Category Archives: witness

Dust and ashes..

God, my God, for You I search. My throat thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You in a land waste and parched, with no water…. Yes, I recalled You on my couch. In the night-watches I dwelled upon You. For You were a help to me, and in Your wing’s shadow I uttered glad song. My being clings to You, for your right hand has sustained me.

(Ps 63.1,7-9. translation by R Alter)

Jesus said to them, “…He [the devil] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding out the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

(Jn 8.44)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light…. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

(1 Pet 2.9; 5.6-9)

“How are you?”

Do you ever dread that question? I don’t like to tell lies, and sometimes, the honest answer to that question is not one which I think my listener really wants to hear, so I end up fudging it, answering with a question of my own.. anything to turn the focus away from my own unsatisfactory condition!

As one who has been following Jesus all her adult life, and been blessed to be in loving and nurturing church fellowships all that time, I have so much to give thanks for, and so many reasons to trust God and be zealous in sharing the good news, encouraging others, and generally engaging in gospel labour. However, as a human being I am also as vulnerable to emotional disturbances, hormonal upsets, physical ailments and stressful life-events as you are. These things colour my days, as I am sure they do yours. At the moment, for whatever reasons, there is little zest for faithful living and obedient, expectant labouring for Christ. All my allotted tasks are like so much dust and ashes – dry, unappealing and lifeless.

I say this not to evoke pity, or to brag about my ‘sufferings’. There is nothing uniquely painful about my state, and I am not proud of it. But I do believe that as christians we must not pretend to be other than we are – never with God, and preferably also not with each other.

When the accuser of God’s children is at work to obstruct the divine purpose, then discouraging those children is an obvious and devastatingly effective means of doing it. If the evil one can persuade us that our labours are in vain and that we might as well stop trying, then we become useless to the Lord and a danger to our fellow believers. Our christian family is weakened by our arid and inert condition – in exactly the same way that a human body is weakened when any part fails to partake of the life-giving flow of blood and oxygen.

I thank God for the painfully acquired wisdom of years which has helped me to recognise that my perception is not a true one – that the father of lies is at work to distort my understanding and paralyse my faith. I thank God for the faithful friends who are willing – yet again – to come alongside me in prayer and encouragement as I share my need and predicament with them.

Above all, I thank God that as I follow the example of the psalmist – recalling truth and reaffirming past blessing – I am strengthened. I bring the weapon of the word of God – what does He say about me? – against the lies of the accuser. I measure my thoughts against God’s revelation of grace and mercy and redemption, and see where I am being deceived and misled by my enemy.

I am one of God’s chosen people, I belong in his holy nation and am called as a priest to proclaim the praises of the One who brought me out of darkness into light. None of these things depends on my feelings, my health or any other factors which influence my daily living. They are based entirely in God’s character and finished work in salvation. I can serve him regardless of how I feel about my fruitlessness. I can praise him regardless of how barren our labours as believers seem to be – because he is always worthy of honour.

In obedience and trust, therefore, I labour on. May God be merciful to me, one of the least of his servants, restoring my joy in the service of the King and giving me a glimpse of his great power at work in this world to save sinners and bring them home to glory.

Trusted to be truthful..

And Job continued his discourse: “As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty who has made my life bitter, as long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips will not say anything wicked, and my tongue will not utter lies… I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.”

(Job 27.1-6)

Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry…

(Ps 34.11-15)

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us… Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.

(2Cor 1.8-10, 12)

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

(Phil 2.12)

Can I be trusted to be truthful? Can God have any confidence that his reputation and character, the great narrative of his work in creation and redemption, are honoured by me in word and deed?

When Job came under extreme trials, he clung to his belief that God was good, was just and righteous, and also that Job himself had not committed sins which ‘deserved’ the judgement under which he suffered. In all these things, we are told that Job did well, speaking truth and not lies. Job proved himself trustworthy under his sufferings, honouring and rightly fearing God.

In fact, it is Job’s integrity which holds him right in the centre of the storm, wrestling with the unanswered questions, wondering what God is doing and why, longing for a chance to argue it out but never doubting that there is some hidden purpose. Such mature faith comes only as we in turn wrestle with our circumstances, refusing to speak lies about God – his holiness and justice, his love and mercy – or about ourselves, as his people and those on whom his favour rests.

