Category Archives: waiting

On the way home

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock…. The path of the righteous is level; you make level the way of the righteous. In the path of your judgements, O Lord, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul. My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgements are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.. O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works.

(Isa 26.1-4,7-9 & 12)

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

(Jn 16.33)

As a follower of Jesus, I live in an in-between time, a waiting and watching time, and yet a time when my Lord commands my full commitment to living with and for him in the present and place where I am. For over two millenia, Christians have existed with this tension, and still we wait, reading history through the lens of God’s revelation of his ways with humankind, and discerning how as time goes by, the truth of that revelation is underscored again and again. Therefore, we wait in hope, as those who are confident in the fulfillment of their expectations and content to be busy meanwhile about their master’s business. I cannot know when he will return, but I want to be actively working and worshipping when he comes!

The passage in Isaiah is a meditation on what it is like to inhabit this now-and-not-yet state; to be saved and yet still live with temptations; to be on the victor’s side and yet still experience the pain and damage of warfare; to be transformed into God’s beloved children and yet still live in a world and with people who do not know him and with all the devastating consequences of sin. The believer recognises that peace is the gift of God, indeed, all that is needed for our salvation and eternal life is from God’s gracious hand. It is his choice to make us secure in his family and give us an inheritance in the city of salvation which he has made. It is by God’s grace that we are able to keep faith, in spite of sin and failing in this world, to go on desiring his glory and a better, closer, truer relationship with him every day.  

As we choose to live according to his judgements, accepting his definition of right and wrong, living within the boundaries which he lovingly appoints for us, we walk in his paths. As we choose to accept those troubles which he judges permissible, living in a fallen world, under all the consequences of our sins and those of others, accepting them by faith as his decrees and continuing to seek his glory and to obey him, then we walk in his paths. In both those kinds of walking, we are waiting for God to reveal himself through our lives to others – to demonstrate his grace and goodness and love and speak to them.

As I go into another year, with trouble on all sides and many voices clamouring for my attention, I pray that – with Isaiah – I might say the name and renown of the Lord is the desire of my heart, and that I yearn day and night to know and honour him more. I pray that I might trust that the peace which is my portion in Jesus is indeed fully mine – that I might face trials steadily and base my life in God’s promises and the knowledge that he makes my path smooth as I follow in faith where he leads. I am on the way home, to a glory, a love, a family all beyond my wildest dreams; let my heart therefore not be troubled as I walk through  this shadowy realm, waiting on the Lord in my spirit and finding him ever present as my unshakeable rock and salvation.

When it all comes together

Of the Father’s love begotten ere the worlds began to be, He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He, of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see, Evermore and evermore.

O that birth forever blessed, when the virgin, full of grace, by the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Saviour of our race, and the babe, the world’s redeemer, first revealed his sacred face, Evermore and evermore.

This is He whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord, whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word; now He shines, the long-expected; let creation praise its Lord, Evermore and evermore.

O ye heights of heaven, adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing; all dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King; let no tongue on earth be silent, every voice in concert ring, Evermore and evermore.

Christ, to Thee, with God, the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee, hymn and chant and high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be, honour, glory, and dominion, and eternal victory, Evermore and evermore.

(Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, 348-413; tr by JM Neale 1818-66)

There shall come forth  a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord… In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples – of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

(Isa 11.1,2&10)

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons

(Gal 4.4)

Shall I see with the eyes of faith today? Shall I choose to see through the edifice of human history and discern His story? Shall I choose with the prophets, shepherds and wise men, with Mary and Joseph, Anna and Simeon, to see in this baby the breaking through of God’s purposes after centuries of waiting?

Lord, grant me the eyes of faith, to recognise the wonder and glory of that first Christmas, when you were born to Mary, when the divine robed himself in mortality and helplessness, and dwelt among us. Veiled in flesh, your glory muted to accomodate our sinfulness and spare us from being burnt up by your holiness; thus you remained on earth for a few short years, and in that time, accomplished deliverance for ever for all who ever lived who will accept it!

