Category Archives: worship

Praise unceasing…

Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to your our vows will be fulfilled. O you who hear prayer, to you all people will come. When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple….Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy.

(Ps 65.1-4,8)

As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world..My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.

(Jn 17.18,20-21)

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men…For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died….. that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again..We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

(2 Cor, 5.11,14&15, 20)

..the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb….and they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

(Rev 5.8-10)

The glorious evening light streaming through stained glass seemed to cast a benediction on our praise and thanks to God for the growth of his kingdom. The 19th century hymn, ‘The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended..’, is an old favourite, conjuring a picture of the global church, a continuity of praise, as each faith community in turn is roused by the sun to a new day of love and service.

I grew up praying for the work of the church around the world, and have been privileged to continue doing so; to visit and take part in the work, and to meet believers from overseas when they came to share their stories. As a family, and a congregation, we have friends serving in India, Uganda, Mexico, Japan, China. God is building his church through aid and development work, medical work, direct gospel outreach, literature and translation work, church planting and theological education, broadcasting and publishing.

We KNOW that all over the world, God is building his church and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, because we have met believers – people just like us – who are serving, praising, sharing the gospel with their neighbours in those far away lands. They tell of lives transformed, and of battles with ignorance, indifference and idolatry – and we recognise their struggles are ours too. As one family in Christ, their battles and ours are the same; their joys are our joys, and their needs are our privilege to meet. We need never wonder how to pray for them – we pray as we do for ourselves. They too face financial, physical, emotional pressures which we can understand and where possible, address – as we would hope to be supported ourselves in our own time of need.

We cannot travel the globe as ambassadors for Christ, pleading with people to hear the good news and repent. But, united with them in Christ, we go in spirit with our brothers and sisters, to proclaim light in the darkness and freedom for all who will believe – what a privilege, and what a responsibility is ours! Because we believe that God is calling people to himself from every nation, tribe and tongue, it is right that we give to the work of witness and discipleship across the world. God gives to us, so that we might give to those who go; giving generously so that their labours are not made wearisome by a lack of support and constant worry about how to make the funds stretch far enough.

As we consider the glorious vision of God’s family of nations, of praise which never ceases, and a mind-blowing unity in diversity, let us be encouraged to persevere in praying and giving to our sisters and brothers so that the kingdom continues to grow. One day, in the new creation, we shall hear at last the stories of what God did with our contributions, however small. But even now, we are blessed in knowing that in giving we serve, love and cherish the family to which, in Christ, we belong.

We thank Thee that Thy church unsleeping, while earth rolls onward into light, through all the world her watch is keeping, and rests not now by day or night.

As o’er each continent and island the dawn leads on another day, the voice of prayer is never silent, nor dies the strain of praise away.

( The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended.. John Ellerton, 1826-93)

Photograph courtesy of Elsa McTaggart – sunrise on Lewis, 2021

I will..

Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles and the judgments he pronounced, O descendants of Israel his servant, O sons of Jacob, his chosen ones.

(1 Chron 16.8-13)

When I awake to weariness instead of wonder; when the hours of the day feel like a punishment instead of a privilege; when those I love are labouring under heavy burdens which I can do nothing to lift..I do not feel like praising God, my heart is not rejoicing in my circumstances and prayer turns quickly into complaint..on such days, I have a choice: to let my feelings dictate what I do, or to turn – by God’s grace – to his word, to the truths about him which never change, and to remember, to remember..

I remember that my parents were brought to living faith in Jesus in their teens, and that faith was sustained and matured over decades of faithful life and service, so that at their deaths, many stood up to give thanks to God for their kingdom building work. Their faith informed our family life, creating stability and a domestic witness which shaped my own life and faith. I and my siblings were committed to God as infants, and grew to profess faith on our own account. We all walk today in God’s grace, sharing that most precious double-bond of faith and family ties. We have been preserved through physical and mental illness, and can each testify to God’s most tender love for us, and strength sustaining us through our darkest days. I will remember and give thanks…

I remember that God has brought true friends alongside me at every stage of my life, many of whom remain with me till today. He worked through them to keep me from loneliness, to teach me about fellowship and the joy of working with his people in his service, to enrich my joy in creation, in my own abilities, and in all the good things which are so abundantly given to me. Their counsel is so often His voice for my guidance and instruction; as well as companionship and delight: and in sharing life with them, I have been blessed to serve as well as to be served. Their long-suffering with my weaknesses has taught me so much about my Father’s patience, forgiveness and love. I will remember and give thanks….

