Category Archives: trust

I’m waiting…. God?

You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him. Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart.

(Ps 32.7,8,10&11)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.

(Pr 3.5-7)

Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

(Acts 16.6-10)

Things don’t always happen the same way twice; and we need always to be open to that in our life of faith.. Paul the great apostle and teacher is off on another missionary journey, bringing good news to people in need, hungry to make disciples for Jesus and to found new churches. He has experience and wisdom, he’s done this before and knows the pattern… but this time something different happens. The actual words of the account in Acts are frustratingly vague to us, we want to know just how the spirit kept him from preaching in Asia; how did he know that it was Jesus who was guiding and restraining him from doing what he had always done before? But the effect was to drive Paul and his companions right to the edge of Asia, where at last they received a clear and direct call to ‘come over’ into Macedonia, into the European continent, to preach the good news. 

Do you, like me, find yourself rather envious of this account? How good it must be to have such absolute conviction about God’s leading in one’s situation – this strong constraint, followed by a vision, not even just a hint or an inclination but a person standing there saying, “come!” Many of the characters whose stories are preserved for us in the bible have experiences of being led in dramatic ways, by dreams and direct messages from God, and yet for many of us, nothing like this ever seems to happen and the whole business of guidance can become a real testing-ground of faith as we wait and ask, and ponder and ask, and wait again…. how long can one wait?

Life can’t be put on hold, decisions and plans must be made about future commitments and current responsibilities. While we live day to day in God’s providence, we have to make plans for the future as a basis for decisions now. How do we do that when there is a sense of total uncertainty about what lies ahead? At some point, choices must be made, and a path taken or not taken, which will have implications for us and other people.

I believe the Lord knows this, and that in these small immediate decisions, we must trust him to be at work directing us even when we are uncertain about the big picture. As our hearts seek to serve him, will he not honour that desire in us and straighten the path out before us as we take the small steps right in front of us? We do need to be aware that God may call us in unexpected directions – are we open to the possibility that our previous experience and expectations are to be overturned as God restrains our effort to go in the ‘sensible and likely’ path? Paul was not wrong in desiring to preach in Asia, it was sensible and good, and fitted his own expectations. But God had bigger plans, which required Paul to be humble enough to set his own expectations aside and to refrain from good works in order to do the best work at that time, which was to go to Macedonia. 

Father God, thank you that you have given me a desire to serve you. Thank you that I can know you have prepared good works for me to do for you. Thank you that you understand my longing for clear direction, and how difficult it is to live with uncertainty. Let my waiting on you not be a fruitless thing. Let me wait in confidence, give me wisdom to use the opportunities you give me now. Have mercy on my weakness and straighten the path under my feet, so that I might walk according to your will and glorify you in my life. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

Just keeping going..

A thanksgiving psalm.

Shout out to the Lord, all the earth, worship the Lord in rejoicing, come before Him in glad song.

Know that the Lord is God. He has made us, and we are His, His people and the flock He tends.

Come into His gates in thanksgiving, His courts in praise.

Acclaim Him, bless his name. For the Lord is good, forever His kindness, and for all generations His faithfulness.

(Ps 100. R Alter translation)

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: 

a time to be born and a time to die, and time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…..a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace… 

I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning.

(Ecc 3.1-4,7,8,10-11)

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

(2 Thess 2.16&17)

As I write this week, I am conscious of the shadows cast by heavy burdens in the lives of many dear friends, and also of the national and global challenges which we face in these days. It would be so easy to give in to despair. But, as those for whom the gospel of Jesus Christ is truth and light, we must cultivate a different reaction – a lived outcome of faith in a sovereign God, which is a steadfast heart.

We believe that our God is on the throne, and that his plans for creation and for his people are being fulfilled. We believe in his promises to save us from sin, and through all manner of suffering which life in a fallen and sinful world must involve. Therefore, we look expectantly for daily blessings and tokens of divine love, the signs of his presence among us and his power at work. We trust they are there, and then look for them! The testimony of God’s people down through the ages is that even in their deepest sorrow, and fiercest trial, they have seen his hand and heard his voice – when our time comes, we too will surely know this care and provision.

