Category Archives: trust

From the depths…to the heights

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning…O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.

(Ps 130.1-7)

I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.

(Ps 123.1&2)

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! AMEN!

I turned round …and saw someone “like a son of man”, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said:”Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last. I am the living one; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!

(Rev 1.7,12-18)

When I am drowning in sorrow; when I sing my way through songs of longing at church, with tears streaming down my face and no one notices or comforts me; when I wake each day to pick up the same heavy load of seemingly insoluble difficulty; Lord, let me then preach your word to my spirit. I WILL lift my eyes to you; I WILL fix my gaze upon your face: I WILL put my faith in your love and mercy, and trust that even in this dark pit, you have not abandoned me.

When I look around at my community and my country and see congregations growing old and dying; when I see preachers and pastors burning out under loads of unrealistic expectation; when I see church members sitting so lightly to their calling or so weighed down by life that they have no time or energy to invest in growing in their faith and in community with their fellow believers; Lord, let me then preach your word to my spirit. I WILL lift my eyes to your throne; I WILL fix my gaze upon the glory of the risen one: I WILL put my faith in your power and sovereignty, in your plan to bring all things together under the Lordship of my precious Jesus, and in the truth that your love for this broken world – for those who choose to reject you, for those who think that they know you but do not – that love is inextinguishable.

Forgive me Lord, that I fall into despair so easily; my spirit is not strong. Forgive me Lord, that I let my eyes fall down into the darkness around me so easily; my vision is not clear. Forgive me Lord, that I can’t seem to live day by day in the joyful reality of your saving presence with me, and of your inexorable power at work in the world around me; my feet are not strong to stay on the path.

Thank you, that the truth about you does not change, and that when I make the effort to look up, to look towards the throne, there I see not some impersonal, eternally distant being, but my Lord. I see one who in glory bears his scars in a recognisable body, one who speaks my language, and who knows and cares about everything which happens to me.

Restore in me, the hope of your salvation; restore in me, the reality of sin forgiven and guilt removed; restore in me, the wellspring of your love that I might live out that love to those around me.

Restore in your church, a conviction of your love and power to save; restore in your church, a passion to share the transforming truth of sin forgiven and lives restored; restore in your church, a love which transcends denominational boundaries, which sets aside differences in tradition for the sake of serving a glorified and risen Lord.

Have mercy upon us Lord, that we might have the inexpressible joy of seeing men and women across our land coming into the light of your love, and the privilege of serving alongside them in your name. Amen, so let it be!

 

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When did you last weep?

The words of Nehemiah..while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant,.. and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, “Those who… are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven..

(Nehemiah 1.1-4)

Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? Oh that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears!

(Jeremiah 8.21- 9.1)

Restore us again, O God our Saviour, and put away your displeasure towards us. Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger through all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. I will listen to what God the Lord will say; he promises peace to his people, his saints – but let them not return to folly. Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Love and faithfulness meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Rightousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.

(Ps 85.4-13)

I don’t know if you think of lamentation as a form of worship, but I do. When the psalmists and prophets come before God with the desperate “How long, O Lord?!”, they are worshipping the almighty God,  placing him in the position of ultimate authority, and recognising his sovereign power and will at work behind all that happened in the world around them. Their example gives us confidence to follow them in bringing to the throne of God all the things that trouble us in the world, not least the parlous state of the Church of Christ in many parts of the west.

We, like Nehemiah, should be moved to mourn as we consider the state of our part of the worldwide church – a body discredited, mocked, marginalised, torn within by division, polluted by heresy and undermined by chronic lack of confidence in the power of the revealed word of God to transform lives. Truly, our walls are torn down and our gates destroyed as if by fire, we should hang our heads in shame and horror and cry to God for mercy.

In reality, we are perhaps so used to the state of things that we have not allowed ourselves to feel, let alone express these emotions. But surely, if we take time to let God show us these realities, we ought to catch something of his grief for the condition of his people – and then our lamentation might, like Nehemiah’s, become a prayer for action, for change, and a plea for God to intervene and to use even such fragile instruments as ourselves in that mission of restoration.

We are a sinful people; the church is made up of those who have realised how broken they are, and how much they depend upon God’s mercy. So when we cry for God to intervene to restore his people, we are not claiming that we have earned or deserved his favour, but rather are reminding him – and ourselves – of our dependence upon his grace and unmerited favour. God’s glory is revealed not in the efforts of christians to build the church, but in the power which God displays in lives which he transforms, in the faithfulness which he grants to frail humankind, in the unity which he grants to fractured congregations and creates as he draws people to himself from all nations. It is for the loss of his glory that we weep when we consider our churches today; and for the restoration of his glory that we pray when we cry “How long, O Lord?”.