I will rejoice today in the ever living One, who was and is and is to come, and who yet entered time and took on flesh, becoming like us in order to save us from ourselves and from his great enemy. I will rejoice today in the wonder and majesty of the purposes of God, formed before time began and steadily worked out through all the countless choices of humankind down the years, until the day dawns when all is wound up and made new. I will rejoice that Christmas is not just a feast for the darkest time of the year, not just a party for the children, not just a comfortable tradition, but is truly good news, life-changing news, is true light against utter darkness, and will never be overcome.

Now, today, in my heart, the light shines and I join creation in praising my Lord. Long his coming was expected, and how long we have waited for his return! Today, in my heart, I cry, “Come, Emmanuel, and take us home! You are our Saviour and King, and your resting place will be among us, and will be glorious; we have waited long, Oh come soon.”

Looking through..

In that day the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.. He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel.. There will be a highway for the remnant of his people …

In that day you will say: “I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. In that day you will say: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you .”

All you people of the world, you who live on the earth, when a banner is raised on the mountains, you will see it, and when a trumpet sounds, you will hear it.. At that time gifts will be brought to the Lord Almighty from a people tall and smooth-skinned, from a people feared far and wide, an aggressive nation of strange speech, whose land is divided by rivers – the gifts will be brought to Mount Zion, the place of the Name of the Lord Almighty.

In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the Lord at its border. It will be a sign and witness to the Lord Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors, he will send them a saviour and defender, and he will rescue them. So the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the Lord…. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed by Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.

(Isa 11.10,12&16; 12. 1-6; 18.3&7; 19.19&20,25)

Our ladies’ bible study is currently reading the book of the prophet Isaiah, and recent weeks have seen us immersed in foretelling disaster, destruction and suffering – grim stuff indeed. And yet, we have found much to encourage and inspire us as we get a better understanding of Isaiah’s double vision – of the immediate future for Judah, and also the long-term future of God’s purposes in the world. The realism of the prophet is comforting – echoing the world in which we live now, with human pride and power dominating the stage, and resulting (as it always has and always will) in misery. Isaiah never pretends that bad things are not going to happen to God’s people in this world, but what he does time and again is to remind them that what they are seeing is but a tiny glimpse – and a distorted one at that – of what is really going on.

God gave Isaiah many opportunities to intimate coming events which would validate his prophecy as from the Almighty. This encouraged the faithful in Judah to believe the bigger prophecies too, and to put their whole trust in God. In our turn, these prophecies encourage us to discern God’s purposes at work behind human actions, and the dazzling of power or the darkness of destruction. What is promised is wonderful beyond our imagining, a blazing vision of true power and authority wielded for good, by a perfect and just ruler, under whom all can dwell in perfect peace and fullness of life.

The One through whom God has appointed this deliverance to come is the Messiah – whom we know as Jesus, son of Mary, born into Joseph’s family and raised in Nazareth. He came to suffer and to die for us, to remove all the barriers that cut us off from God and to defeat the power which drives us continually away from God. BUT one day he will come again, this time as the Judge and King, as the banner to whom all the nations will rally and whose place of rest will be glorious! It is this future to which we look now, as we live between these first and second comings. And Isaiah’s prophecies still encourage us in this interim period, to look through our history and by faith to discern God at work.

We pray for the nations – like Egypt and Assyria – whose regimes resolutely oppose the revelation of God’s authority and power, because we see from the prophecies that their people too are God’s beloved handiwork, that they will worship him and find in him their salvation. There is no race or tribe or tongue which is excluded – not even our own godless nation!

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, let us take courage from Isaiah’s prophecies. Let us press on in endurance as the darkness deepens in a world besotted by human power. Let us believe in that darkness that divine light has dawned, and cannot be extinguished. Let us pray and work for the sharing of the gospel with everyone and rejoice that it was given even to us. Our songs of gladness and thanksgiving are our witness to the hope we have, so let us sing them loudly and stand firm!