We choose to act responsibly, taking up the duties which are part of our place in life and community – trusting God to be at work, using them in us and for others, no matter how small or trivial they may seem. We keep on reminding ourselves that life will always and inevitably involve pain and loss, so that we need not fear these things, because our God knows our frailty and has provided for us.

We choose to worship God by persevering, and continually affirming God’s power and glory. We worship by enjoying God’s good gifts of life, creation, family and friends, culture and creativity, fun and laughter as part of our daily bread, things that he wants us to appreciate and use well.

We worship by praying for ourselves – and others – the perspective which he alone gives, to see our troubles in this world as light and momentary in the face of eternity and the promised glory which awaits. This in no way diminishes these trials, saying they are nothing, but by his help we refuse to let them dominate and overshadow our lives. We pray for ourselves – and others – that we might recognise God’s provision against our troubles when the occasion arises. We do not anticipate and dread these things, but rather in trusting, and realistic faith, we daily commit ourselves to our Lord, Saviour and God. Humankind is born to trouble; we will have struggles and pain, death will come to us all. But as believers, none of these things should be able to paralyse us on a daily basis and rob us of joy.

Heavenly Father, worthy of our praise and the adoration of all creation, we come before you in our frailty, praying that we might not dishonour your name by living in fear and mistrust. Grant us courage to live each day well, however insignificant our lives may seem, that we might worship you by our trust and cheerful spirits. When troubles rise, Lord be our refuge and provide for our need, that we may know and rejoice in your faithfulness. For the sake of our Lord Jesus, your son, our Saviour we pray these things, Amen

Obedience in the face of uncertainty

As for me, I trust in You, O Lord. I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hand – O save me from the hand of my enemies, my pursuers. Shine Your face on Your servant, rescue me in Your kindness… Be strong, and let your heart be firm, all who hope in the Lord.

(Ps 31.15-17&25, R Alter translation, 2007)

The Lord performs righteous acts and justice for all the oppressed. He makes known His ways to Moses, to the Israelites, His feats. Compassionate and gracious, the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. He will not dispute for ever nor nurse His anger for all time. Not according to our offences has He done to us nor according to our crimes requited us. For as the heavens loom high over earth, His kindness is great over those who fear Him… As a father has compassion for his children, the Lord has compassion for those who fear Him.

(Ps 103.6-11&13, R Alter translation, 2007)

Then Eli said, “he is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

(1 Sam 3.18)

Joab said, “..Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight.”

(2 Sam 10.12)

“Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.”

(Isa 46.8-10)

We can always know what God is like…. we cannot always know what he will do… I was struck recently by the reminder that we are called to trust in God in the same way that a very small child trusts in its parents – a trust which depends not on understanding the circumstances and giving an intellectual assent to particular actions, but a trust depending entirely on belief in the one who is making the decisions.

The pages of the Hebrew bible are full of stories which illustrate what happens when people – just like us, who have days when they seem on fire with faith in God, and days when they live as though he didn’t exist – have to choose whether to trust God, or to take matters into their own hands. It doesn’t end well when we try to take control, and although God redeems these situations over and over again, the painful and obvious lack of trust remains a problem. Do we trust God because we think he will do what we believe is right? Because we think we can direct and control him through our devotions, our doctrine, our liturgy (or lack of it), our fasting and praying?

Friend, think again if you are ever tempted to entertain such ideas. God owes his creatures nothing. God is utterly beyond our comprehension, coercion, and cajoling. His goodness, power, holiness and justice; his vision of what is to come, is so much greater and more glorious than we can imagine – how could we possibly know what is good and right for ourselves in this particular circumstance, when our lives are totally enmeshed in the lives of countless other people? God’s goodness is of another quality entirely, not based on human notions of indulgence, treats, or even prosperity, health and long-life. God’s goodness is working relentlessly to save all those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, whose home is eternity and who are being transformed into the image of Christ day by day.

Today, I am called again to trust in God, not my own beliefs about him or denominational dogma and practice. I am called to trust all that I cannot know about him, all that lies hidden by the brilliance of his holiness, otherness, eternal nature and divinity.

