An Unfinished Masterpiece

I often get frustrated and discouraged when things happen in my life and in the lives of those close to me and I can’t see how they can fit into God’s good plans for us. It’s something I’m wrestling with at the moment.

But let me retrace my steps a little! What reasons do I have for believing that God is good in the first place?

Are there biblical foundations for an expectation that life isn’t just meaningless chaos, and that everything that happens is carefully woven into God’s sovereign plans?

Yes and yes!

A Good God with Good Plans

Here are some of the verses on which I’m basing my confidence:

You are good, and what you do is good. Psalm 119:68

10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant. Psalm 25:10

And [the Lord] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Exodus 34:6

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. . .

32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:28-9 & 32

 

Confused by the Unfinished

It’s a normal human thing to try and make sense of the world, especially when it seems shattered by so much suffering. And trying to pinpoint what God is doing in and through various events is a common activity that Christians engage in. Yet I think that the Bible sounds words of caution in regard to how we do this:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

34 Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?” Romans 11:33-4

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?

Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand… Job 38:1-4
The problem with trying to interpret everything that happens into ‘what God is doing’ is that we cannot possibly comprehend it with our finite and human minds! His plans are God-sized and God-centred, intricate, and as yet, unfinished (at least from our vantage point!)

In my spare time I’m a portrait painter. I don’t usually let anyone see a portrait until it’s nearly finished, because the early stages of a successful painting usually look like absolute chaos! It seems that I’ve made weird choices about colour, there are marks all over it that don’t look anything like a face, and so on! Yet each of these early stages is vital. I need an underpainting that will underpin the later layers and set the tone for the whole piece. I make marks that are like artist’s shorthand. I know what they signify but at this point the casual onlooker might be dismayed by my seeming lack of anatomical knowledge! Of course it’s all resolved in the finished piece.

How much more so with God?God's masterpiece

Anticipating His Masterpiece

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t think about what God might be doing in and through us, this can be a fruitful exercise. But we need to be able to reserve judgement and not panic when we face the unexpected or can’t make sense of things. God does not reveal his complex plans to us, but he has given us a clear explanation of his character, his love for us, and where everything is finally headed – enough to keep us trusting him amidst the unfinished.

16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children . . . heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:16-18

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. Romans 8:10

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-9

Let’s persevere with this encouragement.

Nim

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Perfect Parenthood

Last weekend I stayed with some good friends and their toddler. It was a wonderful opportunity to catch up, and to talk about all kinds of things, including faith and following God.

But in the enjoyment of playing with their little girl, I was unexpectedly reminded of some things I’d forgotten about God.Perfect Parenthood

 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. Galatians 3:26

The Bible often describes the father – child relationship that we can have with God through Jesus, and I’m so glad that he uses everyday human imagery to help us understand the reality of this deep truth!

Faithful Love.
My friends are great parents and throughout the weekend I got to see their love for their daughter, in their words and deeds. It was expressed in a multitude of ways – their enjoyment of time spent with her, their careful setting of loving boundaries, and their loving care even in the midst of the occasional toddler tantrum!

I was reminded that good parents mirror God’s fatherhood of us. He loves to spend time with us. He communicates his rules and boundaries to us, and they are for our good. When we want something that God hasn’t given us, we can rage and wail at him, but he will not give in to our wilfulness, nor leave us in it alone. He is gracious and patient, sometimes he explains his ways to us, and sometimes we must simply trust him and submit to his will as our God and Father.

 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9

Yet he lovingly holds us through our tantrums and doesn’t remove his love from us, though he may speak sternly to us or discipline us – an essential part of this love so that we might mature well, just like every parent wants for their child.

Loving Authority

My friends were good at gently communicating to their little girl that she was not in control, and that it was a good thing for her that God had put mummy and daddy in charge. And again I was humbled and reminded of God’s authority over me, and my great need for him to be in control, even though I often seek to wrestle that control from him in my unbelief.