Lessons from history..

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever.

(Isa 9.2,6&7)

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no-one deceives you. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of the birth-pains.”

(Matt 24.4-8)

“..The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you want. “

(Mk 14.7)

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

(Jn 18.36-37)

One of the things which most bewildered Jesus’ followers was his insistence that he was not a warrior or freedom fighter, that his mission was not the removal of Roman rule from Israel. It was not until after his death that they began to glimpse the truth, the glorious reality of an eternal freedom – not from mere human tyrants, but from the greatest enemy of humankind – death, and its handmaid, sin. Jesus always had his sights set on something greater than they could possibly imagine.

We are saved from sin and death in order to enjoy citizenship of God’s kingdom – and crucially, that kingdom surpasses every human kingdom that has ever existed, in glory, justice and duration. When human beings dream of a world without fear, oppression, suffering and sin, they are tempted to believe that if only we could fix ourselves – through education, through better technology, through justice and equality – then we would realise that dream.

This has never been possible – that is why Jesus came to die for all who would believe and accept his remedy for the blight of our brokenness and rebellion. The kingdom of which we dream will one day be realised, when God winds up time, and ushers in a new creation, where his children are welcomed in to live with him forever.

In the meantime, we should listen to Jesus’ words to his disciples, as he warned them of the darkness that would continue to haunt human life until he returned. Wars, natural disasters, political upheaval, and all the poverty and suffering that goes with such things – all these things dominate our media, and people react as though they are somehow surprising, new and in some way avoidable! They have been part of human history for as long as it is recorded. Our species spends itself, in every age, in conflict, in oppression, in exploiting the world’s resources and its people. These open wounds in the experience of our race are – according to Jesus – normal. They are the inevitable consequence of sin. And we are not to be alarmed, but to hold fast to his promises, obediently working and praying for his return and the final elimination of all that lies at the root of suffering.

Please don’t misunderstand my words. I am in no way saying that suffering doesn’t matter. But, we are not to be unsettled by these things, not to allow them to unseat our faith and make us doubt God’s goodness. He is working on a bigger stage and scale than we can possibly comprehend, and one day, when he reveals the new kingdom, we will no longer have to trust, but will see for ourselves. And then, our response will be to worship in fear and trembling – that we should be loved and saved and adopted by such a God, for such a purpose! Then we will join with the numberless throng in praising our King, resting in his love, and all the pain and darkness will be swallowed up in light.

Music ..while we wait?…

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.  I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.

(Ps 130)

Praise the Lord. Praise the name of the Lord; praise him, you servants of the Lord, you who minister in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God. Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praise to his name for that is pleasant..

(Ps 135 1-3)

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..be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Eph 5.15-19)

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say, ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us..and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

(Ti 2.11-14)

The concept of ‘waiting’ recurs throughout the bible, as a major part of our relationship with God and his purposes in creation and redemption. Consider the way that Abraham was called to wait upon God’s timing in fulfilling the promise of a son by Sarah – and the unintended consequences when Abraham became impatient and acted on his own (and Sarah’s) initiative. Consider the years which lay between David’s anointing as king of Israel and his final accession to the throne, while he waited for God to deal with Saul, and tried to keep out of trouble. Consider the generations who lived and died, ‘waiting’ for God to deliver the people from exile back to Israel, and those like Isaiah who prophesied of a glorious future for the land and people, but died before seeing it..

God himself waited, until the time was right for the birth of Jesus, and even now is waiting patiently, extending the offer of grace and the good news of Jesus to all who will believe, because he is unwilling that any should perish. He is still waiting, until just the right time comes to finally wind up this broken creation and make everything new – including us – so that his rule and reign can be fully realised. Jesus himself, as a human being, waited for decades before embarking upon his short ministry, trusting God’s timing and willing to submit to the years of quiet, hidden faithfulness and training.