Today, I can trust him, can step out in obedience into the unknown, can launch into deep waters with confidence, because he has promised to be loyally kind, utterly faithful in finishing what he began – ushering in a new creation, my future home, where I will dwell with Christ in glory. It is my part to obey, and his part to see that all things do indeed work together for my good – even if that doesn’t look good in the world’s eyes, or feel good to me.

The Lord will indeed do all that he pleases – will I trust and obey, working with him? Or will I fight, resist and make harder for myself and others along the way, losing all opportunities to bring him glory as my trust in him is revealed to be well-grounded?

Seeking substance and significance…

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.

You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O children.” For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. You sweep people away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning – though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.

We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due to you. Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 

Relent, O Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendour to their children.

May the favour, the beauty, 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)

If you haven’t done so, may I suggest that you read this psalm aloud to yourself now; read it slowly, perhaps several times, noticing different phrases and how they speak to you today, in the times which are currently your circumstances.

Are you full of plans and hopes for the future, confident and expectant for what lies ahead? Then perhaps the reminder of the fleeting day which is humanity’s lot is not welcome to you. Ultimately, none of us knows what tomorrow may brings, none can be sure that our plans will be realised, and it does us good to remember this, to humble ourselves before the one in whose hands all our days lie, for good or ill.

Are you weary with the situation in which you find yourself, seeking purpose and significance and yet finding only vanity and emptiness with nothing to show for your labour? Then take heart from the psalmist’s closing prayer – he knows exactly how you feel, and shares your sense that all is futile unless the Lord bless and give it substance. It is true that as the beloved, redeemed children of the Everlasting Father, we have no need to earn his acceptance by our labour – we receive all we need and abundantly more than that, by his grace through Jesus our Lord. BUT, since he is our maker as well as our Father, he surely knows and has placed in us that desire for significance, the hunger to leave our mark on history in some way.

The honesty and longing of this psalm are powerful in expressing the turmoil of our lives in the face of our short time on earth, and the limitations imposed on us by health, opportunities etc. We are in a relationship with eternity, and yet feel our temporality so acutely. What do we have to offer the one who birthed universes? What does the dust have to offer the author of the constellations?

We cannot enrich our God in any way; but we can respond to the love which he has lavished upon us by living in glad, trusting obedience, and bringing all our concerns to his feet – all the time, for everything that makes up our lives, and everyone who shares them. His love for us makes us significant; his joy in our obedience gives all our labour purpose and our endurance meaning. In everything we do, think and are, we have daily opportunities to respond to his love and to know that in so doing, we offer up a sacrifice of praise, an entirely appropriate and meaningful way of living which is of eternal significance.

The world around may write us off as cranks who live on a delusion; our lives may be limited (in the eyes of unbelievers) by illness, poverty, lack of the right education or skills. But in the eyes of God, who is from everlasting to everlasting – and therefore more significant than anyone who ever lived a human life – we matter, matter enough to be died for, matter enough to be transformed into the image of Christ and prepared for a new life in a new earth.  There our eternal significance will finally become fully clear to us, because we will be made of the stuff of eternity, we will have come home to be with our Lord for ever, sharing his life, his love and his family.

An unlikely asset in our mission..

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matt 28.18-20)

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua… “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan river into the land I am about to give to them…

I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous.. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

(Jos 1.5-9)

Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

(Matt 6.33&34, the Message translation)

Strategies, visions, special training programmes and extra staff…are those what we think the church needs to fulfill the great commission of her Lord? Or is it simpler than that?

When we read the story of Joshua, on the verge of entering into the land which God has promised to the people, and which it is their mission to take possession of, we expect to find God issuing instructions about military strategy and training, logistics and procedures. Instead, we find that Joshua is commanded to hold fast to the word of God, absorbing it into the very fibre of his being, so that his thoughts are coloured and shaped by it. This command lies at the heart of the great assurances of the first chapter of the book – and this means that they are the focus or highpoint of the chapter. God is effectively saying that if Joshua holds fast to all he learns about God in the book of the law, then he will be in exactly the right place to succeed in his mission. Nothing else matters as much as this foundational dependence.

