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.

 

Attitude, not achievement..my little can be enough

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification..

(Rom 14.17-19)

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come…So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body of away from it.

(2 Cor 5.1-5,9)

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see…[Enoch] was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists…

(Heb 11.1,5&6)

Today, I worship the Lord by whose sacrificial love I am brought into a relationship with the living God. Today, I choose to reflect on the completed task of Jesus Christ in fully paying my debt, taking all the judgement for my rebellion against God upon himself. Today, I see again the miracle which is my new life as a beloved child of a Heavenly Father, whose purpose in history is to embed me into his family along with a multitude of others, each one precious in his sight.

I  consider these things, and I give thanks with a grateful heart, astonished that one as insignificant as myself should matter enough to the unimaginably great Author of creation. To be thus beloved brings peace beyond measure and security beyond price.

Then I see the question that remains for believers…since Jesus has done everything necessary for our salvation, what is our purpose in remaining? The grace of God means that I already have everything I need, and don’t have to earn my salvation by a series of achievements; whether keeping rules, doing good works, developing a particular form of spiritual life, or anything else which I may feel I ‘ought’ to do. In a way, this is such a relief, as my powers are weak and my capacity for great works non-existent! But we all want to have some sense of purpose in living – and having formed us, God knows this full well. We fret for lack of direction and thrive on a sense of achievement and the satisfaction of fulfilling worthwhile tasks.

I rejoice with gladness then, as I see that God has asked me to do something for him – not to earn my salvation, but rather as an expression of my profound thankfulness for that priceless gift. I am not presented with some list of difficult tasks to prove my love to God, bur rather offered the opportunity to cultivate an attitude to life grounded in  faith. Will I take my homesickness for heaven, and offer it to God, letting it drive my worship and witness to others who also long for an eternal home and the forgiveness of sin? Will I accept that my hunger to be delivered from this mortal body (this tired and ugly tent, a thing woven through with doubt, prejudice and vulnerable to temptation), is a motivation to pursue Christ in all his beauty and perfection, and to co-operate with the work of the Spirit within me?

Dear friends, as believers, we have the privilege of choosing to live in ways which will bring gladness – pleasure – to the  Almighty God whose we are. We may feel that our own gifts and lives are so small and weak that we have nothing to bring him, but that’s not the point. The very fact that our desire is to gladden our Father’s heart is in itself a joy to him!

Perhaps today you feel that you are without purpose, that your life might as well stop for all the difference it would make. Please, dear friend, look up and consider the loving heart of the God who made you for this time and this place, and who daily delights in you. In continually recommitting ourselves to growing in faith, to this transformational attitude to our lives, we make the Eternal glad. You, me and all those who call him Father, bring him pleasure in our weakness and the small things that we are and do. Our little is enough, so let us take courage and go on into this week, this year, this life, focussing on our attitude not our achievements, and leaving Jesus to take all the glory, while we receive the blessings of his love and care.

With my own two hands…

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

(Ps 127. 1&2)

The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down..The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception. Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright. Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no-one else can share its joy..The faithless will be fully repaid for their ways, and the good[man] rewarded for [his]..

(Prov 14.1,8-11,14)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace And be thankful.

(Col 3.12-15)

We celebrated our wedding anniversary this week, and as I read in the book of Proverbs this morning I was forcibly struck by the relevance of the words in chapter 14, with their challenge to be a wise builder. Certainly, it takes two people to make a marriage, but God calls me to take full responsibility for my part and not to make any shortcomings or flaws in my husband an excuse for my own folly. 

I believe that God ordained marriage for many good reasons, and that it remains a unique type of relationship, quite apart from the blood ties of kinship, or the bonds of deep friendship – although these may play their part within the marriage. The deliberate act of two people to commit to living together for life, to forgiving one another, bearing with failure and weakness, supporting through thick and thin, accepting the changes of ageing and continuing to choose to love, this is – as one long-married pop singer recently observed – ‘an heroic act’. I agree whole-heartedly, and frankly have no idea how those who do not know the love and forgiveness of God in Jesus, can cope with the pressures of marriage!