In our lamentations, may we not lose hope, but rather be encouraged, like Nehemiah, to ask God to use us in his plans for restoration. May we return with the psalmists to the great faithfulness which God has shown to his fickle people, trusting that the promises will yet be fulfilled, and our land will indeed yield its harvest – to his glory and for our blessing!

..from a full heart, I sing!

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up ….He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”

(1Sam 7.12)

“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord..”

(1Sam.1.27)

Lord, you have been our dwelling-place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God…Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days….May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendour to their children. May the favour of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.

(Ps 90.1,2,14,16&17)

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

(James 1.16&17)

Throughout the bible narrative, God calls on his people to review the ways in which he has dealt with them, acted in love towards them, rescued and provided for them – even though they couldn’t always understand the methods he used! Through the ups and downs of their lived history as the covenant people, they were to learn that God was good, that God could be trusted – no matter what happened. The repeated message is to “remember…”, and we do well to follow their example.

Our family recently celebrated the graduation of our son from university, after four years of study. It was a day full of ritual – as befits an ancient seat of learning – and joy, as all the students rejoiced together, enjoying a final few days before their paths diverge into the next stage of life. Graduation is a major rite of passage for a family, marking the end of formal education and in large measure the end of the role of parents in supporting and providing for their children. It is a time for reflection and thanksgiving, and as I watched my son beaming enthusiastically at his tutors (and their faces shining back at him), I was overwhelmed with gratitude to the God who gave us this precious charge, this child, to be raised for him.

The journey to this point has had its fair share of challenges – for one thing, he didn’t want to be born!! – and I have wept and agonised over his choices, and endured the torrid teenage years like other parents. There has been a measure of kicking over the traces, and he has his own particular palette of weaknesses – some of them mine, which is such a shame… But, but, but….God has promised, and has blessed us by fulfilling that promise while we are alive to see it, and our son professes a lively faith in the God to whom we committed him as an infant. Nothing else really matters, and I am so thankful that I can entrust my beloved child to my heavenly Father, who loves him with such a passion.

Here, I raise my Ebenezer; here I say, ‘thus far, the Lord has helped us!’; will he not continue to do so?! Let me learn from the years of child-rearing, let me remember that through it all, my God never abandoned us, never left us or broke his promises. Let me hold even more firmly to those promises as we look to the future, so that no matter what comes, I will be willing to trust God with my children.

Today, my heart is full of thankfulness, singing songs of praise to my heavenly Father, the source of all good things; today, my life is bursting with good things, and there are no clouds in the sky. When tomorrow comes, things may change, but my God never changes; and all that is permitted to touch me and mine comes within his sovereign will for us, and for his glory.

Let the possibilities of future troubles not cloud the celebrations of today; let me take in full measure, the joy and satisfaction which my Lord is pouring into my lap in so many ways. This is a time for singing the songs of fullness, of gratitude for good gifts and answered prayers; a time for storing up reasons to be thankful against the days when I am in the dark. My God will prove faithful then, and I can rest in his unchanging love and nature, come what may…

When there seems to be no “right” way..

Do good to your servant according to your word, O Lord. Teach me knowledge and good judgement, for I believe in your commands…I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path..

(Ps 119. 65&66, 101-105)

Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

(Eph 5.15-17)

I believe that since I have confessed Jesus as Lord, and since I depend solely on his death on the cross for my salvation and acceptance in God’s eyes, I am assured of my position as a beloved, redeemed and secure child of God. I have a heavenly Father who delights in me, who forgives me and bears with me, and whose plan is all for my blessing and his glory. He is at work daily, by his spirit within me, through his word and all the circumstances of my life, to cleanse and purify and also to use me to bless others. I desire with all my heart to co-operate with this work – to be a blessing, and to know myself transformed, made like Christ.

BUT…I also believe that each of us starts with our own particular temperaments, strengths and weaknesses. Things which others may struggle with, may pass me by. While things which bring me to my knees in fear or catch me unawares over and over again will not trouble my friends at all! It is so important not to judge ourselves by other people’s lives, but to try and look only to our Father for approval and acceptance. In the meantime, I am wrestling once again with an issue which has troubled me all my life…knowing (in any given situation) what is the RIGHT thing to do.

Let me make it clear. There are obviously situations in which we choose between sin and holiness, between obeying a clear command and disobeying it. I am not talking about those, because there the issue is temptation or weariness and weakness. I am concerned with how I discern what action to take, what attitude to cultivate, when the choice is between a number of equally likely or appropriate alternatives! In other words, a choice between varieties of obedience!