Most of all, as I witnessed this family go about daily life I was reminded of how fortunate I am in the love of my Father God. As the little girl shouted with joy when her Mum or Dad entered the room, because she was secure and certain in their love for her and loved them in return,  so I can enjoy the joyful security of knowing my eternally loving Father, because of his abundant grace to me in Christ Jesus.

Whatever our experience of earthly parents, we are assured of the good and perfect fatherhood of God!

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget, I will not forget you! 16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands
Isaiah 49:15-16

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10

 

Nim

What do Christians mean by “Faith”?

This week I’ve been trying to get to grips with what the Bible means when it talks about faith. I’ve noticed that we use the word as a bit of a catch-all term, “just have faith” “I admire your faith” “what faith are you?” Somewhere along the line I start to get confused about what we mean by it, and I realise that I’ve become far too comfortable with a word that is meant to shake us from our complacency and lead us to live radically.

As I’ve thought about faith this week, I’ve been encouraged, but also hugely challenged. God has reminded me that faith begins and ends with, through, and in HIM!STEPPING-OUT-IN-FAITH by V Herschberger

Not a Lecture

This blog post isn’t a theological lecture on faith, and it’s certainly not exhaustive! I just want to share some of the rediscoveries I’ve made, in the hope that they will sink more deeply into my heart, and perhaps warm yours too.

I began by looking at how the Bible defines and uses the word ‘faith’. Some of the most common meanings were:
Firm Persuasion, Belief, Trust, and Steadfastness.

In the Old Testament, God himself is the prime example of faithfulness. Israel is commanded to have faith because of his faithfulness. They are to trust him, based on his perfect character and all that he has already done for them.

6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulnessExodus 34:6

Often the Israelites are rebuked for their lack of faithfulness, because they are not steadfast in their faith:

Psalm 78:8…they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

Examples of Faith

In the New Testament, Hebrews has a whole chapter that reads like a hall of fame for the faithful – except that when you look closely, many of those mentioned are flawed people who made big mistakes. So why are they commended?

Chapter 11 starts with its own definition of faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” And the author goes on to give a plethora of examples:

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family,

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she
considered him faithful who had made the promise,

It is God’s faithful, promise-keeping character that enables his people to act on their trust in him! Faith enables them to wait, be holy, act boldly, be obedient, keep trusting in impossible circumstances, defer their happiness, and wait for the arrival of the promised rescuer, Jesus Christ.

Another thing that struck me as I read this passage, is that God expects his people to trust him, when they don’t know how he will deliver them, or why he has given them certain instructions, or how his promises can possibly come about! They often have little information about the situation at hand, and yet their faith is not foolish or a blind leap in the dark. It rests in the solid, certain, steadfastly faithful character of God.

A Waiting Game

I was also reminded that faith often requires periods of struggle or waiting. Charles Stanley said: “Our willingness to wait reveals the value we place on the object we’re waiting for.” And we see this in Hebrews 11:

v.9b-10 [Abraham] lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

v.16 Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

v.26 [Moses] regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.

Genuine faith results in action and change

I want to avoid a super-long blog post, but let me give a brief mention to the book of James, which so clearly shows us that real faith will be evidenced by what we do – just like our Hebrews 11 heroes.

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. James 2:26

Hope for the Little-Faiths

Everything I’ve read about faith shows me how faithless I am most of the time! (Every sin has unbelief at its core because we disobey God when we disbelieve the goodness or wisdom of his commands and promises.)
So I was heartened to also read passages that remind me that just as faith is rooted in a faithful God, it also begins and ends with Jesus Christ:

…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Heb 12:1-2

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy  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. Philippians 1:4, 6

Jesus never sinned because his faith in his Father never faltered, and he lives to intercede for us today. He is the founder and perfecter of our faith; and he continues his work in us to strengthen our faith by his Holy Spirit. In our fight for faith and faithfulness we are not alone!

Faith in God enables us to wait, be holy, act boldly, be obedient, keep trusting in impossible circumstances, defer happiness, and look forward eagerly to Christ’s glorious return.

Praise God for his faithfulness to an unfaithful people!

Nim

Miserly Mercy?

I’ve been thinking in recent weeks about the character of God, and in particular, about his mercy.