It is so hard for us to wait, especially when what we are longing for appears to us to be entirely in accordance with God’s revealed purposes – perhaps the salvation of a loved one, the establishment of a new ministry to particular people, the creation of a new resource to share the gospel, the end of particularly bloody, destructive warfare or oppression, the restoration of the planet’s resources…whatever your particular longing is!

In my own struggle with this ‘waiting’, with unfulfilled hopes, I find Psalm 130 particularly comforting in its honesty and encouragement. The psalmist reminds himself- and me – of God’s qualities, encouraging trust and confident hope. With God – my God, your God – there is forgiveness of sin, so that we can know and serve him without fear of judgement. With God – your God, my God – there is unfailing love,  that rich promised reliability and intent to bless which underlies the covenant promises on which God’s people rely down the ages. We look at the evidence, and as we see Jesus on the cross, at the empty tomb, and ascending into glory, we see the lengths to which unfailing love will go for me, for you, and we can have peace in the face of trouble.

I cannot know just how long my waiting will last – will I trust the one who has said ‘Wait, and see what I will do’?. With God – my God, your God – there is perfect redemption, so that I can respond to his love, unburdened by guilt, and free to make the most of the time I have to share the gospel, live a life worthy of his name, and praise him in all I am and do.

Heavenly Father, have mercy on your child in her impatience. Grant that profound trust in your ways, and your timing, which is your gift and her desperate need. Set her free to give thanks to you for everything, singing as she waits and doing good in your name to your glory and the blessing of your work in this needy world.

Seasonal labour..

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)

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

(Ps 126.4-6)

Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.

(Ps 127.1)

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:..a time to plant and a time to uproot…a time to tear down and a time to build…a time to mourn and a time to dance..a time to search and a time to give up..a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate…

(Eccl 3.1-8)

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, baptising 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)

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour For we are God’s fellow-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

(1 Cor 3.7-9)

I was blessed this week to spend time with a wise woman – one who has walked long with God and proved his faithfulness – who encouraged and helped me as I wrestled with the heaviness of these days. God grant that I may be such a friend in turn to others in their need, as he uses us to bless one another! Two things in our conversation were particularly helpful and also connected with recent readings in the Psalms, and I share them with you now.

Firstly, the idea of seasons. As a gardener, I come close to the rhythm which God has placed at the very heart of our planet, and the mysteries of soil, water and life. I know that a seed must die if a plant is to live and bear fruit; I know that ground must lie fallow in between crops; I know that rain, cold and time must be allowed to do their work on soil which has been cleared and fertilised. There are activities which are proper to each season, and it is pointless and even destructive to engage in the wrong labour for that time – where would be the use in digging up daffodil bulbs to see if they are going to flower only 3 weeks after planting them? Those days call for expectant and patient waiting, not faithless digging!

As one who believes in a God who declares himself both Almighty and Sovereign, so that EVERYTHING that happens comes within the sphere of both his knowledge and great plan and purpose, I choose to trust him for this season in our world’s existence. I cannot know how long it will last, nor what will follow – perhaps there will be a time of glorious harvest as many find faith and hope in Jesus, what joy that would be! But this whole time – the political, economic, ecological, moral and social turmoil across the globe – is under his dominion, is part of his plan. I will only find peace in this season as I choose to accept that sovereignty, trust that He will prove his goodness and justice one day, and look for the ways He is already at work in it.

And this brings me to the second idea we spoke of – the choice to focus on what CAN be done in this season, rather than on what CANNOT be done! Yes, there are many restrictions on us, and our lives are not what we expected at this time. But that doesn’t mean that we are helpless and aimless, that God has nothing for us to do! I cannot say what your particular tasks in this season will look like – each of us has a unique place and a particular calling as God’s fellow workers – but they will be there.

Listen – to God’s word, ponder and be open to correction and surprises..to the stories of God’s people around the globe, let the stories of your brothers and sisters inspire and encourage and motivate you.

Pray – talk to Him about everything and everyone, asking for direction to be active and in tune with His plans.