Joshua’s commission came with the assurance of God’s presence. Our commission likewise, comes with Christ’s word that he will never leave or forsake us. He has authority to send us out – just as God’s authority sent Joshua into Canaan – to take possession of that which already belongs to him, namely all those for whom he died, the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ..

So, the challenge is to us to follow Joshua’s example. We have so much more than Joshua in terms of God’s revelation of himself through his word – we have the living Word himself! We have God’s authority, and his command, to go and make disciples, trusting that – as for Joshua and the people of Israel – God will go before, to fight the battles, break down the walls, and change the hearts of those whom we face.

It is as we live on, and by God’s word – committing every day and resource to him for his will and his glory; never assuming that he is following our agenda, but looking to be guided by the spirit; putting his interests before our own worries and preoccupations – that we find ourselves by the Lord’s side, on the victorious side, watching as he opens up the way and brings us into full possession of the kingdom which he has decreed will be our home.

May we be made bold and courageous as we fix our eyes on the Lord, so that as his word becomes our food and drink, our daily direction and focus is to be where he is working, loving those whom he loves, and believing that he will be glorified in our time.

Be strong and courageous my friends, for the Lord himself is with us and will never forsake us. In his name, let us live bold and obedient lives, for the battles belong to him, and the victory has been won!

Quiet confidence

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws…. you will be my people and I will be your God.

(Ezek 36.26-28)

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another counsellor to be with you for ever – the Spirit of Truth… The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. 

(Jn 14.15-17,25-27)

“.. but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.. you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses..

(Acts 1.4&8)

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

(2Cor 1.21&22)

So I say, live by the spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature… but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control..

(Gal 5.22&23)

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

(Eph 2.10)

How good and gracious is our God, and how abundant his provision for the people he has called into his family and his great work of redemption and re-creation!

As Jesus prepared his disciples for their future after his ascension, he told them that the great prophecies of God’s anointing and indwelling Spirit were shortly to come to pass. By that spirit, God’s people throughout all time to come could live in intimate fellowship with God, dwelling in joyful harmony and unbroken communication with him.

The Spirit is within us is a guarantee of our inheritance as beloved children – a first taste of what awaits us. The Spirit within us is our teacher, taking the words of scripture and applying them, making the book live to us and feeding our faith for the journey. The Spirit within us is our constant companion, bringing Christ alongside in every situation and interceding for us in our praying. The Spirit within us continually reminds us and points us to Christ, to his love, sacrifice, power and glory, so that we might grow in love for the Lord. The Spirit within is our counsellor, prompting us in our thoughts and actions to be obedient to God’s will, and to discern where and how we might join in God’s work. The Spirit within is also our power, divine enabling and provision for every good work which is prepared for us to do.

Friends, I do not think that this is a matter of feeling, but of fact. As those who have confessed Jesus as Lord, we are indwelt by the Spirit, God’s gift to his church so that we might live to glorify him and enjoy him forever. The gift is for our blessing, and for the growth of the kingdom, and as we live in faith that this is our reality, we can have confidence in God’s provision for every task to which we are called.

The apostles, after receiving the Holy Spirit, lived every moment of their lives in confidence that God would enable and provide for their needs. The handful of women and men who received that Spirit went on – in that power – to turn their world upside down, and birth the church of which we are the heirs. They were ordinary people, indwelt and loved by an extraordinary God – our God, who longs to work through us in the same way.

As we face the everyday, and also the extraordinary, things which God has put in our way, we can do so in confidence that we will have the help of the Spirit for every need. We do not start each task in fear, in case somehow the Spirit has abandoned us, but rather quietly commit ourselves to obedience and to glorifying our God as we go.

Am I living in fellowship with God? In so far as I know, am I obeying his commands and sensitive to his direction? Do I long to please him above all others? Then, let me go out in quiet confidence and thankfulness, rejoicing that I am living in the strength which God gives, that his power is at work in me, and that all I need to tackle each situation will be provided for.

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.