Category Archives: wisdom

Wisdom for living…a constant prayer

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord. 

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant….The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare…Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you.

(Ps 25.4-10,14&15, 20&21)

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it its the Lord’s purpose that prevails…The fear of the Lord leads to life: then one rests content, untouched by trouble.

He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honour

(Prov 19.21&23;21.21)

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’s tales; rather train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

(1 Tim 4.7&8)

I am not by nature a particularly confident person, which has proved a help to me in many ways as a follower of Jesus. In my diffidence, I readily look to others for advice and help, distrusting my own wisdom and abilities. I love to be taught by people whose wisdom and gifts unfold scripture clearly and effectively; I enjoy sharing my thoughts with experienced and strong believers whose advice helps me to understand and think clearly about a situation. The fellowship of believers enables me to gain from others gift’s even as I serve them in different ways, and this is a great strength.

I recognise however that I cannot shirk responsibility for my own understanding of my faith and the life to which I am called, in response to the love of God to me in Jesus. I am gifted to a degree, and must put those gifts and abilities to work for my Lord, trusting that while I may not achieve much compared to others, yet I owe him my best. For this reason, I have loved reading in Proverbs over recent weeks, with the continual exhortation to gain and grow in wisdom, and repeated assurances that this is pleasing to God and beneficial to myself but also to my fellow believers. Psalm 25 is a hymn to the God of wisdom, celebrating his gifts to us and praying for that teachable spirit which is humble and open to correction. It reads to me like a song for my life, a life-long learning of what it looks like to live as a forgiven and transformed human being.

In desiring wisdom for living, we seeks to grow in godliness, so that all we say and do are glorifying to our God, and beneficial to those around us. And as I grow older, I am aware that others might give my words more weight than they should, simply because they think I am wiser – let alone being the minister’s wife, which some seem to think gives instant spiritual discernment (sadly not!). I want to grow in confidence that as I speak and act, God is working in and through me to his glory and the growing of his kingdom. I want to grow in assurance that I am helping not hindering his work and that I am responsive to the Spirit within as I speak to others of Christ and the kingdom. 

Let us then continue to pray for wisdom, to trust that God is teaching us as we study the scriptures, and cheerfully speak and act as those who are saved and forgiven. As we cherish the love of God in Jesus, as we rejoice in the righteousness of the Almighty, we will live to honour him and prosper in his riches – the only ones that matter. We will know that peace which he alone gives, to those who depend upon him through every trouble and trust his plans and purposes to prevail.

 

Get wisdom..

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..Blessed is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding..By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew…Get wisdom, get understanding..wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

(Prov 3.5,6,13,19&20; 4.5,6&7)

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord – and he will delight in the fear of the Lord…with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth..

(Isa 11.2-4)

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

(Matt 13.45&46)

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of  God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe..For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength…It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

(1 Cor 1.20&21,25,30)

We spend our lives today in a culture which continually bombards us with information, more ‘stuff’ comes to our attention in a few hours than our ancestors would deal with in many years – but has this made us wiser?

Our lives are increasingly dependent on complex technologies, and the advancement of science has enabled astonishing achievements in medicine, communication, and industry – but has this made us wiser?

Knowledge is not wisdom. Understanding is not necessarily wisdom. I believe that wisdom is what we do with what we know and understand – how does it inform our thinking, underpin our values, change our choices?

I believe that the Creator of our universe has woven his wisdom as well as his knowledge and understanding into the very fabric, the sustaining power that keeps us all here. True wisdom then will be in tune with what is made, will chime with the Creator’s vision for his handiwork, and will contribute to its flourishing. The author(s) of the book of Proverbs urge their audience to get wisdom, at any cost, in order to navigate the path of life in accordance with the great Author of all life – and to ‘get’ wisdom is to internalise and absorb it, so that without effort, our thoughts are running in harmony with God’s will.

Ultimate wisdom is to know oneself – and as a Christian, I believe this means to know my own situation as a sinner in the presence of a holy God. I cannot earn my safety by rule-keeping, because I am incapable of it. I cannot bribe or cajole this transcendant and mighty judge into reducing my sentence for good behaviour, his righteousness and integrity make that impossible.