Live – act on what you read and hear – love those around you, reach out to encourage and bless; rejoice in the life you have been given, instead of resenting what is withheld.

We look to God, as to our master, to see where He would have us act; remembering that it is He who builds, not us, He who gives life and increases the kingdom, not us. We may weep as we sow, but God can still grant fruit and we may hope for joy in harvesting .

Longing and belonging..

When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens..the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

(Gen 2.4&7)

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?..You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings..made him ruler over the works of your hands…all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea…O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

(Ps 8.3-9)

Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity

(Ps 98.7-9)

I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God..”Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God…I did not see a temple in the city because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple…The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city..

(Rev 21.2&3;22, 22.3)

Almighty God, how I rejoice in your works today! I worship you, maker of so much more than I can ever comprehend or imagine, and I glory in my God.

The wonder of your creativity continues to astound us, from the tiniest sub-particles, to the apparent infinities of space – and all of this is by your design. This is the setting for your plan to create and enjoy fellowship with us – how could we ever have imagined such a destiny, such a glorious purpose?! Thank you for revealing yourself to us, for unveiling this glorious destiny, and above all for making it possible through Jesus for us to fulfill it.

In my heart, I know that I was made for this world, and yet for so much more. When I read that I am a dust-child, frail as grass and easily perishing, I recognise the truth of my transience. And yet, I also know that I live by the breath of God, my very being protests against the idea of annihilation, and thrills at the prospect of a life more vivid, fulfilling, glorious and perfect than any this world can offer. I was created to know, and to be known by eternal love, to be at home in a place where heaven and earth embrace, where God dwells with his children in joy and peace

I love this world; it is my home, the place was made to be just right for humankind by the author of all good things, and he does not make mistakes. So I can find a proper joy in the world which God has gifted to us, rightly reluctant to leave it and delighting to recognise the fingerprint of my master in every detail. Creation itself has so much to teach us – even though we have spoiled it so badly. Praise of the maker rises at every point of the compass, in every reach of every universe, directing honour and glory to God and obedient to his commands. Would that my own life more and more did the same, pointing others to my creator and saviour, prompt in obedience and satisfied with his providence for me! I make it so complicated, and long for a purer, steadier faith.

I am at home here and yet homesick for something more..and how precious to us are those visions and promises in God’s word which give glimpses of that home for which we are ultimately destined! Our resurrection bodies will belong in our new-made earth, in the place where at last God will live with his beloved children and they with him – with no shame, no pain, no fear – every longing satisfied and the constant presence of our beloved Lord to enjoy.

So what does all this mean for my daily walk, the round of duties, opportunities and occupations which fill my time? Primarily, it is something which I talk to my Lord about – a great deal – bringing the tension between now and not yet to him. What sweet relief to share the burden, with one who made me and knows me, and gives daily gifts in love to sustain me! I find great joy in the world around me, and choose to trust that although I cannot begin to imagine a new-made earth, that my God knows how it is going to work and it will be PERFECT.

When the sinister, sickening and pathetic realm of human affairs threatens to overwhelm me, I take courage for the day from this. God, who made all this to give us a home, who sent Christ to make me right in holiness and purity, is not going to fail in the end. Truth, justice and love will see to it that every promise is fulfilled, and I can trust his ways and his timing.

 

when the heart breaks…

All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations – people who continually provoke me to my very face..

(Isa 65.2&3)

How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralysed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.

(Hab 1.1-4)

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me.

(Mic 7.7)

‘..But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’ ‘”If you can”?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the boy”s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’

(Mk 9.22&23)

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation..The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish..But the day of the Lord will come…

(2Pet 3.3&4,9)

Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice…For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.

(Ps 72.1&2,12-14)

I believe that I am made by God for a purpose – perhaps several purposes – and that my character, temperament, strengths and weaknesses are deliberately crafted by my maker. I therefore choose to accept what may feel like weakness, vulnerability, even what some might call ‘over-sensitivity’ as part of my calling. I believe that as a creature made for a specific time in history by God, made in his image and reflecting his character, I can be an instrument for his glory and the blessing of the church.

