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‘X’ marks the spot

P1000328  Where do I find the source of the strength I need to face each day? Where do I find the joy in serving, and the refreshment to my spirit for each new task? Sometimes, our lives can seem so small, so full of trivialities, and we wonder if anything we do is worthwhile?

Last night, I was privileged to attend a meal and celebration marking the retirement from full-time employment in Scripture Union Scotland of a woman whom God has used mightily to advance His kingdom in our land. She has served SU for 33 years, involved in residential events, missions, development of new ministries, strategies for change and nurturing of countless leaders and young people along the way.

It was humbling to see the number and variety of people who assembled to pay tribute and express their love and appreciation to her. But it was glorious too, because ultimately, we were thanking God for all the ways He has gifted, sustained, led and enabled her in His work.

We are not all called to such high profile ministries, but we can be confident that this same God is our sustaining power, and take comfort from these words which were written to the Thessalonians:

So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honoured because of the way you live, and you will be honoured along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.”  (2 Thessalonians 1v 11&12)

What a privilege is ours, to be the means of bringing honour to the Lord who loves and saves us. It is not our strength or cleverness which achieves this by itself, but rather the power of God working through us. Our gifts and abilities are used most tellingly in His service when we surrender them to His direction, and engage in the “good works” to which our faith leads us.

Faith prompts us to believe that God loves and desires to save our friends, family and work colleagues – so we in turn love them, and by our actions, and words, seek to share that love and help them to encounter Christ. Faith tells us that this world is not all there is, but only rather the prologue to a grand adventure, beyond our imagining – so we can be content to serve, to put others first, to value the small and forgotten ones, knowing that we are not in any sense blowing our chances of a good time! Faith prompts us to believe that God provides for those He loves, and to see that everything we have is a gift – so we are free to share and give, not hoard and strive to acquire more.

And all this is possible because of the grace which is God’s endless gift to us, daily, hourly, minute by minute grace. Continually He loves us, forgives us, heals and comforts us, sets us back on our feet and on the road to walk another step closer to home. This is ‘X’, the spot where treasure lies, and not one which can be frittered away, but which is without limit, always sufficient for our needs. It is grace which fuels our labours, and enriches our pleasures, and helps us to see that nothing we do for God is ever wasted – whether that is on a small or a large scale. By grace, I am significant to the God of heaven, and He takes pleasure in my company – here is priceless wealth, and treasure indeed!

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be ours, now and forevermore.. Amen

New every morning…

There is P1010160a song which I learnt so long ago that I can’t remember, which is a straight quote from the book of Lamentations – chapter 3 v 22&23. It is simple, and yet also profound.. a statement of faith in our awesome God. When I am enjoying times of peace in life, of personal ease from pain or trouble and my loved ones are happy, this song comes easily. But when I am in trouble, when all around is bewildering in the depth and complexity of despair and destruction it presents, these words remain a reassuring statement of faith.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.”

These words were written by the prophet Jeremiah – not known for his frivolous approach to life, but rather as one who writhed in agony under the message he brought, and the pain he witnessed. Jeremiah saw dreadful things happening to the people of Israel and Judah, and he himself suffered in ways most of us will never know. Yet still he asserts the loving faithfulness of God. Did he know the words which the tormented soul of Job uttered after utter disaster had come upon him?- “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2, v10).

Were these men deluded? How can we assert the goodness of God in the face of pain, evil and darkness? The story of Job concludes with a stupendous encounter between the stubbornly faithful but despairing Job, and His great God, whom he refused to curse, yet struggled to praise in his pain. God never answers the questions which the poor man has poured out, but as if drawing back a curtain on the wonders of creation, challenges Job to think about how very very limited he is in relation to the limitless creator of the universe.

Time and again, I think believers find themselves here, utterly overwhelmed by the realities of our God in creation – its complexity, diversity, delicate balances and vast scale. We say with Job,” I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…. therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42, v3 & 4).

When I am in the darkness, I call to mind this picture, and remember that I am but dust, unable to comprehend God, or to see the truth as He can. I call to mind the cross, and remember that this great God did not remain remote from our suffering, but entered into it, more fully than I can ever understand, and that there our sorrows and griefs were laid upon him too. Jesus accepted pain and suffering from God, trusting that this was the right and only way to bring salvation, that even in this, God was faithful and his mercy would endure.

Let this example of trust in the steadfast love of the Lord be an encouragement in our own darkness, and as we pray for others in their distresses. And when we feel that we are walking again in pleasant places, we can sing the song with particular joy, knowing from experience that our God is faithful and reliable.

In loving arms

Sometimes, the child within  me becomes very tired and frightened, the effort of being brave and strong for others, of being patient and kind, giving without expecting anything in return, becomes too much. I want to run away and hide, to find that place where as a little one, I used to feel safe, and protected, a place to rest.

Yesterday, I saw a painting of a woman sitting with a child in her lap, a solid toddler, with heavy eyes and lolling head who was ready for sleep. The sense of heaviness in the child’s position really caught  my attention, and brought back those times when my own children would rest in my arms. When a little one is  tired and feels utterly secure, there is a particular kind of rest that comes to them, as every ounce of weight is relaxed into the arms that hold it. They stop holding themselves, and give the entire burden to the loving, surrounding presence.

And so I realised again, how blessed I am, because even as a grown woman, I have such a place of security to rest in. The God of heaven is my refuge, and not merely in the sense of a defence against danger, but also this loving, warm resting place. He knows my heart, and sees how like that tired child I am. There are many passages in the bible which talk about His care for His people, this one is particularly lovely:-

“In His love and mercy He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old”

Isaiah 63,9

These are the arms which surround us, which are bearing us even when we think we are alone with our burdens. As I struggle to bear the sorrows of those around me, or to find wisdom for a difficult decision, or feel grief for my own disappointments, my God is holding me. Will I let myself relax into that embrace, instead of sitting rigidly upright, tense and braced?

The apostle Peter writes to encourage early believers, and in turn also those of us come lately to the faith, telling them to “Cast all your anxiety on him“… and why can they do this? “Because he cares for you” (1Peter 5,7). Today, I choose to let go, to trust that the one who bears me, can bear my burdens also.

Today, let us take God at His word, and find rest for our souls as we are carried peacefully in His unfailing and intimately personal love for us.P1010432

A loud song!

Still waters

Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel!

Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem!

The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy…

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.

He will take great delight in you,

He will quiet you with his love,

He will rejoice over you with singing.

Zephaniah ch 3, v 14,15&17

The bible is full of songs and singing, and in most cases it is God’s people singing of and to him, in praise or lament, triumph and occasionally despair. I love to sing, I know that music is a gift which can bless both the maker and receiver of it, and that in lifting my voice I do a good thing. But here, God is described as singing over me, making music, making beauty, over me!

This soul, stumbling through her days, seeing her own weaknesses and faults, and weary of letting others down; this is one in whom God takes great delight. If only I could imprint this in the front of my mind, to carry it with me everywhere I go, like a shield against the wounds and struggles of life. When I feel useless and insignificant, this word tells me that God rejoices over me – not merely tolerating my presence, but like a lover, delighting in me, in who I am.

What kind of love is this?! Beyond our understanding, outshining our human loves as the sun blasts away all recollection of candlelight, enduring and unyielding, utterly to be relied upon. This love is what our souls need to rest in, where there is no need to strive or disguise our flaws in order to be accepted.

The One who loves like this is mighty to save; it is He who has turned back our enemy and taken away our punishment, so that we can be forever quiet and at peace – resting – in his love. He has done it,all for love of us. All praise and glory to his name, and may you find songs of gladness and thanksgiving on your lips through the days ahead.