The pearl of great price, the treasure which is worth everything I have, is this wisdom – to know that God has chosen to do for me what I cannot do for myself, and to accept that gift. It will take all that remains of my life in this fallen world to assimilate that gift, to learn day by day, a little more of what it looks like to live as one who is totally forgiven, washed clean and renewed within by God’s own presence. And, how marvellous is this, I am assured that Christ himself, God’s wisdom incarnate – is my own wisdom, my beautiful and beautifying adornment and jewel. Because I have Christ, I am decked in finest garments, fit for the presence of Almighty God, crowned with honour and bearing the pearl of perfection.

The diamond drops furring the rose are a transient reflection of the glory with which I am clothed now in God’s presence. I am a sweet perfume before him, because I have Christ, the wisdom of God.

Father God, how I thank and praise you today for this greatest of gifts, this priceless treasure of your wisdom in Christ Jesus, my Lord. Thank you that I can trust you to be at work in me today, saturating my heart and mind with your wisdom so that increasingly I think and speak and act in full accordance with your will. May I rejoice and delight in this gift, giving all the honour and glory to you, as I live in the freedom, hope and joy which is mine through your wisdom in Christ.

A too familiar path..

Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple…Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name. Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. Redeem me from the oppression of men, that I may obey your precepts. Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your decrees.

(Ps 119.129&130, 131-135)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope..O 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 130.1-5, 7&8)

When Christ came as high priest…He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption…For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, – now that he has died as a ransom to set them free…Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people… 

(Heb 9.11,12,15,27&28)

‘Let no sin rule over me’…surely this is a prayer which we could make every day for the rest of our lives as followers of Jesus, because until we are raised in glory, there will be daily tests and trials which will bring to light the deep-seated and persistent sins which can subtly and irresistibly lead us into trouble and away from the Lord.

I am particularly prone to the sin of despair, or hopelessness, and the enemy of my soul knows it well! So I should not have been surprised when I recently experienced a veritable ‘tsunami’ of thoughts and feelings about the many ways in which I have failed those whom I love best. The darkness of such experiences comes on so quickly, and is so absolute that before I realised it, I was drowning in self-pity and self-condemnation, focussed entirely on myself, on the memories of failure, and the consequences of it. I have been on this path before, far too many times, and I suspect that I will return to it again regularly in the days ahead. But perhaps it is time that I learnt to deal with the experience a little better, so that when the wave hits, I no longer crumble under its weight or get tossed and bruised in its turmoil..

When my thoughts condemn me, listing the shameful and painful memories, the psalmist exhorts me to turn to God’s word. That word which gives light, and brings understanding to the simple – even the persistently foolish and forgetful! In the word I find that with God, there is forgiveness of sin – and this is no glib brushing over, but rather a full, sacrificial payment for everything I have done, and will do yet, which is not His will. I am reminded that the Lord’s love is unfailing – which means it never runs out, nor can my persistent failure exasperate him to the point of giving up on me! This both astonishing and profoundly reassuring, when I recognise my own weakness and tendency to repeat my mistakes..

Since I am forgiven, and will be forgiven again, and again…and again; since I am loved with an unfailing love – which is patient and kind, which keeps no record of wrongs, which protects, and trusts and perseveres – I can hope! Hope for answers to prayers for mercy, for direction in daily living, for deliverance from persistent sin so that I can obey my Lord and bring him gladness.

God’s perfect love keeps no record of my sins – so when I am next accused in this way, I can remember that it is the enemy who is behind it, and can stand against him because of the perfect redemption bought by Jesus. God’s perfect love perseveres – so when I am overwhelmed by the consequences of my failures in the lives of those whom I love best, I can remember that they too are loved by God, and his power in their lives is infinitely greater than all my mistakes! Can the Almighty not accomplish all that he purposes? Who am I, that wounds which I inflict should be beyond his healing?! May God help me to recognise the foolish pride which lies behind such thinking, and to repent of it, even as I pray his mercy on those whom I have hurt.

As I face a new week, walking familiar paths, I pray with the psalmist that the Lord might make his face to shine upon me, and by that light, I will walk more steadily, humbly and obediently…

Which way lies wisdom?

Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counsellor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way?…”To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name…The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no-one can fathom.

(Isa 40.13&14,25&26,28)

The message that points to Christ on the cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,

“I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head, I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.”