In his letters to the churches in Corinth and Philippi, Paul speaks truth about his trials too – both their severity and also his conviction that they were part of God’s work in  spreading the gospel and in glorifying his power through his servants as they depended on him for deliverance and hope. Paul reassures the suffering saints in Philippi that as they ‘work out’ or discover in practice, what it means to be saved by Christ in the midst of trials, their experience will be of God working in them by his Spirit to fulfill his glorious purposes.

Job did not know that the advocate in whom he trusted was Jesus Christ, the eternal Son, but he clung to that hope and was sustained through his trials. We have the great revelation of the Son, of our loving Saviour who always lives to intercede for us and the Spirit who minsters to us continually. Why then should we not find that whether prosperity or trials come, we can be trusted to speak truth about our God, in all his holiness and the mysteries of his providence?

In plenty or in want, in sickness or in health, in time of peace or time of war, I am in Christ. I am redeemed, justified, and adopted into the family of God. My circumstances do not define me; my sins no longer define me; my own strengths or weaknesses do not define me. By grace, I am a child of the Most High, and whether he appoints my path to peace or troubles; to bright calm days, or the darkness of suffering, I will speak truth about him, and about what he has done for me.

May God grant each of us grace to accept prosperity or trial from his hand with humility, and with the desire to use all that he sends as means to glorify him and serve others.

On being filled..

And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

(Jo 2.28-29)

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth…. [He] will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

(Jn 14.15-17,26)

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about… in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit… You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

(Acts 1.4&5,8)

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children… [when] we do not know what we ought to pray for, the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

(Rom 8.16&26)

Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity…Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Eph 5.15-20)

God’s gift to the church, to his representatives on earth, so that we might continue the work begun by Christ, and spread the good news to all people and glorify our Lord – this is the Spirit promised by Joel and realised at Pentecost. In a recent bible study, it was pointed out that the Spirit is always ‘sent’, always a ‘gift’, never manufactured or summoned by people for their own ends. We may resist or reject him, but we cannot control or direct him. We may choose to ignore his promptings, and grieve him by our stubborn pride, but we can never presume to summon him.

The Spirit is sent from God the Father, to do many things for the church in the world, not least to empower every single one of God’s children for the task appointed to them. In a world where women were of little significance, and no legal standing, the thought that God’s Spirit might come to them as powerfully as to their brothers was shocking. But so it was to be – all would receive this gift as their inheritance, as the pledge of their eternal home, as the assurance of their adoption into God’s family and their security there.

By the Spirit, we are empowered for the mission of the church – the task of kingdom building and gospel sharing wherever God is pleased to place us. By the Spirit, we are enabled to grow in understanding of God’s work, of his character, of how we might live wise and godly lives in a broken world. By the Spirit, our prayers are brought acceptably before God; even our most inarticulate expressions of need, and of worship, are assured of being heard on high. By the Spirit, the body of Christ ministers to itself and to the world – we encourage and bless one another, exalting Christ at all times and in all circumstances as the Spirit continually points to his supremacy in power, love and faithfulness.

Friends, how could we not want to be filled with this gift? And yet, I wonder if sometimes I keep parts of my life shut up, unwilling to allow the transformation which may come as I surrender to the Spirit’s teaching and leading and illuminating work. We don’t always want to see the truth about ourselves, or to surrender control over our lives.

Will I resist? Will I remain full of myself, my aims, my false confidence and stubbornness?  Or will I accept the gift which my Father is pouring out on his church continually, for our refreshing and his glory? May God, in his mercy, not leave us shut up, but help us to open fully to his power, to the indwelling and daily refreshing Spirit.

When there is no (obvious) happy ending..

But the Lord said to me, “.. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you… See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.. Today I have made you a fortified city.. to stand against the whole land – against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you”

(Jer 1.7,8&10,18&19)

“O remnant of Judah, the Lord has told you, ‘Do not go to Egypt.’…when Jeremiah finished telling the people all the words of the Lord their God.. all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are lying!.. Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you to hand us over to the Babylonians, so that they may kill us or carry us into exile.” So.. all the people disobeyed the Lord’s command .. and all the army officers led away all the remnant of Judah.. and Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah. So they entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord.

