“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.
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.
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.
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.
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?..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.
God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun..
So what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen?
(Rom 8.29-33, The Message)
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
(2 Cor 4.16-18)
What does it mean, to love God? Is it about feelings? Is it a continual state of joy, an endless experience of peace?
I would counter with another question…what does it mean to love another person? I think it means to seek what is best for them, whatever that may look like. Love is what prompts a parent to release their children into the world, into independence and adulthood, having spent years caring for them. Love is what prompts a spouse to go on forgiving their partner, to go on asking forgiveness, to go on trying to be more gentle, understanding, supportive – it is love which seeks to see the other thrive, whatever it takes. Love for the other is what can drive us to become better people – for their sake we tackle the weaknesses and failings which cause them so much trouble. The care-free young adult, on becoming a parent may find stores of patience, determination, and self-sacrificial commitment which transform them, all for the sake of the infant committed to their care.
So when I am tormented by the enemy of God’s people about my own feeble commitment to Jesus, when I am reminded of my ongoing sin, continued failures, the weaknesses which injure others and undermine my witness, I hold on to this thing that I know..I hold on to the truth about love…it’s not about my feelings, but about my motivation and actions. What drives me, what grieves me, what do I hunger for?
The answer to those questions is – as truthfully as I can tell it – that I long, like the psalmist, to dwell in God’s presence, to see his face and be worthy to be there with him. I remind myself that God’s own Son was willing, out of love, to die for me – I matter that much to him, and in that death, my sin is dealt with once and for all. It cannot be used to drive me away from him, but only towards him in dependence on that full forgiveness. He knows how bitterly I grieve for my own sin, for the ways I fall short of righteousness and holiness….and he hasn’t given up on me. He knows I hunger to be more steadfast, eloquent, fruitful, Christ-like …..and he hasn’t given up on me. He knows how easily I am swayed by self-pity and general self-centredness…..and he hasn’t given up on me.
How glorious is this reassurance to all those – like me – who are making their way steadily, but full of self-doubt, along the road to our eternal home! God is going to finish what he started, and that heart-hunger to give him joy is his gift of reassurance, that I am on the right road. I may not feel joyful or victorious, powerful or holy – so what! I KNOW that God has saved and forgiven me, loves me, and is ALWAYS at work in me by his Spirit to realise the likeness of his beloved son, my saviour, Jesus.
Trust in the Lord and do good..Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait for him.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us..Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
(2 Cor 4.7,16-18)
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade … In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. these have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
(1 Pet. 3-7)
“There are no throwaway moments in life; everything counts for eternal reward.” – Joni Eareckson Tada, in ‘A Spectacle of Glory’, 2016, Zondervan
Much of what I want to say today was inspired by these words from Joni, whose life and ministry among those with physical disabilities has shown us what God can do through suffering when it is yielded up for his work and glory. Since the diving accident which left her confined to a wheelchair in her teens, Joni has made choices every day to pursue God’s glory and to trust that He will use what she offers to that end. She is honest enough to say that it is never easy, but also urges us to believe that it is both possible and worthwhile to do.
If someone like Joni can commit to such choices, then surely I can too. Each day, I am faced with the normal trials, struggles and frustrations of human existence; from the large ones to the trivial. Each day, I have choices to make about how I will respond to what God has permitted for my life. It may be that my initial responses to trouble will continue to be instinctive – anger, fear, disgust, disappointment – but the bible teaches me that I have choices about what I do with those emotions.
Will I recognise the temptation to indulge feelings and attitudes which deny God’s goodness, providence and power? Or will I act as quickly as I can to bring those emotions to God and ask him for his help to think and act differently? I DO NOT say that this is easy, or that I am never guilty of giving in to the temptation to complain, indulge in self-pity, nurse resentment and hold grudges. But, I also believe that with God’s power at work within by the Spirit, I can choose to set aside the wrong responses and move on to the ones which will produce in me the godliness, holiness and God-glorifying qualities which I long to see. As Joni says, we have opportunities every day to make life count for eternity, to show the world, its ruling spirits, and all the heavenly realms, just what Jesus can do in us when we ask.