So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb – preaching, of all things!- to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

While Jews clamour for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle – and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself – both Jews and Greeks – Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”

(1 Cor 1.18-25, in The Message paraphrase, by Eugene Peterson)

There is reasonable evidence in historical sources to verify the existence, some 2000 years ago, of a man who caused a brief stir in an obscure corner of the Roman empire. He made some outrageous, even laughable, claims, alongside some persuasive moral teaching, and generally stirred up the Jewish religious establishment enough to provoke them to contrive an unjust trial and execution, with the connivance of the Roman governor of the day. The subsequent rumours of his resurrection and so-called ‘ascension’ are clearly nonsense, such things don’t happen. Nonetheless, his teachings, and the Jewish scriptures to which they frequently refer, have been preserved, translated and form the basis for a faith movement which continues to grow..Isn’t is all another example of the foolishness of human beings who can’t bring themselves to take full responsibility for their own lives and actions?..How on earth could the life, death and resurrection (if such a thing were even possible) of one man (and he deluded enough to believe himself divine), make any difference to humanity and the problems we face? It makes no sense…

That is one way of looking at the story…is it yours? Does this way give you peace, contentment, hope, ambition for change and the motivation to believe in better? Does this way deal with shame, guilt, all the messiness of living in a broken world? Does it account for what we see day by day unfolding around us as humanity in its pride continues to fail and plumb new depths? 

What if, just maybe, Jesus’ story is true? What if the ‘absurdity’ of a God who claims to reveal himself to the world he made, and the people whom he loves, is actually the absolute reality? What if the life, death and resurrection of the God-made-man, Jesus, is really the means by which our individual, inherent rebellion against God can be undone, and we can be made new, clean and wholesome, with hope for an unimaginable future of joyous life with one who loves us completely? What if those who choose to be considered foolish for the sake of the crucified and risen Christ are actually the wisest? 

They will not be able to give you answers to all your questions – they can’t answer all their own questions! But they will tell you that in believing that Jesus Christ is God, made man, who died to take the blame for all that they have done (and will do) wrong, they have been transformed. They will tell of a friend who walks with them through every storm; of a healer whose love and wisdom has dealt with wounds and scars from years of guilt and pain; of a champion whose strength defeats the enemy of their peace.

The good news about Jesus Christ takes the brokenness of this world, of humanity very seriously, and deals with it head on. Easter is when the church around the world remembers especially the fierce climax of the contest, and celebrates the absolute victory of her Lord over all the powers at work against him. The church affirms that the wisdom of an Almighty Creator cannot be grasped by the puny minds of his creatures, and rejoices in the mystery and majesty of the Eternal.

Is it wisdom, or foolishness? That depends on your perspective..from where I stand, the only way into the peace, joy and hope which I desire, to the healing of this precious world, is from the foot of the cross, where human pride dies, and in total surrender of human wisdom. I am glad to be counted a fool for Jesus, to set aside human wisdom, and to put all my faith in the ‘absurdity’ of Almighty God. What about you?

Not just good…but best

Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

(Ps 37.1-4)

[Jesus ..prayed] Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent..I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one..sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

(Jn 17.3,14-17)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish..In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith…may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed…

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

(1 Pet 1.3-6,13-16)

Sometimes, we find ourselves wondering why God doesn’t answer our prayers in the ways we want. We are asking for good things for ourselves and for other people, and yet God ordains other outcomes than we desire and we resent what feels like his hardness of heart..

I was recently challenged about my own weakness in this regard, reminded that God may have higher priorities than mine and that while I may desire good things, He seeks the best for all his children. What is that ‘best’ which inspires all God’s working together for good, through time and across the nations?

The whole narrative of the bible reveals a God who desires to dwell with people who love him, rejoice in and worship him – who bear his name to great honour and glorify him in all they do. This is not because of some power-hunger in God, but because – having fashioned us- he knows that this is our truest fulfilment, the ideal for which we are made. So long as we pursue our own goals before God, we will remain broken and unsatisfied. Of ourselves, we are incapable of breaking the power of sin in our lives which keeps us from living for and with God. So Jesus came and by his sacrificial death broke the power of sin. All who trust in that wholly effective blood payment, who recognise that only Jesus can save them, are brought to life, are newborn into God’s family and not only experience freedom and forgiveness in this life, but have a certain hope of an eternal life of unimagineable richness and fulfilment.