(Jer 42.19; 43.1-3,5-7)

‘This is what the Lord says [to Baruch]: ‘I will overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the land. Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’

(Jer 45.4&5)

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for… These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

(Heb 11.1&39-40)

So I finished reading Jeremiah: at 52 chapters it is quite an undertaking and full of fearful prophecies of judgement. As a follower of Jesus, who would have known this book all his life as part of the Hebrew Scriptures, I must trust that there is truth here for me as a disciple, wisdom that can help me to live in the world as a faithful witness and remain steadfast.

There is much that grieves, as we read Jeremiah’s deep lament both for the way his people reject him and the message that God has given him, but also for the wayward people themselves as they face a dreadful reckoning at the hands of the Babylonian armies. There is much to bemuse, as slaughter, starvation, humiliation and the destruction of the temple come to Judah because they have broken their covenant with God over and over again. I am not able to unpack the whole business of God’s judgement on his people in this time, so instead I have been reflecting on what I can learn from Jeremiah.

God takes sin very, very seriously. His covenant people cannot break their pledge to him without consequences, and the price to be paid is so high.

God is full of compassion towards his people, and the grief which their rebellion and subsequent sufferings cause him is unspeakable. He views separation from them with horror, and yet cannot dwell with their sin.

God is sovereign over all the nations, and in holiness and justice will act to fulfill his purposes in and through them. His ways are beyond my finding out, and I am called – like Jeremiah and the people of Judah – to trust that when it looks as though all is lost, yet He is still at work for good and for His glory.

God calls us to faithfulness in difficult places, among rebellious people, where we may experience rejection, mockery and persecution.

God goes with us when – like Jeremiah and Baruch – we are unable to resist the tide of history around us and are carried off into the land where God had commanded the people not to go.  In such days of judgement, it would be counted a great blessing to escape with one’s life, a sure sign of God’s favour and protection.

It is our personal faithfulness, so far as we are able to live it out, which matters most. Our relationship with the living God, and not our geographical location, or the trappings of ‘religion’, are what keep us safe in the ultimate things.

God calls his servants to apparently fruitless ministries, to death in exile, to suffering and hardship endured in faith.

There is surely much here from which we can learn in these days for the body of Christ which is the church in our world, a world where the gospel and its messengers are often rejected and mocked, or else actively persecuted and attacked. We can pray for those who are called to lead and teach, but also for one another as believers.

Heavenly Father, let us be like Jeremiah, living by faith, trusting in your love and provision for us in what appear to be fruitless situations. Encourage us to be faithful in the places where we are called to live, blessing our communities in Jesus’ name, whether they want to hear of his love or not. In obedience, may we be content, trusting that very soon, we will hear the trumpet sounding for your return, and the dawning of the day when all your faithful servants down all the ages are made perfect and united in your presence. In Jesus’ precious name and for his glory, we pray these things. Amen

Filial love..

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

(Lk 15.3-7)

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest?’ I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. “

(Jn 4.34-36)

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love……. You are my friends if you do what I command…for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you…. I chose you and appointed you to bear fruit – fruit that will last.

(Jn 15.9&10,14-16)

…God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting our sins against us. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God

(2 Cor 5.19-20)

If someone was given the task of observing from my life, my words and actions, the priorities and principles on which I make choices, what could they tell about the God whose name I confess? What does my life tell other people about his character and purpose? Would they know that the God whom I worship is passionate in his pursuit of humankind, longing to restore relationship with them and bring them home to his eternal family?

I suspect that I do not make a very clear or consistent sermon, that my life is too often dominated by self-centred concerns, and lacks the fire which characterised Paul and the early disciples as they poured themselves out in evangelism and church planting.

However, I am not an apostle, not an ordained minister, not a missionary. I live a small quiet life, in a small community, where there is strong and established resistance to the gospel. Our neighbours like having us here, so long as we don’t try to talk to them about faith and the claims of Christ….

