And The Bride Wore White

I really want to walk down the aisle in my own strength.

No, not physically – although I hope to do that too! 

I mean that I want to walk into the church on our wedding day ready to be a great wife: loving, faithful, kind, wise, etc. I want to be walking with God with perfect faith, obedience and maturity. I want to say my marriage vows without a shred of doubt that I can keep them perfectly. . .

 (I’m sure that most of you are already laughing at my idealism!)

Unsurprisingly when I look at my selfish sinful heart I don’t feel very confident.  I am aware of many areas of sin, faithlessness, and failure which will now affect another person! Left to myself I don’t feel sure that I can always love Tim “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health”, even though I desperately want to. 

So as I walk down the aisle to marry the man of my dreams, it is vital that I walk upon the beautiful and secure foundation that the Bible gives us.

running brideA Walk of Joy-filled Faith

As I mentioned in a previous post, marriage is actually a metaphor for something greater. It models Jesus Christ’s eternally loving and faithful marriage to his church (all those who love and follow him). 

A key symbol in both is the white clothing that the bride wears. We know that white symbolises purity and innocence, and many brides feel that the outward symbolism may not match the reality!  But the beautiful and freeing difference about the biblical picture is that the bride is given her white clothing to wear by her groom Jesus Christ – because he has purchased it for her at the cost of his own life! (See Ephesians 5:25-27, Isaiah 61:10, and Revelation 7:9-10)

The church may be unworthy, and full of sinful failure, but Jesus, her loving groom clothes her with beautiful robes that are perfect and white, and she is utterly radiant.

How does this biblical picture help me as I prepare to walk down the aisle in a few weeks time?

  1. I walk humbly. My own goodness is not enough. I need Jesus to clothe me and equip me to keep the sacred marriage  promises which point to his eternal promises to us.
  2. I walk confidently. Because my confidence is in God’s character and deeds, and not my own. He is faithful, good, and loving. My white clothing ultimately point to his perfection.
  3. I walk steadfastly. Jesus never leaves or forsakes his bride the church, and his love for her is unfailing despite her many failures. His faithfulness and love enables ours.
  4. I walk joyfully, rejoicing in the white that I wear and everything it symbolises, and full of thanks for the gift of marriage with this man whom God has entrusted to me. Our joy is increased in the knowledge that this earthly marriage bears witness (however insufficiently) to the perfect future marriage of Christ and his church.

 

Nim

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Facing Reality

They just want to look out of the window and believe that everything is alright with the world

This was how a friend described the attitude of someone who had avoided engaging with a difficult situation. Yet she could easily have been describing me, and I felt selfish and hypocritical.

In our world of many instances of deep injustice and suffering, I can find myself trying hard to ignore reality. I want to live my life as though everything is ok. Perhaps if I protect myself, don’t look too deeply into the things going on around me, and  come up with quick rationalisations for painful situations: “it was a freak accident”, “they brought it on themselves”,” that could never happen to me because of x”. . .then I can feel safe and at peace?

And so I harden my heart, restore my equilibrium and move on . . . for a while.pexels-photo-window

A Problem We Can’t Ignore

But it gets more and more difficult to preserve the illusion that everything is ok! And even if things are going well for me, will I preserve my peace at the expense of helping others? No one is immune to suffering,  and more and more I encounter situations that I don’t have words or wisdom for.

I really shouldn’t be surprised. After all, I’m a Christian, and the Bible tells me right from the beginning that everything is not ok! This world is desperately broken and so are we. We are rebels against the God who made us, and our ‘freedom’ from him has cost us dearly. No quick fixes, denials, or sentimental hopes are enough. We need rescue.

So when I refuse to  see the world for what it truly is, I also ignore the reality of the hope and rescue that the gospel provides. It’s not a vague uncertain hope, or wishful thinking. It’s a guarantee, long promised, won in blood and death, and sealed by life and the Spirit!

If I refuse to engage with suffering, I miss out on seeing God’s power at work in the world, and I may be ignoring the command of my Lord to take up my cross and follow him, and to find my life by losing it for his sake. (Matthew 16:24-7)

Courageous Care

Here are some of the biblical passages that are enabling me to boldly engage with compassion:

The whole of Psalm 46 is worth meditating on, it speaks of God, who is the shelter and strength of his people in the midst of suffering: God is our refuge and strength,  an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea . . .The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Lamentations 3 describes what it is like to suffer and even to feel as though you have lost your hope in God, and yet ultimately it speaks of Jesus’ suffering and ends with these powerful words of hope:  Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. . . 25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;

Isaiah 41:10 Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

 Luke 6:47-8 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.