I remember that God has given me a heart quick to respond to beauty – light, sound, colour – and that in Him, I know to whom I owe thanks for that gift which lifts my spirits a hundred times a day. I cry out in delight, and my cup of gladness is continually refilled by his generous hand. His intimate knowledge of me is shown in the variety of ways that I receive these tokens of His love and care for my needs. I will remember and give thanks…..

I remember that God has brought me into marriage, and has kept me in and through over 25 years of shared life. I remember that my husband is another sinner who has placed his faith in Jesus, and who serves God’s kingdom according to his gifts, and whom I am called to love and cherish – am privileged to support and encourage. It may not look like much, but we too are kingdom builders, and there is nowhere else I would rather be. I will remember and give thanks…..

On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

(Ps 63.6-8)

As I write these words, my Lord, the lover of my soul is spreading a canvas of incredible colours across the sky, bathing the distant snowy clouds and mountains in a wash of softest pink, against a sky of palest egg-shell blue. I see it and rejoice in His kindness to me today. The heaviness of my heart is not proof against such demonstrations of love!

May we never be without the strength to choose to remember how good God has been to us, and above all, to remember his goodness in saving us so that we might know, love and be loved by Him!

Defiant praise!

The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity.

The seas have lifted up, O Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea – the Lord on high is mighty.

Your statutes stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days, O Lord.

(Ps 93)

A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry? All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands for ever.”

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? 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. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”

(Isa 40.6-8 &28-29)

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 than can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

(1Pet 1.3-5)

It’s what we do…as Paul and Silas praised God with songs and prayers in the prison, bound with chains, perhaps aching and bleeding from beatings.

It’s what we do….as David praised God in psalm and prayer while he was on the run from Saul; as his hope of kingship was pushed further and further into the future; as his men doubted and supplies ran low.

It’s what we do….as Daniel did, when to do so meant that his life was threatened; as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did while standing beside the furnace into which they would be thrown, with the heat beating on their backs.

It’s what we do…as Habbakuk did even while he contemplated the utter ruin of his land, and the destruction of all good things at the hand of an invading army.

In the face of darkness caused by human sin and rebellion; in face of a threatened planet and anticipated global suffering; in face of war and malice, degradation and naked evil exploitation; in face of so many well-meaning and misdirected people who think it is enough to try one’s best, that being kind is all that matters…God’s people fall on their faces at his feet in praise, adoration and total submission to his will, to every expression of his holiness and in awestruck recognition of the depths of his mercy.

In defiance of all those who mock our supposed bigotry or blindness and narrow-mindedness; in defiance of those who reject any God, and try to confine us to the bleak, limited and merciless ‘now’; in spite of those who condemn and despise Jesus because of the grievous failings of his church down the centuries…still today his followers lift their voices to acclaim their King; to tell the world that He came to die to make all things – even us – new, and that there IS so much more even than what we currently perceive.

Human kingdoms rise and fall, pandemics sweep the planet causing immeasurable harm, the life-sustaining ecosystems strain to survive…BUT our God is on the throne, and nothing is impossible with him. When his people choose to praise, choose to dwell on the truth of his character, his promises, his love and mercy; then their courage rises, their strength is renewed, and their hope brightened.

Friends, let us choose adoration; choose to put God on the throne of our lives, so that we may face our world and all its challenges with courage because we have an eternal hope for which we are being kept – in every situation, you and I are shielded by the power of God because nothing can cut us off from him and the inheritance which Christ Jesus died to give us.

Halleluia, our God reigns!

In the breakers

But I pray to you, O Lord, in the time of your favour; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. Rescue me..do not let me sink; deliver me…from the deep waters. Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up..Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.

(Ps 69.13-17)

I cannot keep my footing, the waves come with such force that I am tumbled over and left breathless. I can barely stand, as the churning waters have stripped the sand off the shore and all is stone, bruising my feet and leaving me off balance. The wind sweeps my breath away, and the hailstones sting my skin like bullets. I am vulnerable and nearly in danger, but not quite, as I stumble out of the sea back to my clothes and head for home.