So does that give me an excuse to just focus on those parts of being a Christian which make me feel good? By no means (as Paul would say)! I am one of those for whom Jesus died – that great act of divine love which did for us what we so desperately needed but were incapable of doing. I am one of those destined for an eternity apart from God, until Jesus died for me. I am now his loyal, loving and obedient servant, as well as a cherished daughter. And Jesus commanded his disciples to obey his commands as they remained in, lived from within, his love. I cannot claim to be God’s child and choose to ignore His great plan for re-creation and the coming of his kingdom. So, again, I ask, do I share my heavenly Father’s passion for the lost? Does His heart’s desire matter enough to me?

As one of Christ’s ambassadors, it is my duty as well as my privilege, to speak his words and show his character in the place where he has called me. This is what the word means! To represent, to show forth and speak the will of another, one in authority over me whom I serve. There can be no doubting – from scripture – what it is that will bring joy in God’s presence…. the saving of lost souls, and the growth of God’s kingdom. Does that matter enough to me, enough to make me overcome my fear of giving offence, my fear of being rejected or ignored?

 What kind of love do I have for God if I can blithely ignore his passion for souls and live as though hell did not exist and Christ’s death was simply irrelevant?!

God, forgive me for my indifference and stir up within me a holy passion, like yours, to see my neighbours saved and brought into new life within your family. Let me care more for your heart than my own comfort; more for the destiny of others than their favour towards me. O Lord, give me wisdom to discern opportunities, courage to take them, and the fire of love which comes from your spirit within to keep me in prayer for others. For Jesus’ sake – his glory and exaltation, Amen

The gift of light…

“Here is my servant, who I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight: I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations…. I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

(Isa 42.1,6&7)

In the beginning was the word…. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it…. John.. came as a witness to that light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

(Jn 1.1,4&5,7&9)

Then Jesus told them, “…the one who walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become children of light…… I have come into the world as a light, so that no-one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”

(Jn 12.35&36, 46)

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.

(2 Cor 4.6)

Lord, how can we proclaim your light to those around us who don’t see the darkness? To those for whom human wisdom and sophistication, material prosperity, cultural maturity and the security of law and order provide all the illumination they desire?

Is it nothing to them that our society harbours more personal trauma, self-destruction, hatred, division, isolation and sheer human misery than every before? Is this not darkness?

Lord, open their eyes, that they might see the darkness around them.

Is it nothing to them that our global community is facing catastrophic changes in climate which will threaten our existence, and are already causing devastation to millions who are starving, flooded, impoverished, oppressed – all because of the way in which human nature works when societies become powerful? Is this not darkness?

Lord, open their eyes, tear them from dreams of human achievement to waken to the reality of human brokenness.

Is it nothing to them that their own lives are marked by loss, failure, shortcomings and addictions, long-buried and cherished grudges, shame, unresolved griefs and deep uncertainties, and that one day they will die?

Lord, open their eyes, that they might see the darkness within them.

Thank you Lord, for your light is eternal, is life itself, is glory overflowing and abundant: it is You. In Jesus, you give us yourself, and in you, we are made alive not only now but forever.

Thank you Lord, for your light is crack-making, prison-breaking, dream-banishing, life-kindling. Your light is sin-burning, shame-destroying, forgiveness-flooding, hope-filling. Your light is powerful.

Thank you Lord, for your light is joy-infusing, courage-building, immortal-making, heaven-fitting.

Your light is transformative.

This Christmas, as we remember the gift of the Light of the World, we pray for our world. Heavenly Father, open the blinded eyes and break down the defended minds and hearts, to see that without you, they walk in darkness. Their ‘lights’, are impotent against the real darkness, and only in Jesus will they find what is so desperately needed.

Thank you Lord, for your community around the world, living by the light and seeking in all ways and at all times to bring others to see the light.  By your grace, set aside our failures and short-comings, strengthen us in courage and perseverance to bear witness to the light, as John did, and to speak truth about you. May you be glorified even through us, as we bear Christ’s likeness and serve in his name.

Out of hope…not fear

Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled…You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Saviour.. The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy. You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.

(Ps 65. 1,5,8-13)

For this is what the Lord says – he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited – he says: “I am the Lord, and there is no other. I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right…Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked. Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.'”

(Isa 45.18&19,22-24)

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…..