These are just a few of the rich promises that give us the courage to leave our comfort zones and boldly minister to those who suffer.

 Need of a Heart Transplant

And yet we mustn’t resolve to find more inner strength, or to develop a more charitable disposition. We must ask for the work of God to transform fundamentally self-centred and fearful hearts into those that love Jesus and serve him trustingly – hearts that follow the narrow way of the cross. Then we can throw open our windows with their rose-tinted panes and curtains of self-protection and proclaim hope to those who need it, helping to carry their pain, because Christ bore ours.

We serve in situations of suffering with the certainty that the gospel is our only hope, that it is a sufficient hope, and that the redeeming power of God is at work in this world through us, as we wait for Jesus’ return.

I’ll finish with a quote from John Stott:

“The Son of God did not stay in the safe immunity of his heaven. He emptied himself of his glory and humbled himself to serve. . .he entered into our pain, our alienation and temptations. . . he bore our sins in his own innocent person. . . “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” John 20:21″

Loving because Christ first loved me

Nim

A Refuge in the Midst of Change

We live in turbulent times.

The political landscape around the world has changed remarkably in the course of a year, causing many of us to feel unsettled and anxious about the future. Perhaps like me, you face personal changes too? Where should the Christian look for help in the face of change? Whether it’s something that we’re excitedly anticipating or an unsought sadness.

After all we are just like everyone else – subject to all the same challenges and unpredictabilities of life. And yet as followers of Christ we are to be joyfully different too; even when the changes we face possess the power to rob us of the things we value most.

Because when it comes to challenge and change, the Christian knows where to turn. Our trust isn’t found in our own resources. It’s not to be placed in our own physical or emotional strength, or in financial stability or job security. Thankfully our trust is in a far more secure location – our good and wise God.stirling-castle-scotland-stirling-castle-64287

Here are just a few of the ways that the Psalms describe him:

A shepherd (Psalm 23)

A refuge & shelter (Psalms 91& 62:8)

Our shield and hiding place (Psalm 119:114)

A deliverer (Psalm 18)

Our strength and help in trouble (Psalm 46:1-2)

How firm and secure we can be as we walk into the unknown! How blessed we are, even when difficulty surrounds us . As the words of this famous hymn remind us:

We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender;

  We go not forth alone against the foe;

Strong in Thy strength, safe in Thy keeping tender.

  We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go. . .

We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,

  And needing more each day Thy grace to know:

Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing;

  We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go. . .

These resources grow even richer in light of the gospel. As Hebrews 4 reminds us, we are granted the right 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

So, whatever the nature of the changes that you face; whether you are weak and need the reminder of God’s comfort and strength, or his gentle rebuke against your self-reliance, may you have joy and know his help as you walk with him.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:4

 

Nim

Flabby or Fit?

Don’t worry; this isn’t a post about pre-Christmas physical fitness!

If you know me well, then you’ve probably learned not to get me talking about the gym. I love it and I will bore you with all kinds of talk about it! However, the Bible includes a few exercise analogies, and so I hope you’ll forgive me if I use one today too.

As with previous posts (here and here) I’m still thinking through the subject of faith. Specifically growing in faith, and living it out day to day.

Living by faith can feel like something I do once in a while when I’m out of other options, rather than an everyday habit.

(By ‘living by faith’ I mean: following Christ and living out the gospel boldly, obediently, and sacrificially within the contexts and opportunities that God has provided, even when we feel weak, afraid, and ill-equipped.)

One of the problems with this is that trusting God bears some similarities to exercise. The more often you work a muscle, the stronger it gets and the easier and less painful it is. But if you only exercise occasionally you’re in for a lot of discomfort!

I wonder sometimes if trusting God can feel so uncomfortable because I’ve let it become an occasional thing rather than a daily part of my life. And just like sporadic gym attendance, it doesn’t feel very natural, I’m anxious, and my enjoyment of the process is ruined!

pexels-photo-gymPerhaps like me you need some reminders of why living by faith is so good, and why it should be an everyday thing instead of the final option we choose when our resources run out:

1) God is utterly trustworthy and wise. As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him. Ps18:30

2) Fear and worry are cruel and fruitless masters. Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matt 6:27

3) God loves to be good to his children. For your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matt 6:8  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matt 7:11

4) Trusting in God is a privelege. In contrast to him, we are unreliable, short sighted, sinful, and weak, with many circumstances outside of our control. It should give us great peace of mind to trust in someone greater in every respect than ourselves!

5) God is weaving us into his story. As his people, by faith we get to be part of something greater and much more meaningful than we can imagine. (See Hebrews 11!)