God’s best for us – as part of his overarching plan for new creation – is our salvation from sin, and our sanctification, our growing holiness and Christ-likeness. While the wealth, health and happiness which the world desires may be good things, they are not the most important, and indeed will distract, ensnare and pollute faith and holiness if not kept under the lordship of Jesus.

When I pray for good things for others, and for myself, I need to remember that if these things are not conducive to salvation and sanctification, then God will not grant them. Our God works through pain, loss, suffering and disorientation to bring people to the point of recognising their helplessness in sin, and their need of Jesus. Should I pray for things that will prevent them from responding to the gospel? Surely not!

The many crises currently enveloping our world are a source of much suffering and anxiety – this is undeniable. BUT they are also opportunities for people to reach an end of their self reliance, their faith in humanity, and to call out to God who alone can hear and save them.

In my bewilderment at the many trials which are going on around me, I am challenged to pray for God’s will to be done – for the salvation of many, the deep maturing of faith and growth in holiness as the saints choose to trust God in this great upheaval.

May I learn to desire that which really matters, for myself and those I love, for my wider community and the whole world – that I may truly say (with Paul)..”I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”(Phil 3.8)

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 .

The beloved voice….

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”….the Lord was not in the wind…the Lord was not in the earthquake…the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. when Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

(1 Kin 19.11-13)

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic..the voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.The voice of the Lord shakes the desert..The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare, and all in his temple cry, “Glory”.

(Ps 29.3,4,7-9)

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life.

(Ps 42.8)

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.

(Zeph 3.17)

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

(Jn 10.27-30)

A few weeks ago, I had the extraordinary experience of hearing – in quick succession – the voices of the three ministers who shaped my faith and life for my first thirty years. They had been recorded at a conference, and my husband was playing the recording to illustrate something to our daughter. I had to ask him to stop the recording, as I found that I was weeping and couldn’t bear to listen anymore – it had been such a surprise, and I was not prepared for it. Why should I cry to hear them? All three are now in glory with the Lord they served so faithfully, having lived long and rich lives to the blessing of untold numbers. And yet it hurt to hear them…

When people whom we love, and to whom we have owed a great deal are gone, any reminder of them is precious and also painful. Voices are such a distinctive part of personalities, and until they are silenced, we perhaps don’t realise how well we know them and how much they conjure up the speaker. And it is extraordinary how instant recognition can be, even for those we have not heard for a long time. Sometimes I wonder whether we shall sound the same in our new bodies in the new earth, so that we may recognise one another in a crowd again…

The pain and pleasure of those recollections set me thinking about all the ways the voice of God is used in Scripture. We have a communicating God, Hallelujah! We are not left to wonder what to do, or whom to worship, but hear from him in many ways…..God spoke with Adam and Eve in the garden, sharing in their life and enjoying their company. God spoke in dreams and visions, through angels and prophets directing his people and sharing his heart. God speaks in creation, in power and vision, in infinite detail and providential creativity for the sustaining of life. God thunders, and he whispers; and sometimes he is silent so that his people might learn to hunger for his voice again, and repent of their rebellion and rejection of him. God speaks intimately to the hearts of his children – singing lullabies over us, songs of deliverance and gladness in our relationship to him.

Do we know his voice well enough? When there is a cacophony of noise, competing claims on our attention and conflicting opinions on what is right, can we discern the Shepherd’s voice?

The three men of whom I spoke earlier ministered for decades here in Scotland, influencing thousands of lives for the gospel. I listened to them, submitted to the word lovingly preached and committed to share in the lives of their congregations. I learned to know and love them, and in their integrity saw that they were to be trusted as under-shepherds. Their voices came to be to me as the voice of God, and I gladly followed when they called.

Have I learned to know the voice of God in this way? Have I learned to love him? I see the work of creation; the tragedy of the Fall and all that has followed and I see the great redemptive work of Calvary where God said so clearly “I love you”, and I choose to trust him. I press on to know him better, not depending on the preacher but also wrestling with the word for myself, trusting that as I do so I may learn to hear the beloved voice more clearly and more often.