(Matt 6.9&10)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them…..” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

(Rev 21.1,3&5)

The debate around climate change, and the very compelling evidence for the scale of the crisis now faced by humankind, is one of the most disturbing things which we face as believers. I am continually overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis, and the seemingly inevitable suffering which lies ahead, especially for those already oppressed by poverty, disease and war.. When one adds a degree of realism – or is it undue pessimism? – about the capacity of the major global agencies to actually cooperate and act constructively and decisively, it is hard to find grounds for hope.

BUT, as a believer, I must wrestle with this, and recently in my struggle I have been greatly helped by being reminded that we are not in this alone. There is nothing in the scripture to suggest that God simply set up creation and then abandoned it to the mercies of human beings. Rather, there are multiple indications that God is intimately involved with the ongoing life of our planet; sustaining its laws, caring for its creatures and also celebrating and appreciating his own handiwork. We are also told very plainly, that God is in the business of ‘making all things new’ – of realising his purposes in a perfected creation, where He can live with his redeemed and glorified people, enjoying everything as it was always meant to be. 

So what can I do as I seek to live as God’s child, God’s representative, in this troubled time?

I can be sure that God is still involved in this world; and that as his child, I am called to follow his example of caring for and celebrating the beautiful, abundant creation around me. God’s hands are still on his handiwork, for good.

I can be sure that God will fulfill his purpose for all creation; to deliver it from the effects of sin into a place of abundance and thriving which I cannot even imagine, but which one day I will delight in as my eternal home!

I can pray ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..’ and then expect that God will answer, and that I can be part of that answer – even though I may not understand the paths He chooses to take. I can be part of that answer, by looking at my own life and the opportunities I have to do things differently; and also by encouraging other people to see the goodness of this earth and to cherish it. 

I can encourage others to hear how creation shouts aloud of God’s love and generosity; celebrating all his greatness and power, and responding in loving stewardship of those things which it is in our power to influence. I can encourage them to believe that since we are working with our God in a world which is precious to him, for a purpose which is glorifying to him, then our efforts will never be altogether futile, no matter how small. 

God is with us, now and always, therefore we need not fear – though the oceans rise – but can work with him in hope and expectation. May we be strengthened to live in this way in these days, that our hope might cause others to seek Jesus, and find salvation for themselves.

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Pray for your enemies….

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises…In his pride the wicked does not seek the Lord; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.. He says to himself, “God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees.”… But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand.

(Ps 10.1,2,4,11&14)

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ but I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?…Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(Matt 5.43-48)

As it is written: “there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless….There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says, it says…so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his sight.. But now a righteousness from God.. has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

(Rom 5.10,11,18-24)

Two years ago, I was privileged to visit New York and to stand beside the two great holes in the heart of that city which mark the foundations of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre. Sombre, dignified, heart-breaking.. the sound of the ever-falling water and the sight of name after name, after name inscribed on the surrounding walls combine to stir up powerful emotions.

What do we do in the face of such devastating – for so many people, life-shattering – events?

We rightly lament for and with those who are directly affected, and we commit to their welfare over the long haul which will lie ahead for them – practical, emotional support and courage to walk with them even though we cannot enter into or carry the pain for them. We commend them to the God who loves them and who longs to bring comfort and hope back into their lives, and ultimately to bring them home to himself.

We seek to discipline our own reactions, and to reflect God’s truth in our words and attitudes. While we may – with the psalmists and prophets – cry out in lament and wrestle with God’s providence, yet we also hold fast to the truth of his justice and holiness. We proclaim a God who cares about injustice and evil, and who has not abandoned the world he made to its own self-destruction. The sacrificial death of the perfect Son of God – the payment for evil for all who will believe – was the sign of just how much God DOES care about us, the people fashioned in his likeness.

We also remember and acknowledge with trembling, that before a holy God, no one is righteous. The basic sin of rebellion against God, as God, lies behind the actions of every human being who ever lived – apart from Jesus – and the need of every human being is to be transformed from rebel to beloved child. The astonishing thing about God’s offer of salvation, is that anyone may accept it and find forgiveness. Ultimately, this is what we are to pray for all those whom we may be tempted to view as our enemies – that they may come to saving faith in Jesus and be forgiven. Yes, forgiven, even as we trust to be forgiven, and for the same reason – the blood of Christ which was poured out for the cleansing of sinners.