There is so much in Proverbs which unpacks what the wisdom of God’s children in daily life should look like, and I have been appreciating the stimulating soundbites which cause me to reflect on my own behaviour. Do I build? Am I actively engaged in seeking the good of my spouse, regardless of his behaviour to me, of my own moods and circumstances? It is work, of course it is! But it is also what I am called to in marriage; called to choose forgiveness over revenge; to choose patience over temper; called to choose humility over assertion of my own rights and opinions; called to extend to another sinner that same grace which I have received from God – and to receive from them, the forgiveness that I need when I offend, fail and hurt them. Sacrificing pride is hard work; accepting that I sometimes deceive myself about my motives and actions is painful work; apologising can be excruciating work; believing the best about my spouse, even when I cannot begin to understand what is in their heart, can be wearying work.

But this is the work of love, this is the central beam which holds the whole structure together and around which the building grows over time. For me, as a follower of Jesus, His love for me is what enables my love to my spouse to grow, to endure hard times, to keep on doing the work. The perfect love and acceptance offered by my Lord has set me free to love another human being – flawed just like me, forgiven just like me, but never in this life to be perfect any more than me! What a privilege, to have the opportunity to show one human being, over the course of years of intimate acquaintance, as much as I can of the perfect love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ – to dignify his feelings by respecting them, to put away into forgetfulness his flaws and failings, to publicly declare loyalty and delight in him as a person, and to choose to be present – in sickness and in health; in wealth or in want; in sorrow and in joy, for as long as we both shall live.

May the God who has brought us safe thus far, continue to enable and bless us in the days ahead, so that our work in his name, in this marriage, might glorify him and be a blessing to others.

If not me, then who?

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfil the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you – may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem…..” Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites – everyone whose heart God had moved, prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem….

Now these are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles..they returned..each to his own town, in company with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum and Baanah: The list of the men of the people of Israel: the descendants of Parosh, 2172; of Shephatiah, 372…the men of Bethlehem, 123; of Netophah, 56…

(Ezr 1.1-5; 2.1-4,21&22))

The great Hebrew Scripture narratives of exodus and exile are associated with lists….huge lists of names and numbers, relating to the people who were involved in these historic events. As modern readers, we are tempted to skip over them – we can’t pronounce most of them, and they mean nothing to us! But consider their significance to generations of Jews, who would trace their own family name back to one of these, and remember with awe that their ancestors were part of those hugely significant events. The inclusion of these names is a reminder that all of God’s work in history has involved individuals, real people like you and me, whose lives were caught up into his overarching purpose. 

As those called to be God’s people, we are pledged to obedience and faithfulness (as God enables us), and we are not free to dictate the terms on which we will follow where God is leading – we are slaves to Christ, not his employees and certainly not his employers! If all the exiled Israelites had responded to God’s prompting of their hearts by saying – ” returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple is a great idea…let someone else do it, I am quite comfortable here with the way things are and I don’t like change..”: then there would have been no return from exile. I wonder how those who chose not to go felt in later years? Did they regret their failure to be part of that work of return and rebuilding, or had their faith never been in God at all, but rather in the trappings of prosperity and security which they now found in Babylon?

It is our personal commitment within the body of Christ which leads to corporate obedience. If I choose to delegate obedience to another, what is to prevent them doing the same? It is entirely possible for us to miss out on being part of God’s work in the world – but we will be the losers, and our faith and spiritual health will suffer. Is my trust in Jesus as my Lord, or in the habit of meeting in a certain place at a certain time? Is my faith a matter of habit and laziness – of letting someone else tell me what to think and avoiding the difficult questions and self-disclosure which might prompt self-examination, confession, repentance and change? 