As I remind myself that my Lord is always near, that my purpose is to glorify God, and that I am a new creation in Christ, then my resistance to choosing God’s way is broken down, and I repent of my self-indulgent fits of temper or resentment, and find joy in acknowledging my need of him. I thank God that He is nurturing in us the self-control which enables us to do this, and that every such effort strengthens our faith and the right instinct of dependence.
The words of this prayer help me to commit my ways to the Lord, trusting that as He works in me to answer, so I shall increasingly shine with his glory.
Teach me, O God, so to use all the circumstances of my life today that they may bring forth in me the fruits of holiness rather than the fruits of sin.
Let me use disappointment as material for patience:
Let me use success as material for thankfulness:
Let me use suspense as material for perseverance:
Let me use danger as material for courage:
Let me use reproach as material for longsuffering:
Let me use praise as material for humility:
Let me use pleasures as material for temperance:
Let me use pains as material for endurance:
(extract from A diary of Private Prayer, John Baillie, 1936)
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God…for a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. You sweep men away in the sleep of death..who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due to you. Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
The Lord, the Lord Almighty, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn…He who builds his lofty palace in the heavens and sets its foundation on the earth, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land – the Lord is his name.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side; but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair…For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Relent, O Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. (Ps 90.13&14)
From the hospital corridors, the deathbeds, and the mortuaries; from the pharmacies and the hospital auxiliaries locker rooms…the cry goes up, How long!? Doctors and nurses are being crushed by the strain of their labours, by making decisions about who will be given treatment and who will not, by finding themselves incapable, through lack of resources, of offering the care which they are pledged to give. They are violating their calling, and there is no sign of the burden decreasing.
From the homes of the small business owners, the self-employed, in private despair and hopelessness, they contemplate the loss of dreams, income, provision for their families, security for the future. The cry goes up, How long?! The livelihoods and mental health of millions around the world are under threat, and the burden of responsibility for others is crushing our traders, our craftsmen and women.
From the chaotic homes of far too many children, where there is no order, no security, no nurture, only threat of violence, neglect and abuse of every kind, the cry goes up, How long? So many social workers and educators know all too well that they have shut up millions of young people in places and with adults who are far from good for them, and the damage which is even now being done is incalculable. The burden of pain, fear and destruction is crushing our most vulnerable.
From the corridors of government, where decisions are being made without adequate information, where there is no precedent to guide, and where the consequences are unimaginable, the cry goes up How long?! Politicians and leaders of every nation are scrambling to protect, provide and somehow salvage something from the wreckage, wondering all the while how history will judge them, and what hope will remain for the future…The burden of responsibility is ferocious and relentless, and where can they find courage to go on bearing it?
Heavenly Father, as your children, we are given your heart of love for this fallen and broken world, and so we share in some measure the pain which is being experienced in acute measure by millions – and we taste the fear which permeates every conversation and fresh news bulletin describing the progress of this affliction around the world. Help us to continually cast this burden of pain and fear upon you – we cannot bear it, and are not meant to, but it ought to drive us to prayer.
Heavenly Father, as we see the destruction and loss, and glimpse the future consequences of this event, we quail, and tremble for our planet. All too many are already using this pandemic event as another reason to not only dismiss you, but to belittle and deride our faith in you. Your name is not being glorified in this by those who cannot and will not recognise your lordship, but rather you are cursed for not caring enough. We do not have ready answers to those who curse and dismiss, and we know that in their eyes we are fools for trusting you.
Dear Lord and Father of all mankind, as your servants strive to trust you in these days, to model hope and love, may you have mercy on this planet. Accomplish all that you have purposed to do through this pandemic, and may it bring glory to your name. And Lord, for all those already breaking, mourning, despairing, impoverished, we pray – in your power O God, have mercy and bring them to the only true ground for hope. May millions yet turn to you in faith and find Christ, with all the light of your glory shining in his face.