On the one hand, I believe in a sovereign God, who directs my life according to his perfect will – miraculously working all things together for his glory and my blessing. That should mean that I can trust him to use whatever choices I make…and yet somehow I still feel a dreadful burden of responsibility – I don’t want to be the child who goes off down dead-ends and has to be retrieved at great effort, when another choice would – with hindsight – have been better. Is it pride that underlies the whole thing? Perhaps it is, the pride that hates to make mistakes, to cause disappointment, and to put others to trouble to sort out the mess.

I remember a minister talking about “sanctified common sense”, and what he meant was that our ability to make rational and sensible decisions is just as much affected by our ongoing transformation into Christ-likeness as the rest of us. We are gifted with this sense of what is wise – an inner balance which puts ‘pros’ on one side and ‘cons’ on the other, and looks at the result. As a follower of Jesus, I should be able to trust this sense, because it is more and more informed by his word and guided by his spirit. The things which weigh in the balance will be the things which matter to him – like stewardship of my gifts, love to my neighbour, obedience to his word, serving his mission in the world.

So as I look to the next big question, the choice between equally valid options, I will be praying for that wisdom which comes from my saviour’s transforming of my mind, and for the trust that will enable me to act upon my decision without fretting that I have somehow gone wrong!! Praise God that he IS big enough, merciful and loving enough to work everything together for good, and for his patience with a dithering, over-thinking anxious child like me….

He knows me so well…

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,…

(Psalm 103.13-17)

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

(Psalm 139.1-6)

May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; may the Lord rejoice in his works – he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke. I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord.

(Psalm 104.31-34)

Some people have a gift for saying, giving, or doing, just the right thing to communicate their love, encouragement, compassion and sympathy. It is a gift; we can all seek to cultivate it, but for some it comes easily! They have an instinctive understanding of those around them which allows them to see what will speak most clearly – what will convey the message most effectively. Their friend’s lives are enriched by their presence and they can make a huge difference to the weary, lonely and hurting, as well as adding to the joy of the glad in their celebrations..

And I believe that this gift is a reflection of God’s incredible ability to communicate his love to each and every one of his children, in ways which speak intimately and personally to us, bringing healing and deep contentment in his presence. He knows us, through and through, the strengths as well as the weaknesses, the darkness as well as the light; and in his love for our frailty, he delights to meet us with daily gifts – private pleasures which we can share with him.

I believe that when we learn to notice these gifts, and make a conscious effort to thank God for his goodness in each one, that he delights in us, and the total sum of our joy is much greater than if we had simply accepted the gift as our due and passed on. I want to be one of the works which my Lord rejoices in; I want to dwell and meditate on his goodness in ways which help me to live every more closely with him!

We are indeed frail creatures, only God knows how pitifully thin is the line which separates us daily from illness, danger and death. And in his wonderful compassion for his beloved children, living in a beautiful world gone badly wrong, he pours out tokens of grace upon us – new days dawn, sunsets herald night and starlight; we wake, breathing and living; we have work to do, people to care for, and beauty, might and power all around for the seeing.

I may be called to bear bitter crosses at times, but the daily gifts of love will still be there for me to receive, as nourishment, as gentle caressing touches from a Father’s hand. The hardest times are when the pain of the burden clouds the eyes and dulls the spirit, so that the gifts seem worthless, their value cannot be appropriated by our weary hearts and so we neglect to give thanks. Then indeed, the cross becomes a terrible thing, because we have cut ourselves off from the one who would bear it with us, and the only one who can truly understand our troubles.

As I labour on, bearing the appointed cross and earnestly desiring to glorify my Lord by imitating his attitude, may I continue to notice the daily gifts – the touch of a warm breeze after winter, the passing beauty of foam tossed up by the river, the chance encounters with bird and beast – fellow creatures, fearfully and wonderfully made, the pleasures of eating good food, and the smell of freshly laundered, wind-dried sheets! In giving thanks, may I encounter again the Father’s gaze of love, and hear the precious assurance of his constant presence and holding of me. How wonderful indeed, to be thus intimately known by the Lord of Lords, let me rejoice, and be glad!

Consider the stars..

There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

(Deuteronomy 33.26&27)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”…He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.