The sea this morning matched what was happening in my heart and mind – wave after wave rolling in, before which I have no defence, leaving me weary from the conflict, and longing for a place of security and peace.

What is the right response of a follower of Jesus in these circumstances? As I scramble to find my footing again, what restores my balance?

I follow the example of the psalmists, and all God’s people down the ages, as they cry out to God. I turn in all my bewilderment to my heavenly father, and like a small child, ask for his comforting presence, for his loving arms to be my shelter. I bring my grieving questions to him, knowing that there may be no direct answers but also that he understands my pain and I do right to speak first to him.

But in the same way that a chilled swimmer cannot feel the rope around their body to bring them to safety, I cannot feel the comfort. I know that God who promises to work through all my trials for my blessing and his glory will do what is right. But when the breakers have been over me, I cannot feel the security that this should give me.  I am chilled by hopelessness, by a sense that these waves will keep coming because I have caused them and cannot make them stop. I am wearied by the prospect which they present, year upon year of this pain and aridity.

You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves..I am confined and can not escape; my eyes are dim with grief..

(Ps 88.6-9)

Oh Lord, God of heaven, you are just and holy, pure beyond my conceiving and mighty in creation. What am I that you should consider me? Yet, you have laid your hand on me and called me to be your daughter, beloved and delighted in. How ashamed I am to confess the many ways that I have failed you, hurting others, myself, and setting up consequences which I must live with for as long as it may please you to sustain my life.

Lord, you promise not to leave your children in their troubles, but to sustain them and bring them through somehow purified and made more like Jesus. I want to believe this, but am so weary of the turmoil, and of seeing so little change! How long, O Lord, how long, before you say “Enough” and let me come home, away from the battle and the sin, the wearisome burden of years living with my sinfulness and that of other people?

You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them… Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long; they exult in your righteousness. For you are their glory and strength..

(Ps 89.9,14-17)

I will praise your name, my God and my Salvation. Eternal hope is mine, regardless of what you permit for my temporal days, and that hope grows ever brighter in the darkness of the here and now. Only give me the ability to live day by day in that hope, and let me know your presence through the chillling cold of weariness, so that I might not disgrace my calling and bring your name into dishonour by despairing of life itself. Lord, have mercy, that I may know how to glorify you in these breakers, how to shout your name in praise over the winds, and to exult in the God who is sovereign and will do all things well – even in me!

A sovereign remedy…for self-pity

But David thought to himself, “One of these days I shall be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand.”

(1Sam 27.1)

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord, ” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

(1 Kings 19.3&4)

I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done. The Lord has chastened me severely but he has not given me over to death. Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. …..You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever.

(Ps 118.17-21,28&29)

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man, And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

(1 Cor 10.13)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your  requests to God.

(Phil 4.6)

I am profoundly thankful that my heavenly Father unveils my faults to me in very small doses, so that I am not overwhelmed by the truth and instead can lean hard on his grace, the truth of his forgiveness, and acceptance of me. I rejoice that he can use me in spite of those faults, but I know too that they are revealed and made plain for a purpose – I am being called to repent, by his power to change, and to grow in maturity and likeness to Jesus.

Each of us has predispositions towards particular sins, and away from others, for a whole host of reasons, but that predisposition is never an excuse for refusing to recognise them and repent. I have a strong tendency toward self-pity; it is frighteningly easy for me to end up in that particular place and I am thankful that God is pressing me in these days to recognise and address this – it is a sin. It speaks of a profound distrust of God, and a resentment of what he is permitting in my life.

In David’s case, he had recently experienced a number of miraculous escapes from Saul, and could testify to God’s keeping, and yet suddenly he has had enough. He no longer feels able to trust God for the future – who am I to judge David in this, I who so readily make my own desperate little plans to protect myself and so easily forget all that God has already done on my behalf.

Elijah had just come from the triumphant defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, the Israelites had seen and acknowledged the power of the true God, and yet on receiving news of Jezebel’s threat against his life, Elijah goes to pieces and begs to die – has he forgotten God’s power on the mountain?! I forget too easily in my own life, and have no right to judge this great prophet for his temporary weakness.

