts – men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. They spread a net for my feet – I was bowed down in distress. They dug a pit in my path – but they have fallen into it themselves. 

Selah

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast: I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.

(Ps 57)

Humble yourselves.., 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. 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… 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 and firm and steadfast.

(1 Pet 5.6-10)

How often the psalmist gives us words, helps us find relief for pent up feelings and concerns, and the expression of the roller-coaster which happens inside as we face the ups and downs of life. In Psalm 57, David is in acute distress; on the run from Saul and in danger of losing his life. He has no power or authority in the situation, but clings for dear life to the promises of God, the God who has been his lifelong companion and in whose name Samuel anointed David as the future king.

David is quite realistic about the situation – and rightly estimates his enemies as ruthless men who would destroy him. But rather than simply bewailing the situation, David is enabled by the Holy Spirit to stand firm, calling his scattering and fearful thoughts back to focus on the God in whom his trust lies, instead of the threats which lie so close.

Here is the key for me, as I face major threats and discouragements, or merely the daily trials and disappointments which are the lot of humankind in a fallen world. Will I chose, like David, to ensure that as I bring my concerns and fears to God, I am continually disciplining my thoughts to focus on the strength, goodness and faithfulness of the One who hears me? Or will I instead turn my prayers into litanies of self-pity, continual recounting of my trials and a refusal to acknowledge that God is on the throne of my life, but also over the whole world, and is at work for his good purposes even if I can’t see them?

David prayed for help from God – in other words, he humbled himself and didn’t even pretend that he could deal with this situation safely alone. Will I follow that example? Will I ask God to help me exert the self control needed to stand firm in the face of troubles large and small? Without that divine assistance, I will surely fall into despair and fail to honour God. But if I follow David in casting my burdens at the feet of the sovereign who has given his life for me, then surely I will be able to face what comes stoutly, confident in His strength and trusting that my obedience is the channel through which His victory is realised in my life.

These words from the daily prayers of John Baillie are a monthly reminder to me of the absolute necessity to humble myself and depend upon God, may they help us all to pursue our way like steadfast followers, confident and uncomplaining, looking to Christ our leader and friend as we go.

Oh Lord my God… give me grace, I beg Thee, to understand the meaning of such afflictions and disappointments as I am called upon to endure. Deliver me from all fretfulness. Give me a stout heart to bear my own burdens. Give me a willing heart to bear the burdens of others. Give me a believing heart to cast all burdens upon thee.

(from ‘A Diary of Private Prayer’ by John Baillie,1936)

Making it real..

In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind…. to God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his… To him belong strength and victory;.. He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings deep shadows into the light. He makes nations great, and destroys them;… He deprives the leaders of the earth of their reason; he sends them wandering through a trackless waste. They grope in darkness with no light; he makes them stagger like drunkards. My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it.

(Job 12.10,13,16, 22-25)

“This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of… For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name…, though you do not acknowledge me… I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things… This is what the Lord says – the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshalled their starry hosts. I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness….

(Isa 45.1,4,7,11-13)

Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

(Ac 2.22-24)

The King has come. The new kingdom has been birthed in the lives of those who confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, and their loyalty is now to him. But is it?

When the state of our world, or the state of our neighbourhood, fills us with sadness and threatens to flood our hearts with fear for the future of our children; when long cherished plans and hopes for our lives or those of our loved ones are shattered and we are tempted to despair instead of to hope; when our situation seems utterly futile, and existence seems pointless… what does it look like in these circumstances to live as loyal subjects of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?

Friends, this is something I find to be a constant challenge, and I am thankful for my heavenly Father’s patience and gentleness with me as I fail time and again. I will worry; I will find myself doubting that God will get it right, and that what He is permitting in our world just now can possibly be good and right when so much pain is involved for so many. I am indebted to the Canadian writer, Ann Voskamp for the most recent reminder that when I choose to let my thoughts run down this path of worry and doubt, I am dethroning Jesus and putting myself back onto the throne. 

The message of the Hebrew Scriptures, the gospels, Acts and all the letters (and especially of Revelation) is absolutely consistent. God is in charge; God is good and just, powerful and righteous; God can be trusted to keep His word. But, God is capable of doing the utterly unexpected, we cannot and must not try to constrain his actions  – the recognition of the heathen Cyrus, King of the Persian empire, as God’s agent to fulfill the divine plans must have caused consternation in Isaiah’s audience!