6) As disciples we are followers. Having to trust in God’s leading and to wait for his help or resources protects this dynamic, lest we stride too far ahead on our own without his guidance.

7) Trusting God daily preserves his kingdom priorities: He is the King, we are his servants, we are to live for his glory and to further his kingdom.  31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’. . .  33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matt 6:31, 33

8) Living by faith makes us distinctive and attractive witnesses in a world where it’s ‘every man for himself’. By this we model to friends and family a better way to live – as loved and satisfied people cared for by a faithful God. For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Matt 6:32

9) It’s a protection for us against wilful independence, idolatry, and self centredness. When we experience questions, doubts, or need, we necessarily draw near to God.

10) And as I’ve hinted with my exercise analogy, living by faith causes us to grow – in faith, in Christian maturity, in hope, and in love for our God. As we see him guide and provide for us we are humbled and blessed, and our faith is reinforced.

So the challenge for me (and I hope for you) is:

Am I growing strong in faith? Do I daily rely on God’s power and provision? Or do I think “Phew! Glad that’s over, hopefully I can relax for a while before I need to flex those faith muscles again.”

 

Why does God want us to be in constant attendance at the gym of faith? It’s part of growing in trust-filled relationship , walking with him more and more intimately, and enjoying seeing him work according to his will. Ultimately and unsurprisingly it’s for our blessing.

Join me in praying to our good God with the honesty of the man in Mark 9: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

 

Nim

 

Manna For Today

The more I read about the adventures (and misadventures) of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, the more I see myself reflected in their attitudes and actions! Actually this is supposed to happen; 1 Corinthians 10:11 tells us that “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us“.

One episode in particular has made a real  impression upon me – the story of the manna in Exodus 16 (Here is a quick summary in case it’s not familiar to you.)

The Israelites are travelling through the wilderness on a lengthy journey to their new home. God has demonstrated his power repeatedly and promised to provide for them and lead them. But they remain suspicious of God’s power and motivations, and quickly lose faith in the face of hardship. They panic because they don’t know where they will get food from in the desert. They grumble:

“If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. Exodus 16:3-4a

So God graciously provides mysterious bread that appears on the ground each morning. They are instructed to collect as much as they need one day at a time. . .

But many of them do not trust that God will continue to provide bread, and so they try to store extra manna for the future. Unsurprisingly this doesn’t go well. God is explicit about his provision. His people need to trust him day by day to provide. And he does. Every day. They will have all the food that they need for what turns out to be 40 years in the desert. sandals-flip-flops-footwear-beach-40737

Manna, Day By Day

I am often just like the Israelites. I want to trust in God’s provision, but I also want to hedge my bets by trying to provide for myself as well. I want God to provide all the resources I need for the future instantly  (so that I can stop trusting him and start trusting in visible tangible resources.)

How foolish and how insulting! This amounts to a refusal to live by faith. And when I live this way I exchange all the calm and rest that could be mine, for peering worriedly at my dwindling resources (of strength, wisdom, finances etc.) when I could simply trust that when I wake up tomorrow there will be fresh manna, just like there was this morning.

To get this into my head and heart I’ve started praying in these terms when I’m worried or stressed. “Lord, I don’t know where I’m going to get the resources for X tomorrow, please provide the manna that I need, just as you have graciously provided today.

This is what it means to trust in our good God, to believe that he will provide for us.

I wanted to stop writing here – but there is another vital angle that I mustn’t neglect. . .

When Hunger Strikes

God is our King and not our servant, and his plans for us are not always in line with our plans for ourselves. Moses reminds the Israelites (and us) of this in Deuteronomy 8,   when he reflects on their wilderness experience, saying:

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna. . . to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.”

I mention this because it’s important for us to understand that sometimes there is a purpose in our hunger or lack.  God may allow us to ‘hunger for bread’ for a time, to train us, to test us, that we might grow in faith and likeness to Christ. He wants us to hunger for more than our immediate needs. He wants us to long for him because he is ultimately who and what we truly need! [I write more fully about this passage here]

I don’t say this lightly,I know that an acute need for anything can be terrifying when God seems silent!

Yet the Bible illustrates powerfully and repeatedly that we can trust the God who is sovereign over our wants and needs. As I often quote on this blog: 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 8:32

Let’s trust him for manna, both physical and spiritual.

Nim

Faith is Rest

I’ve been continuing to think about the things I explored in my previous post on fear and faith. [Read it here]

I was particularly struck by something my Mum said recently as I related a worry to her.  After a flood of anxious words from me about “trying to trust God in the situation”, she looked at me calmly and said “Naomi, faith is rest.”