So how should I respond when I find myself like Elijah, or David – at the end of my tether and tempted to give up on God, disbelieving and fed up? I believe that there is a sovereign remedy for this complaint, although sometimes it takes a great deal of self-discipline to apply it – thanksgiving, praising God for what is and has been and deliberately concentrating on gratitude and trust.

As Paul tells the Corinthian church, God never leaves us without a way out under temptation, so when I am tempted to wallow in self-pity I have a choice. Shall I choose to sin against my Lord’s love, faithfulness and promise, by sulking, harming myself and others, and frustrating his work in my life? Or will I choose to recognise the inherent sin of self-pity, and reject it? God’s plans for my life may include many trials, difficult times and painful experiences – but self-pity is not the fruit which he designs they should produce. Rather, a godly thankfulness, a humble awareness that I cannot understand his ways, but must and CAN trust him should inform my attitude.

May I commend this discipline of gratitude, and thanksgiving most earnestly to you? It has brought more consolation and help to me than I can begin to explain, and – I trust – will continue to be used by God to shape me into the likeness of my dear Lord Jesus.

Give thanks to our God, for he is so good; his love endures for ever.

His door is never shut…

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

(Ps 23.5&6)

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. For what you have done I will always praise you in the presence of your faithful people. And I will hope in your name, for your name is good.

(Ps 52.8&9)

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with his justice and righteousness. He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

(Isa 33.5&6)

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

(Heb 10.19-22)

A few months ago, I knew nothing about ‘social distancing’, COVID19 and ‘shielding’. I met friends in coffee shops, stayed in their houses in order to attend choir practice, visit the hairdresser and go shopping. I thought nothing of hugging, touching, expressing love through my hands as well as my words. And every week, I met with fellow believers to sing, pray and study God’s word in a variety of buildings around our parish.

So much has changed, we have learnt – through great upheaval and at the cost of thousands of lives and millions of pounds – just how powerful a virus can be, and how vulnerable we are. We have learnt that we can adapt incredibly quickly, discovered unexpected resilience, unlikely heroes have emerged, and at last we are discovering that true caring is priceless, and seriously undervalued in our society. And we have discovered just how much we are meant to live in community, how even a casual conversation in the street at an appropriate distance can sustain another day in isolation from family and friends.

But what of church? What difference has it made for me to be locked out of the buildings, to be forbidden to meet with others to sing, pray and study God’s word? I have been humbled and thrilled to discover that – just as the bible tells me – I am one who dwells for ever in God’s house. By faith in Christ, I am at home with my Heavenly Father and nothing can shut me out from his presence, or his arms. I can share every meal with him, every moment of my days is lived with him, and his word is my daily nourishment. I have been privileged in these days to experience what persecuted Christians around the world know in much harder circumstances, namely that I am never alone and God cannot be kept from me, his beloved child.

I don’t need to be in a particular building or even with certain people in order to worship God and delight in his presence. His word is with me, speaking to me and directing my thoughts. The wisdom and knowledge of God, the inestimable treasures of salvation, all these are mine, unlocked for me by Christ and providing a sure foundation on which I can depend when all around is uncertainty and fear. I can pray for my fellow believers even though I am not with them, because we are all united in Christ and stand before God’s throne of mercy together.

Great saints down the ages have known what it is to be deprived of their freedom and sent to prison or exile – and there they prove this truth, that God never abandons his children. While we are saved into a community of believers, and it is good to be physically present with one another, sharing praise and service and our lives, yet we are each directly united with Christ, and thus live always in God’s loving presence. When the distractions of ‘normal’ life are removed, we perhaps learn to think more of Christ and to see him more clearly – to celebrate the love which sent him to Calvary, and the goodness which informs everything that happens to us.

May these days of isolation and distance from one another bear this fruit in my life, and yours, that we learn to depend more and more upon Christ and find in him our satisfaction and refuge. The words of Samuel Rutherford – a Scottish minister of the 17th century who was imprisoned for his ministry and teaching beautifully express something of this :- “Let us be glad and rejoice in the salvation of our Lord, for faith had never yet cause to have wet cheeks and hanging-down brows…Faith may dance because Christ sings; and we may come in the choir and lift our hoarse and rough voices, and chirp and sing, and shout for joy with our Lord Jesus!” 