So what should I do next time the news in the papers, or the message from a friend threatens to send me down the well-trodden path of worry, fear and doubt? I take those thoughts captive; I recognise that I am on the top of a familiar slippery slope and choose to step back! The power to do this will come only as I depend by faith on God, asking his help to honour his name in my life – honouring him by choosing to trust and giving him the glory in the midst of what I do not understand.

And when God’s will seems most incomprehensible, I will remember what Peter told the crowds in Jerusalem at Pentecost, will remember that God purposed to bring the greatest good out of their greatest act of betrayal and rebellion. My God is so much greater than I can possibly understand, and he is in the business of turning darkness into light, death into life, and mortal into immortality.  I will keep on crowning him King, and choosing trust.

King of my life, I crown thee now – thine shall the glory be; Lest I forget thy thorn-crowned brow, lead me to Calvary.

Lest I forget Gethsemane, Lest I forget thine agony, Lest I forget thy love to me, Lead me to Calvary

(JE Hussey 1874-1958)

Where are my wells?

The angel of the Lord found Hagar.. and he said,..”go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.”

…God said to Abraham, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant… I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bow shot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink…

(Gen 16.9&10; 21.12-19)

But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand….the poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.

(Isa 41.8-10, 17&18)

On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

(Jn 7.37&38)

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful..

(Heb 10.23)

Hagar, servant of Sarah, concubine to Abraham, mother of Ishmael, suffered greatly at the hands of those who could and should have known better. Abraham and Sarah, in their abuse of Hagar, did not honour the God whose call they had obeyed and whom they worshipped. God showed grace and compassion to Hagar, as the mother of Abraham’s first son, she entered a relationship with a covenant keeping God and this long story shows that faithfulness of God’s character at work. In all the machinations of Sarah, and complaisance of Abraham, yet God was at work for good for this slave woman and her unwanted child. And when the crisis came, Hagar found that God intended to do for her all that he had promised.

I was greatly moved by this story when it was preached in our church last week, as we were encouraged to recall that we too are those who have received God’s promises. As his chosen ones, called through Jesus to be his children, we are the object of his love and it is his purpose to bring us to glory. While the world may leave us tired and vulnerable, and those close to us may hurt or neglect us, yet God is at work and cannot be thwarted.

Friends, are you, like me, oppressed and feeling as though life is a desert? Can you see only the death of your hopes and no purpose in carrying on? Let me encourage you to be like Hagar, to cry aloud in your distress and to listen for the voice of the Lord who has promised that he will quench your thirst abundantly.

This way is the one in which God is leading and calling you. This, therefore, is the place in which he will sustain and bless you. This way is the one where you will find wells, springs of refreshment. There may only be small springs, rations for each day’s journey – but herein lies the challenge of faith. Will I accept today’s refreshment and trust for tomorrow’s, even though I may not see it yet? Will I choose to follow and rejoice, one day at a time?

What wells lie in your way today? As you cry to your Father who sees all things, what will he give for your thirst? Perhaps a song, or piece of music which brings His faithfulness to mind and allows you to express worship and trust, or to lament and lay your burden before him. Perhaps the companionship of a fellow traveller with whom you can share your situation, and whose own burdens you can lift to God in prayer. Perhaps an opportunity to serve, to use the gifts you have for the blessing of another. Perhaps a fresh awareness of his power and majesty in creation.

May we learn to trust him more fully for our daily needs, and to journey in faith, like Hagar. May we see the wells which God’s goodness has provided, and having drunk deeply, go on.

When it pulls so hard…

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgements he pronounced.. He is the Lord our God; his judgements are in all the earth. He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations….. He confirmed in to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant.

(Ps 105.5,7,8&10)

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands….Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.

(Ps 63.2-4,7&8)

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand…”

(Jn 10.27-29)

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that… we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf..

(Heb  6. 17-20)

Have you ever watched a boat straining at its anchor rope in high winds and rough waters? The rope is taut, and at times the strain is so strong that the boat appears to being pulled under the crashing waters as it cannot move with them and cut loose from that security. I wonder if at times as believers we feel like that boat?