Most of us recognise that many formal church structures are collapsing, and that perhaps it is time for far-reaching change if we are to support local believers in authentic witness and outreach to our communities. What will my response be to change that hurts? Will I reject it and cling to my own comfort, or will I allow Christ’s love to compel me along the difficult path, trusting his provision and enabling? If each member of the church in turn says, “Change is good, but let other people change, I am comfortable here”, then there will be no corporate submission to God’s leading into new things.  We will have shown that even the abundant grace shown to us in Jesus, and all the lavish promises of God are not as valuable to us as our comfortable traditions.

Change starts within each one of us….

Do I worship Jesus as Lord of my life? Then I must at the least be willing to set aside anything which hinders his work – including cherished music, forms of worship, translations of scriptures – and also to make myself available to do things differently – perhaps to learn in new ways, to be more active in sharing with others. The pain or struggle of doing this will be real, but is his love not worth anything I can give? What does the old hymn say?

Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life my all.”

I hold my personal comfort in an open hand, I offer it to the Lord and say, take this and use it according to your pleasure. I will trust you to be with me, no matter where and when I meet with your people; no matter what we sing – or don’t sing; and to speak to me whether there is an ordained minister present or not! Lead me into whatever you have for me, and I will follow, all that matters is that Jesus is honoured and obeyed.

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Get wisdom..

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight..Blessed is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding..By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew…Get wisdom, get understanding..wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

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

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

(Isa 11.2-4)

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

(Matt 13.45&46)

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

(1 Cor 1.20&21,25,30)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Building site with great prospects!

For the Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling: “This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.

(Ps 132.13&14)

Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

(Jn 14.23)

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?

(1 Cor 3.16)

I thank my God for you every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with  joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

(Phil 1.3-6)

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

(1 Jn 3.2&3)

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

(CS Lewis, from Mere Christianity, 1952)

This quote from CS Lewis beautifully expresses the rather bewildering experience of the believer who – having come thankfully to God for forgiveness and restoration – finds themselves being increasingly challenged, disturbed and unsettled as their journey of faith unfolds. It turns out that God’s ambitions for us are so very much greater than our own, and the blueprint to which He is working – the very likeness of Christ himself – is beyond our comprehension.

I find it helpful to return to this image regularly as I ponder what God has done and is doing in my life, especially on those occasions when it felt as though I had been subject to a demolition order, when familiar supports were knocked away and foundations dug for a whole new framework. I am already secure as a child of God, and my place in His eternal glory is guaranteed – my prospects are truly marvellous, since I am to be at home in the new creation, where there will be no more imperfections, and all creation will be as He always intended it should be. I will be completely in harmony with my surroundings, and free from any shadow of guilt or shame.

In the meantime, it sometimes feels as though no progress is being made at all – the same basic sins recur, in different forms, over and over; new challenges arise in each stage of life which can feel insurmountable; doubts shake us, and grief near overwhelms us. But the bible asserts that in the midst of this apparent chaos and utter lack of progress, yet God is at work, and his ultimate goal is complete transformation. Each of His beloved, redeemed children is becoming a unique expression of Christ, a celebration of the beauty of the One and Only Son where God dwells and His glory is revealed and exulted in.

He has always intended that He should dwell with us in joy and mutual delight, and to that end, the whole of history unfolds. One day, we shall see that plan fully realised, and by then, in our perfected resurrection bodies, we shall be able to praise and honour him rightly – what a wonderful prospect that is. May we be strengthened in our faith as we undergo the labours of the heavenly builder, strengthened to trust that He knows what He is doing and enabled to co-operate with Him. Our prospects are glorious, and we shall be amazed when we see the final results of His great plan..Have you ever tried to imagine how it might feel to come before our Lord without a trace of guilt, regret or shame? It is an overwhelmingly wonderful thing that He is doing for us, and He WILL finish the task..so let us persevere with hope and confidence.

 

Travelling mercies and wayside glories!

By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them..and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light..

Moses said to the Lord, “…You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favour with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you…” The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here…” 

So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.

(Ex 13.21;33.12-15;40.38)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.