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 understood it… When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said,”I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
(John 1.1,4&5; 8.12)
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 Corinthians 4.6)
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
By choosing to celebrate Christmas at the darkest time of the year (for dwellers in the northern hemisphere), the church has been able to explore so many ways in which the description of Christ as the “Light of the World” is a powerful and transforming one. When one lives for weeks with less than 7 hours of daylight, and much of that heavily shrouded in clouds and rain, the presence of light is a precious gift, and one for which we are profoundly thankful. Truly, it takes the darkness to make us appreciate light fully, and in particular to see how every pinprick shows up clearly – think of the old children’s hymn which speak of that bright distinctiveness – Jesus bids us shine, with a pure clear light, like a little candle burning in the night. No one is disqualified from their part in the witness of the church to the source of all brightness, Jesus himself, the light of the world.
We are called not to reflect the light – like mirrors, which have no power within them – but to shine with light, like torches, lanterns, or candles. So the light must dwell within us first! Jesus calls us to be the light of the world, even as he has taken that title upon himself – is that not amazing?! Paul in his letter to the Corinthians tries to explain what the light is – the knowledge of the glory of God, which was so full and complete in Christ, that he could say to his disciples, “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father”.
It is as we learn to know God, to worship and appreciate him in all his glory, that we will shine more and more brightly in the world – making things visible, illuminating what is true and real, showing the need for salvation and the loving God who offers it freely in Christ. The sanctifying, transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our lives scrubs away those things which obscure the light and prevent it from shining – the selfishness, the fear, the grudging and bitter resentments which can build up. And it is God himself who gives us the light, as well as making us fit to shine for him! It is not by good deeds that we obtain light, rather that one of the ways in which the light is seen is by the godly things we are prompted to do and be in our world.
Here is the challenge for us; are we shining like this? Are we so afraid of the reaction of our dark world that we try to hide the light of Christ dwelling within us, and let it out only when we are in a safe Christian environment? We don’t need candles or torches when we are bathed in sunlight, but when night has fallen, when there are no windows in the room, when the trees crowd so thick overhead that light is blotted out.
We are to shine with Christ-light in those places, where there is darkness, so that the prisoners can see, so that freedom can be obtained by those who are in despair… As we have received, so let us give – freely, abundantly, joyfully.
What a gift we have to celebrate this Christmas time – light not only for our own lives, but for all who need it! May God in his great mercy continue to make us more like Christ, so that we might bear that light of the knowledge of his glory into the world which needs it so badly…
Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because..the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim….When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look”, he said,” I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”….While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed,”Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
(Acts 7.55, 56, 59&60)
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.
We really have no idea just what the ‘glory’ of God is like, although the references quoted from the Old Testament suggest that it is something before which humanity quails and cannot stand. Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple sees him convicted of his sin and unworthiness to be in God’s presence, and the shepherds on the hills around Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth were terrified by the glory which shone around them.
We habitually think of glory as having some of the quality of light about it, especially the light of the sun, which obscures its source because of its brilliance and concentrated power. We quite literally cannot bear to see the sun with our naked eyes, and must wait for a reflection, or a veil, or some other device to moderate the light by which we see and by which all life is sustained.
Is the glory of God then something like this sunlight which ancient peoples worshipped as a god which gave them life? God is pure, there is no spot or imperfection in him. His justice, holiness, power and love are of scale and quality beyond our ability to see or comprehend. God is literally hidden from us by his own indescribably beautiful and holy qualities – we cannot bear to see him unveiled, because we are made of such inferior stuff, tainted and undermined by sin. Even a glimpse in a dream or vision was enough for Isaiah to proclaim that he was a doomed man, certain to perish from having been exposed to such divine power and holiness.
And yet, the bible story is one of God’s yearning to reveal himself to us, to be known by us, and to welcome us into his presence for all eternity that we might share in his glory! How is this possible?!
It is the miraculous revelation of God’s character through Jesus Christ which has allowed fallen humanity to behold the face of God and not perish on the spot. All the divine qualities of the Creator are somehow translated for us into the person of the Son, and there we can see and understand in some measure, just what our God is like. The overwhelming brilliance has been shaded for mortal eyes, so that we might not be blinded but illuminated. Our minds can grasp in their small capacity a little of the greatness of our God, and in realising just how dim our vision is, we also realise how very bright and dazzling the unclouded light must be.