Throughout August we have been following the life of Elijah in our sermon series at church. There was a particular comment at the end of 1 Kings chapter 21 that caught my attention. Throughout the preceding chapters, we’d read of the various exploits of Ahab, King of Israel, and his wife Jezebel, some stupid, others chilling in their callousness. So it was no surprise when God laid down his judgment against Ahab and Jezebel. This was good triumphing over evil, just as we expected to see, a God-hater getting what he deserved. Even the narrator comments in Verse 25 “There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab” I rubbed my hands together, waiting for justice to be served…

But instead we read: V.27-29.  When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.

28 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite:29 “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”

I’d read this before, but this time it really struck me. God’s great and undeserved mercy towards an evil man like Ahab. It felt too merciful! I felt a bit like Jonah, whining at God “I knew this would happen! I knew you’d show mercy! They don’t deserve it God – Not like I do!” (My Paraphrase!)

I decided to look more deeply at God’s mercy and how we witness it in the Bible. I needed my own miserly mercy redefined by God’s definition!

Mercy is one of the key traits that God uses to describe his character to us.

When Moses asks to behold God’s glory – little knowing what he asks, God agrees to walk before him, and we read:

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, Exodus 34:6

What does God choose to proclaim to sinful man about himself? His mercy and grace, that he is slow to become angry, that he is full of unchanging love and faithfulness. Wow!

His declaration of mercy is made all the more powerful and freeing because we know how much we are in need of it. How unqualified we are to meet his just standards or earn his perfect favour. For us, everything depends on this mercy. Without it, we have no access to his love or faithfulness.

Again and again as God speaks to the people of Israel, we see how key this is:

Deuteronomy 4:31 says For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.

2 Chronicles 30:9 reminds them If you return to the LORD, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.”

God is the faithful one in this relationship, it is his mercy which upholds the promises he has made to his people despite their constant betrayal and sin.

Though they leave him, and forget him, and turn their faces away. His mercy provides a way back time after time!

Of course this is a part of God’s character that we see just as powerfully demonstrated in Jesus Christ!

In his willingness to be made in human likeness, to live and die for sinners like you and I.

It’s a staggering and vast mercy that led him to the cross, to suffer and die for all the Ahabs and Jezebels throughout history who committed their endless evils against him.

Hebrews 2:17 tells us that Christ had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

But God’s mercy to us does not end at the cross.

Lamentations 3 reminds us of this precious truth:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

What does God’s vast mercy mean for you and I?

I hope it fills our hearts with worship and love for our God and King. He is so good! I hope it encourages us to approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.(Hebrews 4:16)

But it also means that we have no excuse for our miserly mercy to one another! God’s gracious and underserved mercy towards us should equip us to be abundantly merciful too, especially when someone doesn’t deserve it. After all, we don’t deserve the mercy that has been shown to us!

Let us rejoice in the mercy that we receive, seeking with the help of God’s Spirit to show it to others in return.

Nim

What should I do when God isn’t answering my prayers?

What do you do when God isn’t answering your prayers?

Of course most of the time by that we mean that he is not answering them the way we want, and sometimes what we are praying for seems the most needed and vital thing in the world! It feels as though he is silent.

What does scripture say that helps us to think about this?

It’s important to reflect on this as an issue because you will find some way of rationalising it, some way to explain the silence. And it may not be the right explanation.

Maybe he doesn’t care about me.

He doesn’t see how vital this is to me!

Perhaps he doesn’t hear.

Is he even there?

Reminding ourselves of what we know for sure about God is a good way to find some answers.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose…

 31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:28, 31-32

His ways are higher. His thoughts wiser. Even when we cannot fathom how he will provide for us or sustain us through our situation, he will always do all for our best good. (If you need more convincing, I blogged about this back in April.)

How can we make sure we are praying the right thing? For more thoughts on this, see this previous post! It’s a big subject that I couldn’t tackle all at once.

Based on these truths about God, things we know for sure – His care, our worth in his sight, the level of his wisdom, his steadfast and unlimited love for you and I – may I humbly suggest some better ways to think when you can’t explain the silence?