(Ps 23.1-4)

There is a famous song from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical ‘Carousel’, entitled “You’ll never walk alone’, a song which tugs at the heartstrings quite unmercifully, and speaks powerfully of our desperate need of presence as we face the trials of life. Although I doubt that it was written with the Christian faith in mind, it does fit very well with the words of the psalmist, as he rejoices in the knowledge that the Lord is present at all times and in all places, even the valley of the shadow of death. As believers, we do not rely on the memories of departed friends for comfort, nor even on the actual human presence of fellow travellers, but on the promise of God himself to be with his people.

As Moses urged God to remain with the Israelites – well aware that their sin and rebellion deserved no such favour – so also we cling to God in prayer and depend on his promise to be with us always – to guide us and to bring the light which drives out fear. Ultimately, we all face life alone, since no one can live for us, or share our experience of it completely, and so unless our companion is the Lord himself, our maker and sustainer, we will be astray and vulnerable. But with him, we are fortified against whatever may come. He often uses the presence of others in our lives as a means of communicating his love, and making provision for us in our need – do you ever think of your friends as travelling mercies and wayside glories, gifts to sustain and strengthen your faith for the day ahead? They are both those things! The love of others – fellow believers and those who do not yet know him – and the gift of their friendship are among the loveliest things that the Good  Shepherd bestows on his flock.

In addition to these human gifts, we receive direct from his hand those things which he knows are best suited to our nature by way of encouragement, and the restoration of our souls. For many people, the wonder of creation in nature is a boundless source of joy and encouragement, and I know for myself that even the most desolating times have been pierced by light from God as my attention is drawn to some delicate flower or moss, the colours and textures of rock and wood, the grandeur of distant mountains and the perfectly timed appearance of a rainbow or particular bird.

We do not rely on these things, but we do well to be open to receiving them from the Shepherd’s hand, as gifts for our good, and tokens of his loving presence in the midst of whatever we are facing.

There is an old song, perhaps a little trite sounding, but precious in the deep reality of which it speaks for Jesus followers:

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me, and talks with me along life’s narrow way.

He lives, He lives, salvation to impart; you ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!

The One who loves us, the One who died for us, the One who rose to stand forever at the Father’s side to intercede for us; this is He who lives within our hearts and from whom nothing can ever part us again. Let us take care to be on the watch for his daily mercies to us, and the glories which are so lavishly bestowed along the way, so that we may be restored in our souls. We have his presence to guide us, and the light of his victorious glory to drive away our fear. We are safe in his hand and need never walk alone!

On being a dust-bather…

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 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.

(Ps 25.4,5,7&8)

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

(Pr 11.2)

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

(Matt 10.8-31)

..I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

(Eph 4.1-3)

The house sparrows are using my flower bed to take dust baths, an astonishing sight as the tiny birds flutter and spin in the hollows and clean their feathers of dirt and parasites. I was reminded as I watched them, of Jesus words to his followers about their value, and how God notices ‘even’ the sparrows when they fall. Little brown birds, insignificant and easy to miss, just quietly getting on with their lives in a small corner of the grand scheme of things…and their Creator sees each one. There can be some sense that we want to make a big splash with our lives, and some of us are called to such tasks. But for most, God asks us to trust Him and then to walk humbly and quietly in his presence, to get on obediently in our quiet corner of the grand scheme of God’s plan.

Am I content to be a dust-bather? Am I content to have been spared the dazzling plumage of the peacock that draws all eyes, or the power and skill of the great raptors which fill us with admiration? Will I let God’s estimate of my worth be sufficient, or do I crave recognition, praise and adulation from those around me? 

The history of the church is sadly littered with the stories of those who were entrusted with responsibility and significance, only to fall into pride and disobedience to God, disgracing themselves and doing untold harm to God’s people and their witness. Consider Saul, David, and Solomon, and more recently, the leaders of christian ministries who have found that an exalted position is not always a healthy place to be in. How we should pray for those who are gifted in leadership, who find themselves in positions of power and influence! The enemy of God’s people so often succeeds in destroying their witness through human weakness to which we are all vulnerable.