When the world shrinks..

Yet I am always with you, you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

(Ps 73.23-26)

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matt 6.31-34)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. …I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

(Phil 4 4-6,12&13)

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

(Jas 4.14&15)

One of the most interesting lessons to come out of these strange days when the entire world is almost ‘on hold’, is the sense of learning to live one day at a time. For many believers in the developing world, this is a reality which they have no trouble inhabiting, since poverty, climate change, war and other factors make each day a fight for survival. Their faith in the God who loves and sustains them is humbling, a quiet rebuke to those of us whose lives are clothed in (to them) unimagineable luxury and security, and whose faith is perhaps less vigorous as a result.

Do I really mean it when I sing with the psalmist that ‘earth has nothing I desire beside you?’. Am I really choosing to live each day as if it were my last, and I am mindful only to be glorifying and enjoying God?

All of us are facing a very real grief for aspects of our lives which have been lost in the current situation. I think it is important to recognise and allow this to happen – the important thing is to bring the grief to God and ask him to keep the wounds healthy and clean, free of resentment. We will not get these days back again – days which should have been spent with loved ones, getting to know new babies, saying farewell to the dying; days set aside to be holidays and festivals, celebrations and joyous experiences; days which should have been spent away from home pursuing particular interests, opportunities for service.

We have a choice, in our confined condition, as our world has shrunk to our four walls, our immediate neighbourhood, to a future void of plans and only the shadows of anticipated pleasures which will not now be ours. We can choose to accept that since God is sovereign, good and just, he knows and is control of all that is happening. He knows our grief and loss, but he also knows that we can cope with his help, and find contentment – trusting that even our wounds can be a blessing. Or we can choose to resent all that we have lost, to disbelieve God’s goodness and faithfulness, and infuse our mourning with bitterness and self-pity.

Heavenly Father, thank you that we can come to you in our grief for all the many things which are not to be ours after all; for the days which cannot be recovered and which we had anticipated with so much pleasure. Thank you that you know how we are made, and you understand the wounds we carry and the temptation to resent what you are permitting in these days, to wallow in self-pity and choose sullenness.

Lord, in your mercy help us to choose instead to delight in what you have given – to remember our riches in Christ first and foremost, but then also to see so many other good things which are ours. Help us to accept with humble and reverent hearts that your will is the best place for us, even though we may not understand it, and even as we grieve, may we do so in a way that glorifies you and honours you. In Jesus’ precious name we pray, Amen.

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.

Cultivating wonder…

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.. and the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food..

(Gen 1.31: 2.9))

‘God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him?..Remember to extol his work, which men have praised in song. All mankind has seen it…How great is God – beyond our understanding!..He draws up the drops of water..who can understand how he spreads out the clouds..? God’s voice thunders in marvellous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding’

(Job 36.22,24,26&27: 37.5)

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons…

(Romans 8.19-23)

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, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them..”

(Rev 21.1&3)

After what feels like weeks of wind and rain, I walked this morning in a calm brightness, the sea unruffled and the distant mountains gleaming white in the sunshine. There was almost no sound at all in all the great amphitheatre of the loch, and the quiet chirruping of unseen birds carried far in the still air. Brightness, light, and saturated colours met my eye in every direction, and my soul rejoiced in my Creator, the great Artist and maker of all beauty.

I believe that God made everything good, in fact very good – not only useful, but beautiful. I exult in the magnitude of space – so far beyond my comprehension – and in the infinitesimal details of ecosystems and living beings – so far beyond my perception. I am glad to worship and yield myself to the hands of this God, whose power and infinite variety have expressed themselves in this incredible world which we perceive with all our senses.

We neglect our sense of wonder at our peril, because with it we lose a great source of encouragement and delight in our daily pilgrimage. Our glorious God has placed us in a world, a universe, which shouts his praises; and although the bible tells us that it is flawed and suffers the consequences of human rebellion, yet we also see that it remains truthful in reflecting God’s glory. We are also told that we were originally called to be faithful stewards of the garden – nurturing and tending for the benefit of all who live there – so that our fall from grace must have implications for our task as well as for ourselves.