May I become more like Samuel, who listened attentively; like Jesus’ mother Mary, who listened submissively; like Mary Magdalene, who in listening discerned the loving voice of her beloved Lord and found resurrection hope, triumphant faith, and courage for life.

It’s not my job….

A discerning person keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth.

A person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way?

There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord

(Pr 17.24; 20.24)

Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come?..When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labour that is done on earth..then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.

(Eccl 8.7,16&17)

The arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear….Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?

(Isa 2.17&22)

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear..Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?….do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink, do not worry about it…your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well..

(Lk 12.22,25,29-31)

We are called to live in exceptional days, placed here for this time and purpose by God who holds all time and space in his hands and is at work to bring all things to their completion in Christ. The bible narrative encourages believers to continually consider what God has done, and to remember that all that happens is part of his great redemptive plan – each detail of our lives has a place, and in his hand nothing is wasted.

To me, the global experience of pandemic illness has been such a graphic demonstration of the truth which lies behind that instruction of Christ to his disciples – all our worrying achieves nothing, and our job is to trust God and instead look to our role in his work here and now. In the face of this ‘plague’, where governments, armies, wealth and privilege are powerless to  defeat an invisible enemy, we see most clearly that humanity is not in control, cannot be trusted for ultimate security, and must fail. We see our limitations written in the statistics of deaths, in the as yet unseen economic costs, the long term social costs, of this extraordinary time.

A discerning person looks to wisdom – which in the bible is described as the fear or proper respect of the Lord – rather than scanning all the range of human achievement in search of meaning and solutions. When we rightly fear God, recognising that we are mortal, limited and flawed while he is holy, almighty, just and good, then we regain some perspective on all that happens in the world. We STOP thinking that it is our job to fix things, or even to understand why they are happening. We ARE NOT GOD – and what a relief that is! When there is so much pain and suffering to be borne, who could be sufficient for this? Only the Lord Almighty, whose thoughts are emphatically not our thoughts, but whose love can be utterly depended upon.

So in these days, I rejoice that it is not my God-appointed task to find the reason for this pandemic – or any other source of suffering. I give thanks that I can trust God through all my unanswered questions, and instead ask what my job is. While mankind is not meant to know the answers to “Why?”, we are incredibly gifted in finding out “How?”, and so I give thanks and do what I can to support the efforts to address the consequences of the virus – in prayer, in financial and practical support, and by obeying the instructions of our own government.

I pray that God will be at work to fulfill his own mysterious purposes, and that along the way, we will see God’s love in action as people care for one another; as churches reach out in new ways to show Christ; as scientists race to find vaccines and medical professionals put their lives on the line to save others. God will do all that he plans through this great trial…will I do what he asks me to do?

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6.8)

In caring, praying, speaking and acting, may I do what the Lord requires of me in these days, and may I be given grace to let God be God, to leave the unanswered questions at the foot of the cross, where the blood of Christ silences them.

Following…who?

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.

(Ps 1.1-3)

Watch out for false prophets..By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 

(Matt 7.16&17)

As I urged you…stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer…these promote controversies rather than God’s work – which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about…

(1 Tim 1.3-7)

If you point these things out …you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus..train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

(1 Tim 4.6-8)

The goal of God’s work in his children’s lives is their godliness, the creation of an ever clearer reflection of himself in them, showing his glory and beauty to the world. In the same way that a silversmith purifies the metal by fire, burning off impurities until he sees his face reflected in the liquid metal surface, so also our God is working out his good purposes in us.

We can choose to cooperate with this work, to embrace our destiny with faith and hope, trusting in God to be at work in all things, and seeking to learn in every situation what his will is for us. We can choose to hunger for godliness, choose to yearn after the fruit of the spirit above all worldly ambitions and make every effort to reject those things which frustrate our fruitfulness. The psalmist celebrates the power of the word of God to grow us into fruitful disciples, and when we meditate on it – chew it over, consider it from many angles, allow it to shape our thoughts – we are transformed indeed.

But we also make choices about what kind of people we admire and emulate, whose advice we take seriously and whose lives are our example. It is about choosing such people wisely that Jesus teaches when he speaks of looking for grapes on thornbushes! It is good to have role models, but what qualities should I look for?