Let us give thanks if we are called rather to less public sphere; let us ask God to continually remind us of our need for a Saviour and to deliver us from false pride in anything except the cross of Christ. We seek his leading in our lives, that we might do his will – even if it seems insignificant, who knows what will be revealed in eternity about the ways that God uses us? We seek courage to bear witness to him and to own ourselves followers of Jesus, no matter at what cost. We ask God to keep us gentle with one another – remembering how Jesus bore with his disciples – and especially to keep us in prayer for those who can’t stay quietly out of the limelight, but must step out to lead. As our brothers and sisters in the Lord, we have a duty of care to pray for them, to encourage them and pray for wise counsellors who can alert them to danger. 

In all our lives, may God be honoured and Christ exalted, to the glory of his name and the building of the kingdom!

When everything else has fallen away..

O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief…The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed.

I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly, O Lord, my spirit fails.

Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.

Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord, for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.

(Ps 143.1, 2-10)

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. about the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

(Matt 27.45&46)

As followers of Jesus, we live with a continual tension between the reality of a broken, and pain-filled world, and the revelation of God’s loving purposes for his creation. This is not the place to unpack the many discussions which can arise, rather I have been considering how we can pray for one another when the crises come. To be a Christian is not a recipe for a protected, pain free existence, and anyone who tries to convince others that the gospel brings health, wealth and happiness is to be rebuked and avoided at all costs. We will face suffering, even as every human being does.

Every trial known to humanity happens to believers too – rape, abuse, violent assault, homelessness, cancer, addiction, debilitating and degenerative diseases, disability, poverty, war, earthquakes and all natural disasters. How may we pray for one another when our lives are shaken to their foundations, when all the walls collapse and in an instant, we are naked to the winds and vulnerable to utter destruction? This is intercession, the ministry of other members of Christ’s body for those who are stunned and reeling, unable to pray for themselves, possibly running away from God, certainly in great agony of spirit.  We may be called to it for hours, days or years, and we may not see the answers we hope for – our own faith may be challenged. Are we willing?

We can pray for protection of their faith – that they will continue to bring all to God, not turn away from him. He is big enough to take all our frantic furious words and his fathomless love refuses to walk away from his hurting children. We can pray that their anger will be poured out before him, so that their spirit may be preserved from the infection of bitterness and the petrifying power of resentment. The psalmists give shape to such lament, as do Job and the prophets.

We can pray for that steadying and grounding which guards against drastic and desperate action, for wisdom to hold through confusion and the turmoil of grief. The presence of compassion and practical support, of burden-sharers, and those who can advise and bring comfort by their presence. Perhaps we ourselves may have a part to play in this. How often Paul speaks in his letters of the comfort which friends brought – by their gifts and their companionship – as God’s support to him in his need.

We can pray for for freedom from paralysing fear as they contemplate a future which they hoped never to see. How many of us deliberately contemplate what life might look like if disaster struck? We don’t, we focus instead on enjoying what we have and easily forget that life can change in an instant. A beloved may walk out of the house, and out of our lives with no warning, and how shall we live without them? A diagnosis may come which shifts life into an endurance event, full of obstacles, and pain. We don’t want to anticipate these things, but they are the stuff of real and daily life. How much we need God’s help in living through those situations, in dealing with the fear of suffering, of loss, of death.

Above all, we pray for mercy from the Omnipotent on the dust-creature whom he loves, and who is at this time flat out in stunned despair and hopelessness. Tomorrow, it could be my turn, or yours. We live, day by day depending entirely on God’s providence, and by grace we cry to him as Father for his presence. We have his love, an eternal inheritance, a daily indwelling strength by his Holy Spirit, and although we may feel abandoned, we can give thanks that we are never truly alone. Because Jesus was forsaken, we are not..

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matt 28.18&20)