Our garden is suffering because we are in rebellion against our maker, and ultimately that agony will only come to an end when Christ makes all things new – when our defiled and weary planet is transformed even as our mortal bodies will be transformed for immortality. This doesn’t mean we should abuse it further, but rather return with great energy to the task we were originally given, and seek to fulfill it as redeemed servants who believe in a glorious future. There is an added incentive to this labour, since we now know so much about the impact which human exploitation has had upon the whole earth’s systems – and in turn upon the creatures which depend upon it. God cares about his creation, as his children, we should care too. If by our labours now, we can create a healthier, fairer life for our poor neighbours, those affected by drought, floods, soil erosion, then let us do it – cultivating the garden for the benefit of all…

There is wonder in the coming of spring, as new life erupts in every plant, from the tiniest weed to the greatest trees; as buds swell and new leaves and flowers unfurl miraculously from tiny beginnings to extravagant displays of colour, shape and texture. There is wonder in the effortless gliding of seabirds as they ride the wind; in the ceaseless movement and energy of hedgerow birds as their tiny forms flit from thicket to tree and back to hedge. There is wonder in the the unfurling of an infant’s face and hands as they begin their journey of life. There is wonder in the soft skin of age, the strong and worn hands which have laboured and served, the patient and loving eyes which have wept, laughed and seen so much of life.

God made us to worship him, and not his creation. When I cultivate wonder, I am not worshipping the trees, the people, the sunset or the mountains, but I am reminding myself that I worship a magnificent God, who is utterly beyond my comprehension, and who yet has made all this so that I might live and know him.

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. (Ps 95.6&7)

Stumbling across glory…

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendour and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary…worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth…Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord for he comes…

(Ps 96.4-6,9, 11&12)

I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end…That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure for ever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him..Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

(Ecc 3.10-14; 5.2)

But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream…

(Jer 17.7&8)

Beautiful in its time…which means that beauty will come to an end, will pass away, and that ache in our hearts which is briefly assuaged by it must return. The writer of Ecclesiastes explains just why the fleeting quality of beauty is so painful for us to bear – because God has set eternity in our hearts, that reflection of his nature which is designed for an everlasting expression and experience of love.

We seek to prolong our experience of beauty – by trying to capture it in a photograph; finding words to convey it others; creating methods of remembering and reproducing it in the case of music – and even by trying to prolong our own lives in order to increase the amount of beauty we may experience! But ultimately, none of these can satisfy the eternal appetite which is placed within us by God, an appetite which can only be appeased when finally we find in the new creation the full expression of all those things of which beauty in this world is only a shadow.

The author, academic and christian apologist, CS Lewis gave his biography the title “Surprised by Joy”, because it was through these ecstatic, and fleeting experiences of beauty (which he calls ‘Joy’), that he first hungered after an other-world, a place from which this joy came and to which he belonged. It was in the gospel of Christ that he finally found the source of joy, and his adoption into the kingdom where the great Author of joy, the source of beauty and glory reigns. And in many writings, especially his ‘Narnia’ series, he reflects on the purpose of these moments when the beauty of this world grabs us and take our breath away.

God’s creation must reflect his power and character, his essential beauty is revealed in so many ways in his handiwork. Is it not natural that those whose hearts are formed to mirror this divine nature should thrill in response to such glimpses of glory? We are not the Creator, but the creatures, and our own attempts to generate true beauty can never satisfy in the same way as the real thing. So we respond in celebration to the glories around us, and we gladly acknowledge our inability to match God in creation. We remember that God is in heaven, and we on the earth, so that our words – and our ambitions – should be few!

When I stumble into the presence of glory, I worship with a full heart. When my heart aches in contemplating the beauty of this broken world, I rejoice because one day, Lord make it soon, I shall be at home in the unimagineable beauty of a perfect, re-created world, and I shall be sharing my joy with the Author and Creator himself, face-to-face. When I have to pass on, when the beauty is gone, I do not grieve as those who have no hope, but allow the experience to feed my home-sickness for heaven, and to nourish my soul with fresh hope and expectation.

My God knows my need; and I choose to trust him for the supplies I need along this journey – especially for continual discoveries of glory along the way, as his power, splendour and majesty are revealed in his creation, and my appetite for my glory-home grows stronger. Let us worship along the way, and press on towards the goal!