Firstly, I need to find people who at least claim to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, our sacrificial Lamb, the Risen and returning Judge – a tree that looks like one which ought to bear good fruit. Secondly, I need to consider what fruit their lives actually bear, since this may give the lie to their claims. Paul warns Timothy about those who claim to be christians, but who bear bad fruit in disputes, divisions, doubts and pointless speculation. The effect of their ministry is not growing godliness – in themselves or their hearers – and this is a sure sign that they cannot be trusted.

So if I am looking to be inspired and encouraged by others in my journey of faith, I need to find those who bear good fruit after the manner described by Paul – lives of godliness, showing peace and self-control, faithfulness and patience, love, joy and kindness. It may well be that those qualities are in lives which are small and quiet in the eyes of the world, and even those considered foolish – so be it, these are the things which I desire. Let me learn humbly and reverently from God’s servants wherever they may be found, recognising in them a means by which I may be drawn further into godliness.

It is also good to find teachers who can educate us in the things of God, and we can serve them in praying for their protection – the history of the church is littered with sad tales of prominent saints who were led astray, and whose status proved a temptation to which they seemed to have no defences. We are all vulnerable and none should judge another for falling, but rather pray God’s keeping from sin and deliverance from temptation for ourselves and all those called into public service for the gospel.

Lord God, I thank you for all those who teach and lead me in your ways. Keep us all from sin, and make us quick to run to you when tempted to go astray. Keep your name in honour among us, that we might above all things fear bringing it into disrepute, and strive with all our might to be found increasingly in the image of Christ. For your glory and our blessing we pray, Amen!

What are my priorities?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your reasonable act of worship.

(Rom 12. 1)

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s spirit lives in you?.. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body..

(1 Cor 3.16 &6.19&20

 

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ…..Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules?…These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence…

(Col 2.6-8,20-23)

There are many socially acceptable ‘sins’ which we tend to gloss over when we encounter them, and justify to ourselves in order to indulge in them – and there is a significant word…”indulge”. How ready we are to listen to the philosophies of the world which encourage us to ‘treat ourselves well’, to prioritise ‘self-care’ and make sure that all our needs are being met so that we can take care of others and fulfill our mission in life.

It is all plausible, and in some ways attractive and compatible with the gospel, with God’s love for us and his plans to do good for and through us. BUT, I become very uneasy with it, all too aware that we use this to justify behaviour which the bible would bluntly describe as shameful for one who professes to be a disciple of Jesus.

At what point does my proper desire to look after the body which God has given me tip over into idolatry? What do my habits of consumption mean for those around me – am I setting a good example of self-discipline, or encouraging others in slothfulness and greed – or the opposite evils of obsessive control over food and weight? I try to keep fit, to ensure that I am functioning well and able to do the tasks allotted to me and not burden my family with caring for me in preventable illnesses. But, I must not let that become a lifestyle based on the conviction that if I will eat/exercise etc in certain ways, then I can somehow avoid every ailment and attain long, healthy life! The Lord alone knows the span of my days, and having lost both parents relatively young to cancer, I know full well that healthy living doesn’t guarantee longevity.

Paul speaks many times of the sufferings he went through as a servant of Christ – he also speaks of living in a focussed way, of keeping himself ‘in training’ for the race of his life of service. He speaks of being content in every situation – that speaks of a mind and heart which rests in God, not in its own controlling routines of food and exercise. He knew how to enjoy the good things of life, but also how to keep all things in right relation to the priority which was his commitment to Christ and the spreading of the gospel. I wonder how Paul would react to the phrase “self-care”?! Not positively I suspect, and mainly because of the presence of the word “self”, which should sound alarm bells for every believer who has entrusted themselves to Christ, believing that he alone is the source of our security, purpose, and the only one who can meet all our needs. My focus must be on him, not on myself…

There is clearly a balance to achieve; and we are not called to neglect ourselves either – Paul exhorts young Timothy to look after his health, and we too should not be irresponsible. But the emphasis must be on this, that I am not my own boss anymore. All that I am and have is a gift from God, and is surrendered to his service when I confess Christ as Lord of my life. He bought me with his blood, and in loving response, I seek to use all that I am in his service, seeking only his approval and his direction.

May God help us to live joyfully, in whatever circumstances are allotted to us; using our bodies responsibly and honouring him as we do so, so that we might indeed – with Paul – complete our race and win the only prize that matters, when our Lord says, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”