The old hymn speaks of the ‘anchor that keeps our soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll’, but we perhaps forget that the strain exerted upon the boat by its anchor-rope against those billows is immense! If the anchor were not strong enough to hold firm in the seabed, the boat would certainly move freely again upon the waters, but it would also, and just as certainly, come into danger of destruction as a result. I would like to think about the way that our connection to God, through Jesus, is like that anchor rope, and to ponder what that means when we are in the stormiest waters and like to founder.

Sometimes, I find myself so deeply troubled by pain and suffering – my own and that of others, that I am tempted to wish I did not believe in a God of love who cares for me. The tension between what I am feeling – or seeing others endure – and what the bible tells me is true, is so powerful that I am being torn in two and cannot bear it any more. But consider friends, if God’s loving hold upon me was not so strong, I would not feel that tension at all, I would simply choose to walk away from an inconvenient set of beliefs, and seek another way to make my peace with the realities of life in this broken world (not that I believe there is such a thing).

I believe that we can take comfort from the very intensity of our struggles – they show just how firmly God’s love is grasping us, just how determined he is to fulfil his covenant promise in us, and to what lengths he has gone and will go to glorify his name by saving us in spite of all our faults and failings. It is no credit to believers when – either in the midst of the storm, or in the succeeding calmer days – we testify to our perseverance. Rather, all the glory goes to God who has laid hold upon us, chosen to keep us for his own name’s sake – does a boat take credit for remaining at anchor through a storm? No, it is the one who has set the anchor, chosen and attached the rope to the boat who deserves praise.

What a relief to know, as we endure current trials and submit to what may come in the days ahead, that our anchor is totally secure – because of the one who has attached us to himself so utterly and completely. We can trust him, even when the tension is like to tear our hearts in pieces, to be faithful to his promises and to be glorified in and through what is happening.

Thank you Father that when, like Jesus in Gethsemane, we are in agony and wrestling to accept your will, we can know that it is your love for us that holds us fast, and your love in us which is refusing to let go and surrender us to the darkness of the storm. When we are in pain, may we even there be able to rejoice that you have given us love for you, faith in Jesus, and reason to hope.

A strong and relentless love..

O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee. I give Thee back the life I owe, that in Thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.

O Light that followest all my way, I yield my flick’ring torch to Thee. My heart restores its borrowed ray, that in Thy sunshine’s gaze its day may brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to Thee. I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not vain, that morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,I dare not ask to fly from Thee. I lay in dust, life’s glory dead, and from the ground there blossoms red, life that shall endless be.

(George Matheson, 1842-1906)

There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides across the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms…Blessed are you, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword.

(Deut 33.26,27&29)

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn and settle on the far side of the sea, even there. Your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for the darkness is as light to you.

(Ps 139.7-12)

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

(Jn 6.66-69)

When I am dazzled by the wonders of the world, by its riches and glories, until I nearly forget that they are only a shadow of what is to come, of what you have in store for your chosen ones…O Love, do not let me go.

When I am bewildered by the disintegration of moral order, by the strident voices preaching a gospel of self-determination and individuality at all costs, O Love, do not let me go.

When I am sinking into a rut, losing my zest for the life you daily renew within me; when my appointed tasks seem dull and pointless and I grow weary of persevering, O Love, do not let me go.

When the violence, evil and cruel indifference of the world to the suffering of millions threatens to overwhelm me, and I feel as though the light is going out, O Love, do not let me go.

When the agonies of my family and beloved friends surge up under the feet of faith until I am like to be thrown down into despair and the temptation to abandon my God’s service, O Love, do not let me go.

When my own years of unanswered prayers mock me, when your promises seem empty and vain, when the evil one is lurking close to steal my peace, O Love, do not let me go.

Your love, my God, holds firm through all my storms of anger, fear and disappointment. The tantrums and sulking silences are met equally with the outstretched arms of love that reach from Calvary to measure the immeasurable, to demonstrate the unimagineable depth and breadth of the love of God in Christ Jesus….even for me.

Your love, my God refuses to entertain the idea of abandoning your children. Your grace and mercy absorbs all that we throw at you, and like struggling toddlers, we are held firmly and lovingly while the storm passes. 