At the moment, I am aware of a strong, even an overwhelming urge for lamentation. I find myself echoing the words of psalmists and especially of the prophets, who were commissioned to speak God’s truth into particular situations.

As I consider the plight of our world today – politically, economically, socially, environmentally, morally…in every way, we are in an almighty mess of our own making. Every day brings fresh evidence of what happens when humanity deliberately chooses to abuse the gifts of God in creation and in ourselves. We were formed by God to be his stewards – to exercise authority in his name and on behalf of the good of all creation. Instead, we have consistently chosen to exercise authority in our own name, and in our own way – inevitably at the expense of others.

I believe that God has not abandoned us, that he is as good and powerful as when he first formed our universe, and that his purposes remain – to create a place where heaven and earth meet, where he can live in fellowship with his people. I also see that in his providence, God is choosing to allow many days to pass before he finally returns in Jesus to judge all humanity, to deal forever with evil, and to inaugurate that full realisation of his perfect kingdom.

Christians have wrestled with this ‘waiting time’ ever since Jesus ascended into glory; we long to see the end of suffering, pain, degradation and destruction. We long to see God glorified and Jesus exalted, but instead the world around increasingly and aggressively rejects and mocks the very idea of an Almighty. We long for justice to be done, and seen to be done, but instead we watch as evil wreaks havoc over and over, cycles of violence and corruption are repeated, and it seems the cry of pain going up from our planet to the throne of God must be unbearable.

I have no easy response to my situation; I believe that God calls us to feel and see in some small measure that he is troubled beyond our imagination by the mess of the world, so that we might also share the urgency of his commission to us to share the good news while we can. I should not rush to silence the spirit of lamentation, but like the prophets, bring it to God and sit in his presence with my pain, frustration and doubts.

We live in a broken world, how can we begin to really offer good news unless we are willing to see the extent of the brokenness (including our own)?

May God grant us courage to accept the pain of sharing his love for this beautiful and broken world, and its millions of people – each one made in his image, for an eternal destiny, and desperately needing to embrace the hope he offers for life in Jesus, the true King and royal son…

Not tame…but good!

Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm…”Brace yourself..I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand…On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?..Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this…”

(Job 38.1-4,6&7,16-18)

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

(Ps 8.1)

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.

(Ps 19.1&2)

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see….By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

(Heb 11.1&3)

I do not see the point of so many things – slugs and midges, the common cold, why hair has to turn grey or fall out, hiccups and stinging jellyfish..I don’t understand so much of God’s ways in the world – tyrants, war and misery apparently unchecked, human morality veering ever further from God’s principles, God’s apparent inaction in the face of people rejecting and reviling him. And I also don’t understand beauty, the persistent presence of goodness, truth, kindness and selflessness in the midst of chaos, pain and darkness.

But Jesus never said we would understand – he reminded his disciples that their faith should be like that of little children, who depend implicitly upon those who have power to protect and provide for them. Our faith in God is not because we understand what he is doing right now, or can predict what he will do next – we are not qualified to participate in the divine work at that level! Ours is a humbler role – which presumably is why humanity as a whole rejects it, our pride rebels against things we cannot understand and (by implication) control.

By faith, we depend upon God to be true to himself – the character revealed in creation, in scriptures and uniquely in Jesus himself. We do not and should not try to comprehend him, but rather recognise the wild, glorious goodness and power revealed in the Maker of this incredible world; who yet is also the crushed and bleeding man upon the cross.

In his Narnia books, CS Lewis cautions us against trying to fit God into our own image and understanding, as through the character of the great lion Aslan, he reveals one who is good, and yet not tame, one before whom we will rightly fall in trembling worship only to find ourselves utterly secure and safe in his presence.