Please, do not misunderstand me. This in no way reduces or dismisses the scale of their offences, nor the pain, destruction and long-term consequences of their actions. But it does mean that we commit the whole business of eternal justice and judgement into the hands of God, who alone is able to do right in such circumstances. When we pray for our enemies to be saved, we are loving them as Christ loved us, seeing the desperate condition in which we languished, and showing mercy.

Father God, who loved this world so much that you sent you Son to die for us so that we might know you again and be whole, we pray for those who might be called our enemies today. Deliver us from the bitterness of unforgiving hearts, and make us tender like Jesus, to love those who have not loved us.

For those who, through culture, poverty, trauma and radicalisation, have come to believe so passionately in their own creed that they will, in turn, inflict unimagineable suffering upon others – Father God, we pray that the love of your Son might come with healing and cleansing power and they might find peace.

For those who, in pursuit of wealth and power, have come to feel nothing for the suffering of the poor and marginalised, exploited and abused by the wealth-creating system – Father God, we pray that the love of your Son might break through and break their hearts to show compassion and to use their power for good.

For us all, Father God, may we see afresh our desperate state when we choose to live without you. May we never regard anyone as beyond your grace – since you have shown it even to such as we know ourselves to be. Your grace is truly amazing, and it is the power that we need to see at work in our world today. May each of your children be a grace-bearer and mercy-giver, a speaker of truth and the good news of forgiveness in Jesus, so that we might see your kingdom come and your will being done in our world as it is in heaven. 

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.

 

When there seems no way out of the woods..

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you….I am God and there is none like me..I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do as I please.

(Isa 46.3,4, 9&10)

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; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed…

(2 Cor 4.7-9)

..rejoice in the Lord..whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ..I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me..our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body…

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received from me, or seen in me – put it into practice…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

(Phil 3.1,7,14,20-21; 4.6-9,12&13)

The words spoken by Isaiah from the Lord came to a people who were on the edge of catastrophe, of military defeat and exile, from which many would never return. They were likely to spend the remainder of their lives under alien rule, far from the temple and all they knew of comfort and familiar ways. To these people, God speaks of his faithfulness, making no exceptions regarding their future place of residence or the impossibility of carrying on temple worship in Babylon.

Their departure from the land was entirely within God’s purpose, the Babylonian invasion would not take him by surprise, any more than the circumstances of our lives do. When believers find themselves called to hard places, we have this precedent to which we can turn, seeing God declaring his commitment to his children as they live in hard places, deprived of much which others take for granted, and consequently finding life a struggle.

I do not in any way intend to make light of the dreadful conditions in which many live, poverty, political and social persecution, violence and pain, the realities of disease and disability, of mental illness and abuse. But I do believe that the bible refuses us permission to treat these things as beyond God’s knowledge. We cannot understand why these things are permitted but we can know that we are never out of His sight or forgotten by His love.

Some are called to situations which – humanly speaking – are unlikely to change for the duration of their natural lives; always walking in what can feel like thick woodland, sometimes a very dark and frightening place, with little light upon the way, and no mountain top from which to see a clear path ahead. Each day can be a huge struggle, and the temptation to despair is real. The snare of comparison with others more fortunate than ourselves is equally fatal to our perseverance and joy, and for this reason it is good to remember Paul’s words to his churches as he exhorts them to persevere and find contentment through trials and uncertainty.

The only comparison Paul makes is between the trials which he is facing, and the glorious inheritance which is guaranteed to him by Jesus. He looks not to the relative ease and prosperity of other Roman citizens, but to the inexhaustible grace of God, to the goodness and beauty revealed in salvation and shining from Jesus to enlighten us. The ultimate in noble and good things to contemplate in our darkness, when the wood seems never-ending and our courage fails us, the Lord Jesus is within us by his Spirit, and therefore, we cannot be lost.

My path may be harder than I had hoped, but if it is the one to which I am called, then I can expect and  thankfully depend upon the sustaining of the God who put me here. I can trust in his power to provide each day’s resources, and can fully empty my load of care at his feet as often as necessary. It is his desire that I glorify him in my dark wood;  surely he will then provide me with all I need in order to prove him faithful.