God is good to his children, and in Stephen’s moment of extreme need, he received a special vision of glory, a view as it were over the heads of his persecuters of the place which was open to welcome him home. God’s work in Stephen’s mortal life was complete, he was going home to glory, to the arms of his Lord and Saviour who stood ready to receive him. Stephen had found the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus, confessing the divinity of this crucified and risen Son of Man, and pledging allegiance to him. Now Jesus stood to acknowledge his servant; to claim him and honour him in glory.
May I grow in the knowledge of the glory of God in the face – the whole person and work – of Christ, so that I may be faithful through trials, and walk humbly before my great and awesome God.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
(2Cor 4. 8,9,16-18)
For some of our christian brothers and sisters in the world today this passage is a physical reality, as they suffer oppression, injury and death as a result of their faith. Here in my homeland, I know nothing of this, and can barely imagine how I would react under the pressure. There is always a challenge to us in these words of Paul, who did know pain, persecution and much deprivation, to ask what we will do with our wealth and freedom for our fellow believers in need? How am I reacting as a part of the body of Christ to the suffering of other parts of the body: am I ignoring it, trying to numb myself to the pain? Or am I allowing myself to feel the ache, to let holy anger drive me to prayer, to lobby my politicians, to support agencies working to bring practical help and comfort to my brothers and sisters?
There is another sense in which these words apply to all of us, and which allow us to draw strength from Paul’s rallying cry to persevere in faith. I am thinking about the way in which life itself, the messy business of relationships, of dealing with family, work, health problems and so on, seems to get in the way of having a strong and joyful witness! How often do we find ourselves struggling with questions of guidance, of making wise decisions in very tricky circumstances. Or facing broken-down cars; faulty boilers; unfortunate complications in our travel arrangements; things just not working out smoothly and easily for us?
I think it is very important to see that Paul does not explain his troubles as being the result of unusual persecution; nor as the result of mistakes he has made in his walk with God. They are part of life, to be expected – although not necessarily welcomed with glee! We live in a broken world, among broken people, and until the wrapping up of this world and the inauguration of the next, we will have trouble. The challenge is what we as followers of Jesus do as a result of our troubles.
Do we allow them to drive a wedge between us and our God? Do we allow difficulty and weariness to feed our doubts about God’s love and faithfulness? Not Paul, he saw clearly through the immediate swirling clouds of struggle, to the clear shining light of a heavenly reward, and the hope of what God was already doing in his life as Paul continued to trust him.
This is a continual challenge for me, to do battle with my doubts and fears in the face of the pain of the world, and my own small struggles, and to trust in the utter goodness of God. I find it enormously comforting that Paul doesn’t hide his suffering, but rather brings it to the right place – into the open at the throne of God. Here is the one who sees and knows all that is happening, and who alone knows the true picture of which each individual life is a single thread. He is in the business of creating glory, harmony, beauty, an eternally satisfying and living work of art; and when we finally see it and take our rightful place in it, we will no longer question the maker!
So in my perplexities and doubts, as I face tangled situations where there seems no right way ahead, I keep coming to God, trusting that He can take each small step I make and use it for my blessing and His glory. The key is to keep moving, to do the next thing, even if it seems tiny, so that He can direct my journey. If I stand still, paralysed by doubts, I will get nowhere, and be rendered useless in my Lord’s service. The words of an old Scottish paraphrase based on Genesis 28, where Jacob has fled from home, and is literally in the middle of nowhere without a clue what to do next, are a fitting way to end this week, and a lovely prayer for every week!
Through each perplexing path of life our wandering footsteps guide;
Give us each day our daily bread, and raiment fit provide.
O spread thy covering wings around, till all our wanderings cease,
And at our Father’s loved abode our souls arrive in peace.
(Paraphrase 2, – O God of Bethel!,Gen 28.20-22, verses 3&4)