When I am overwhelmed by the weight of the world’s troubles, tempted to doubt and despair, feeling helpless and ashamed that I cannot see God’s transforming work and have no answers to give to those who mock my faith – then I focus on two things. Firstly on the marvellous universe in which we live – God’s magnificent challenge to Job brings me such fierce joy as I share some of my Creator’s delight in the mysteries of the physical world. Secondly on the cross – the place where almighty power appeared in absolute weakness and conquered sin and death for ever, where the wild, unimagineable power of my God was fully revealed.

Let me be content to be mocked by more sophisticated minds, as I choose to make this God my foundation for life and hope. Let me be steadfast in reverent worship of the one who called the morning stars into being, and who has walked the recesses of the ocean! Lord, let me have total confidence in you; for although your ways are wild and strange to me, yet I believe in your goodness, because of Calvary. How I long for the day when  your name will be vindicated before all people; when your justice will be celebrated not derided and when faith will no longer be needed, for we shall see and live with you for ever….come Lord, come soon!

Crushed? not quite..

Before the mountains were born or you  brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God…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 men away in the sleep of death..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.

(Ps 90.2,4,5,11&12)

The Lord, the Lord Almighty, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn…He who builds his lofty palace in the heavens and sets its foundation on the earth, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land – the Lord is his name.

(Am 9.5&6)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 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…For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2Cor 4.6-8,17&18)

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. (Ps 90.13&14)

From the hospital corridors, the deathbeds, and the mortuaries; from the pharmacies and the hospital auxiliaries locker rooms…the cry goes up, How long!? Doctors and nurses are being crushed by the strain of their labours, by making decisions about who will be given treatment and who will not, by finding themselves incapable, through lack of resources, of offering the care which they are pledged to give. They are violating their calling, and there is no sign of the burden decreasing.

From the homes of the small business owners, the self-employed, in private despair and hopelessness, they contemplate the loss of dreams, income, provision for their families, security for the future. The cry goes up, How long?! The livelihoods and mental health of millions around the world are under threat, and the burden of responsibility for others is crushing our traders, our craftsmen and women.

From the chaotic homes of far too many children, where there is no order, no security, no nurture, only threat of violence, neglect and abuse of every kind, the cry goes up, How long? So many social workers and educators know all too well that they have shut up millions of young people in places and with adults who are far from good for them, and the damage which is even now being done is incalculable. The burden of pain, fear and destruction is crushing our most vulnerable.

From the corridors of government, where decisions are being made without adequate information, where there is no precedent to guide, and where the consequences are unimaginable, the cry goes up How long?! Politicians and leaders of every nation are scrambling to protect, provide and somehow salvage something from the wreckage, wondering all the while how history will judge them, and what hope will remain for the future…The burden of responsibility is ferocious and relentless, and where can they find courage to go on bearing it?

Heavenly Father, as your children, we are given your heart of love for this fallen and broken world, and so we share in some measure the pain which is being experienced in acute measure by millions – and we taste the fear which permeates every conversation and fresh  news bulletin describing the progress of this affliction around the world. Help us to continually cast this burden of pain and fear upon you – we cannot bear it, and are not meant to, but it ought to drive us to prayer.

Heavenly Father, as we see the destruction and loss, and glimpse the future consequences of this event, we quail, and tremble for our planet. All too many are already using this pandemic event as another reason to not only dismiss you, but to belittle and deride our faith in you. Your name is not being glorified in this by those who cannot and will not recognise your lordship, but rather you are cursed for not caring enough. We do not have ready answers to those who curse and dismiss, and we know that in their eyes we are fools for trusting you.

Dear Lord and Father of all mankind, as your servants strive to trust you in these days, to model hope and love, may you have mercy on this planet. Accomplish all that you have purposed to do through this pandemic, and may it bring glory to your name. And Lord, for all those already breaking, mourning, despairing, impoverished, we pray – in your power O God, have mercy and bring them to the only true ground for hope. May millions yet turn to you in faith and find Christ, with all the light of your glory shining in his face.