Is there sin in the way that I need to repent of?

Perhaps he’s calling me to be persistent in prayer? (See Luke 18)

Maybe there is a greater deliverance to come than the one i’m praying for?

His plan is much better than mine.

I don’t know what is going to happen, or how i’m going to get through this, but I know Him, and he will not let me go.

Perhaps this sounds like an odd thing to say, and I hope I say it sensitively – but I also think we should rejoice when we come up against the plans of God, as they conflict with our own agendas.

Because when God’s plan is different, you know that he’s looking out for you, working for your best.

He’s not a disinterested or over-indulgent Father who gives us everything we ask for, including the things that will harm our growth and good, not caring enough to correct our way.

He is a perfect and loving Father, a good and faithful friend, and a wise and shrewd Master. So many times the rejections that we suspect and feel are actually the tender protections of our God!

It’s also a helpful part of growing into a mature believer. Facing our hungers will teach us that we are not on the throne! It cuts us down to size, so that we might learn obedience, and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8)

My prayer is that when God’s plans are not my own, he will draw me closer to himself in trust, even when I don’t understand. This is something you and I need the help of his Spirit to even recognise! Especially when our emotions are in turmoil, and we face fear, disappointment, or loss.

Let us continue to use the encouragement and direction of his eternal word to guide us in our conclusions when heaven seems silent.

What do you think? Anything you would add or disagree with?

Nim

The Great Lie

It was the first lie, the Great Lie.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

Satan quickly twists the words of God. A command given for their protection concerning just one tree, becomes a prohibition against all the fruit of the garden!

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'”

The serpent insinuates that God might not be working for the good of his people. That perhaps he is holding out on them? This is the moment when Eve should fight back. She knows the good character of the God who has created them and provided for them abundantly, but she too adds to God’s words, beginning to doubt God’s motivations for his command.

Satan goes in for the kill.

  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

You know the rest of the story, how tragic and terrible a fall from perfect and loving relationship with God, as Eve mentally charges God with wrongdoing, keeping his creation from knowledge and wisdom! And so she takes the fruit.

Satan has been lying ever since.

He particularly loves to defame the character of God. He loves to make us think that God is withholding good things from us, things that we would enjoy, even things that we need. He attacks God’s good commands, whispering that God’s motivations are not of loving wise protection, but jealous restriction, or ignorance, or spite. He doesn’t mind what he accuses God of, as long as we will believe it!

It’s the lie that Satan continues to whisper.

To the single guy or girl who doubts that God will ever answer their prayers for a godly partner, beginning to reason that God has unkind or even malicious reasons for withholding this.

Or to the couple who are waiting and hoping to get pregnant, and begin to wonder if God is unaffected by their pain and disappointment.

To the student whose dreams seem to drift further away with every failed assignment, hearing him whisper “God doesn’t want you to be happy, you’re not special enough for him to bother with”

Or the elderly couple who after years of faithful service receive a crushing diagnosis from the Doctor. And Satan is right there while they’re still reeling, whispering “After all you’ve done for him, this is how he repays you?”

Brothers and sisters, please recognise these lies for what they are!

Gaze again upon the cross of Christ, where he died willingly in our place, with all our guilt, rebellion, and brokenness on his shoulders, facing the wrath of God. To restore our relationship with the Father, that once more we might call him Dad and enjoy all the joy and abundance of relationship with him, as he showers us with grace and loving kindness!
This is the lie that the cross of Christ stands eternally to disprove!

1 John 3:16 tells us: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.

Romans 8: 31-39 – A passage I’ve quoted here before reasons that:  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  And in v.38  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God does not withhold any good thing from his children. Repeat this to yourself when you are tempted to doubt it in the face of discouragement, disappointment, and pain.
Look again to the cross of Christ that shouts the truth for all to hear.

We see Satan’s game play here in the garden. Shouldn’t it warn us? “Forewarned is forearmed” and all that? We cannot afford to be complacent about Satan and his lies. He will always seek to defame God, his goodness and steadfast love towards us so that we will turn from him. Are you going to let him?