(Psalm 91.1,2, 4-6)

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose….Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long, we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

(Romans 8.18,28,35-37)

Consider the stars in the sky;
When it is darkest they shine out the brightest
Consider the stars in the sky
In every anguish, Oh, child take courage

Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid
He who made all of this, and who holds all of this,
Holds you in his hands

(Keith & Kristyn Getty, 2015)

 

We have a bad habit of re-casting God’s promises into our own terms, to suit our own circumstances, and then expecting Him to fulfill them according to our understanding of what is best.. We take the words such as those from Psalm 91 above, and decide that should mean that we are to be kept miraculously safe from every physical threat to our bodies – always! Sometimes, there are instances where God has indeed created supernatural protection for his children, hiding them in plain sight from their enemies, or healing them from fatal illnesses, and we do well to rejoice in such deliverances. But they will always be part of a bigger picture, and a higher perspective that we cannot see. God does nothing at random, and nothing is ever wasted, so that a miraculously preserved life will have some particular call upon it which is yet to be fulfilled.

But our experience, in a broken world, is surely not that which might be expected from a superficial reading of Psalm 91 – everyone suffers from illness, assault, weakness, fear, and eventually the debilitating effects of age. So where do God’s promises come into the picture? In what sense are we supported by the everlasting arms, pictured in Moses’ wonderful final song in Deuteronomy?

I believe that Paul puts it best for us, when he affirms that there is NOTHING which can separate the child of God from the love of the Father, because of the redeeming work of the Son. In one sense, we may be vulnerable to the effects of human suffering, but in another, we are invincible! The grasp of the everlasting arms upon us is unbreakable, and our eternal future, in transformed bodies, in glory and joy and fulfilment, cannot be taken from us. In that ultimate and most essential sense, nothing can touch us!

If we can take hold on that truth – a process which I find I have to go through repeatedly, as new trials come along – then we are indeed sheltered from the storm, as under wings, because our heart is at rest. It may be in agony, but in recognising that there is one who loves us and bears with us, who knows our pain, and above all who knows that the future glory is worth it, there, we find we can hold firm.

I often walk at night by the sea, and the stars throng the sky above me, a source of wonder and awe. They speak of the utter ‘otherness’ of the creator, of my utter insignificance, and cause me to stand in adoration again of the God who “made all of this, and who holds all of this,” yet holds even me in his hands.

Friends, let us pray for God to stir up our faith, when all around seems darkest, that his presence and promises will shine brightly, and we will hold fast, trusting him, and rest in the everlasting arms.

 

Photograph of the stars, courtesy of F. Wotherspoon.

A sweet, sweet incense…

What do I hold in my hands, but fractured dreams, and faded hopes? The shame-filled memories of hurts given and received, the hidden scars of wounds sustained at the hands of those from whom I looked for kindness.

Are these a fitting sacrifice to bring to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?

What haunts my prayers, but the bitter knowledge of the many, many, too many times I have forgotten to look to Love, have refused to look to Love, have embraced self-pity and chosen to cherish resentment and despair.

Is this a fitting heart to open before the throne of a holy and just God?

What drains my courage, but the suspicion that while God could change things, he seems to be choosing to change me instead – and I am sometimes just so very tired of being the subject of his potter’s hand, of being re-shaped, of being pruned and disciplined. I don’t see the fruit of his labours….is there any?

Is this a fitting spirit in which to bear witness to an almighty, loving and redeeming God?

……………………………..

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

(Psalm 51.8-12, 15-17)

What relief, what joy, to find in the words of the psalmist the answer to my cries! I am welcome before the God of heaven; I am called to be made clean, to be restored, to be lifted up. My brokenness and weakness, my inability to remember what I learn, or to put it into practice consistently, all is acceptable to God as a sacrifice.

Why? Because when I am broken and crying out to him, then I am fully relying on the finished work of my saviour, I am utterly without any pride or self-reliance, and am finally admitting that without God, I am helpless in my need..

In this world, the children of God will have trouble – Jesus promised as much – and the big question is what we do with it! Will we collapse under it, reject God and become bitter and alienated from him? Or will we seek to turn, and turn again towards him, begging for his strength, claiming the fulfillment of his promises to us – for his constant presence and enabling power, for his provision for our true needs? Even when I am on my knees, if I am crawling towards God, not away from him, then I am in the safest place and am assured that he is working for and in me.

Dear friends, let us encourage one another with the truth that we have been given; but let us also be gentle with one another as we limp together through the various trials with which God has entrusted us.

The words which I wrote so recently are ringing through my mind again….am I willing to thank God for trusting me with this long-term burden, thanking him for sustaining me thus far under it, thanking him for the ways it has driven me over and over again into his arms?

God grant me the ability to say “Yes, yes Lord, I thank you. I believe that you are working this out for my blessing and the blessing of your church, and the glory of your name…I believe, Lord help my unbelief!”