O Love, that will not let us go, we rest our weary souls in Thee. We are tired of fighting, we long for peace in the midst of bitter sorrow, fierce temptation, paralysing prosperity, wearisome warfare against the indifference and even hostility of our culture. We give Thee back the lives we owe – bought by the blood of Jesus, saved for a glorious future – that in closer fellowship and deeper dependence, we might live more fully. 

May we walk in the light of Christ, not by our own feeble, imagined illuminations; may we know his joy, in spite of the griefs that dog our steps; and may we never stray far from the cross, where our new lives began, and by which we receive all the treasures of grace.

  

It’s not always spectacular

A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?……..To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

(Prov 18.14;21.3)

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

(Matt 6.9-13)

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him… Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

(Jas 1.12; 5.10&11)

I wonder if you, like me, sometimes fall into the error of thinking that greatness of faith must be demonstrated by miraculous events, or church-shaping and mission-launching endeavours – the work of people like Hudson Taylor in founding the China Inland Mission for example. We consider such people and look with regret on our small lives and – as we may think – small faith.

I would like to challenge this thinking today. I have the privilege of knowing many faithful Christians whose lives involve incredible challenges – but not in this strategic or miraculous manifestation. Instead, these are people who choose to live each day as God’s gift to them, in spite of the fact that they carry unimagineable burdens and face devastating challenges. They are living with partners suffering from degenerative diseases, and caring for them even as they mourn for what might have been. They are grieving the untimely deaths of family members – spouses, children and even grandchildren – and mourning for the might-have-been shape of life. They are living with the wounds of broken and even abusive relationships, and grieving for damaged offspring as well as for their own agonies.

For each one of these, the words of the proverb ring bitter and true – ‘ a crushed spirit, who can bear?’ 

James reminds his readers of Job, who suffered and yet refused to curse God and die in his misery. Job persevered. Job chose to keep on, to wrestle with God, to bombard heaven with his anger and pain. It was faith in a just, holy and loving God which kept Job engaged with life, in spite of the pain which weighed so heavily upon him. Job just sat there and talked, he didn’t stand up and rouse his ‘comforters’ with stirring or inspiring words about God’s goodness and kindness, he didn’t try to rise above what was happening to him. But he persevered. 

I believe that the faith which Job demonstrates for us, and which those friends whom I have mentioned above demonstrate so clearly, is ‘great’ faith. I would invite you to consider how we may best pray for others in such situations, and for ourselves when our turn comes – as it may well do – to endure great suffering. What does great faith look like when our lives are falling apart and our spirit is crushed?

Our Father in heaven, who knows our feeble frame, may your kingdom come and your will be done in the lives of your suffering saints. May their faith bring glory to your name.

Our Father in heaven, who knows the depths of suffering to which each one is plunged, and the individual agonies unique to each character and situation, may you provide each moment and each day just what is needed to endure and to remain faithful.

Our Father in heaven, we pray against the burden of a bleak future crushing the faith needed for today’s obedience. Let your saints look no further than this day’s duties, and may they be given the strength of will to choose your ways, to choose trust.

We thank you Father, that to do the next thing, to tackle those tasks which you have – in your providence – allocated to us, is in itself an act of faith. Thank you that we have jobs to do, people to serve, and when we choose to obey, we are living in faith that you will fulfill your promises and supply all our needs. 

Merciful God, when we walk through the valley of suffering, darkness and death, may we be granted this great faith which refuses to give up, and although unspectacular, may our lives testify to your power to sustain and bless your servants.

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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When there seems no way out of the woods..

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….I am God and there is none like me..I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do as I please.

(Isa 46.3,4, 9&10)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed…

(2 Cor 4.7-9)

..rejoice in the Lord..whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ..I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me..our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body…

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received from me, or seen in me – put it into practice…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

(Phil 3.1,7,14,20-21; 4.6-9,12&13)

The words spoken by Isaiah from the Lord came to a people who were on the edge of catastrophe, of military defeat and exile, from which many would never return. They were likely to spend the remainder of their lives under alien rule, far from the temple and all they knew of comfort and familiar ways. To these people, God speaks of his faithfulness, making no exceptions regarding their future place of residence or the impossibility of carrying on temple worship in Babylon.

Their departure from the land was entirely within God’s purpose, the Babylonian invasion would not take him by surprise, any more than the circumstances of our lives do. When believers find themselves called to hard places, we have this precedent to which we can turn, seeing God declaring his commitment to his children as they live in hard places, deprived of much which others take for granted, and consequently finding life a struggle.

I do not in any way intend to make light of the dreadful conditions in which many live, poverty, political and social persecution, violence and pain, the realities of disease and disability, of mental illness and abuse. But I do believe that the bible refuses us permission to treat these things as beyond God’s knowledge. We cannot understand why these things are permitted but we can know that we are never out of His sight or forgotten by His love.

Some are called to situations which – humanly speaking – are unlikely to change for the duration of their natural lives; always walking in what can feel like thick woodland, sometimes a very dark and frightening place, with little light upon the way, and no mountain top from which to see a clear path ahead. Each day can be a huge struggle, and the temptation to despair is real. The snare of comparison with others more fortunate than ourselves is equally fatal to our perseverance and joy, and for this reason it is good to remember Paul’s words to his churches as he exhorts them to persevere and find contentment through trials and uncertainty.

The only comparison Paul makes is between the trials which he is facing, and the glorious inheritance which is guaranteed to him by Jesus. He looks not to the relative ease and prosperity of other Roman citizens, but to the inexhaustible grace of God, to the goodness and beauty revealed in salvation and shining from Jesus to enlighten us. The ultimate in noble and good things to contemplate in our darkness, when the wood seems never-ending and our courage fails us, the Lord Jesus is within us by his Spirit, and therefore, we cannot be lost.

My path may be harder than I had hoped, but if it is the one to which I am called, then I can expect and  thankfully depend upon the sustaining of the God who put me here. I can trust in his power to provide each day’s resources, and can fully empty my load of care at his feet as often as necessary. It is his desire that I glorify him in my dark wood;  surely he will then provide me with all I need in order to prove him faithful.

Selective memory!

God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed his ways for him, or said to him, ‘You have done wrong’? Remember to extol his work, which men have praised in song. All mankind has seen it; men gaze on it from afar. How great is God – beyond our understanding! 

(Job 36.22-26)

“..the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way,..he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

(1 Cor 11.23-25)

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus..our citizenship is in heaven. and we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

(Phil 3.13, 20&21)

Therefore, ..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..so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

(Heb 12.1,2&3)

What is in my bag as I face the next year of my journey? Lord, what do you want me to carry onto the next stage of the path?

Should I take the burden of failures, of the ways I have disappointed myself and others this year? No; your love commands that I put these away, with thankfulness for your forgiveness, for your grace in restoring relationships, and your sovereignty which works even my failures and their consequences into your plan to bless us and glorify your name.

Should I take the encumbering cloak of hurts which others have caused me this year? No; your forgiveness of me requires that I extend to others that same mercy. So with thanks for your enabling, I forgive all my debtors – over and over again, every time the memory surfaces, I will do it again – that I may clear my feet of the ensnaring folds of bitterness, resentment and walk the path of love.

Should I take the map of expectations which the world presses into my hands, as a guide to my feet and a lamp to my path? No; your word will be my guide, my light, and I will trust that in compassion and mercy you will always lead me through the dark and hard places. You have promised to go with me, and that is indeed safer than any map or guiding light.

If I strive to look ahead, into the unknown, fear weakens me and tempts me to despair of ever reaching the goal. If I look back at how far you have brought me, through many troubles and in spite of all my weaknesses, then I am humbled in thankfulness and restored for the journey. So this is my ration for the journey – thankful remembrance of all God’s goodness to his people down the centuries; and specifically to me and those I know in our brief lifetimes.

This is no burden to carry. Indeed it is more like wings to my feet and strength to my knees, as I choose to consider Christ and all that he is and did for love of his people.- Christ who dwells within me by his Spirit; who goes before to prepare good works for me to do; who delights to share all of life with me..and who is keeping everything that really matters safe for me to enjoy with him through eternity.

Dear Lord, may I have the blessing of a selective memory! Remembering your goodness and faithfulness but forgetting -so gladly- all my past failures. Fill my mind with the truth of your word and grow my confidence in your promises. Stir up expectation within me, and bless me with daily encouragements and glimpses of your hand and your presence.

Whatever 2021 may hold for the world, Lord, your children await your return with confidence and eagerness. Bless and keep us faithful, cheerful and diligent in service, that we might have the joyful satisfaction of giving you our best.