This stopped me mid-rant, because Mum had pinpointed a key thing that I had failed to recognise! Although I was talking the talk, when it came to faith and trusting God my anxious striving demonstrated that I hadn’t fully grasped the concept. To trust God is to rest from anxious striving,  because we know that he is in control and that he is good and worthy of our complete confidence. We can rest, because he is at work.

What a simple powerful truth, yet how difficult it can be to put it into practice!

Unbelief Disguised As Efficiency

Fear and worry bring out the control freak in me. I like to tell myself that “I’m just being organised”, but if I look at my heart I know that often what lies behind is unbelief disguised as efficiency.

I  replace trusting God with tangible human action, as though I’m wiser or more capable than God himself! And while careful control of all the variables might get me through a situation, or allow me to feel ‘in control’, I know that I’ve traded list-making and relentless action for the peace and rest that come from faith.

Of course it’s not really either/or.  We can be both trusting and organised, resting in God and active!

 baby- psalm 130

A Child with its Mother

Faith is rest.

Yet this is not about inaction so much as right attitude. Psalm 131 provides a helpful model:

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

We’ve all seen sleepy toddlers snuggled contentedly with their mothers. They have no troubles because she provides all that they need, making them feel safe and loved.  Any need will quickly and trustingly be communicated to she who is constantly engaged in loving, protecting, and guiding her child.

What an astounding truth that our powerful, eternal God is willing and able to give us that same security and provision, causing the psalm writer to say “I have calmed and quieted myself like a weaned child with its mother.”

We, like Israel, would do well to humbly put our hope in the Lord and rest in him instead of proudly trusting in our own abilities or worrying when we know they aren’t sufficient.

Join me in cultivating this attitude towards our faithful God in pursuit of his rest!

Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.
Psalm 55:22

 

Nim

Rocking the Boat

Do you ever let fear or worry stop you from taking bold steps of faith?

Things have been settled in my life for a while, and somewhere along the way I have become a bit boring and safe and…faithless.

Of course in some ways I continue to be faithful – In the sense of being constant, striving for holiness, and seeking to please God. But I rarely make big steps that require faith in God. Instead I scale everything down to my personal achievement level. I don’t take risks.  I am happy with no great extremes of emotion and nothing unexpected, and I avoid anything that might upset the status quo.

I’d rather he didn’t rock my boat by doing anything too exciting. . .

pexels boat

In 2 Corinthians 5:7 Paul summarises the attitude which every follower of Jesus should cultivate, saying: “For we live by faith, not by sight.”

But I’ve allowed myself to dispense with living by faith and instead I live almost entirely by sight every day. Things happen as I plan them, and so I don’t expect God to act in significant ways. In fact I’d rather he didn’t rock my boat by doing anything too exciting.

And yet I am his servant to do good works – by faith! I’m meant to be constant in prayerful reliance upon him. I’m meant to be led by his Spirit.

Please don’t misunderstand me, it’s a great blessing when life is good and we have peace and security. In a world like ours, many don’t have this luxury! But I’ve allowed my settled life to make me spiritually complacent. I find myself making decisions based on how something will impact my comfort levels instead of according to God’s glory and will, and I assess things according to my personal resources, instead of God’s unlimited supply. I am a spiritual control freak and a back seat driver!

But we’ve been studying Hebrews in my small group recently and it supplies some helpful correctives:

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Things not seen”? I don’t like the sound of that. I like concrete evidence, precise plans, and a detailed road map of where God is leading me at all times!

Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

As a follower of God, I must live by faith in order to please him! Real, active faith must spring from my trust in God, even when I don’t know where he is leading me or why. I insult my good and wise God when I reject his authority and act as though he is not worthy of my complete trust.

So what is the solution?

Acknowledging the problem is important, and repenting of my wrong attitudes. Yet reminding myself of  God’s character is hugely helpful too. How much easier it is to trust someone with the unknown when you know that they are infinitely wise, sacrificially loving, and eternally faithful!

Romans 8:32 reasons: “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?”

 

A growing excitement for the good and faithful plans of God

I was also greatly encouraged as I read the rest of Hebrews 11 and saw the amazing things that people of faith achieved by following God into the unknown. It made me long for God to do exciting and significant things in and through me too! I want to know more of God’s power and sufficiency in my life. I want to live for his glory, instead of for my own comfort.  I need to let him rock the boat if that is what it will take to call me to authentic faith and service.

Yet God also assures us repeatedly that as well as being faithful to those who trust in him, he is also GOOD! One such verse is Psalm 84:11:

“The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favour and honour. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

It is promises like these that give me the courage to step out in faith when God calls me away from the comfort zones that so easily disguise my unbelief and idolatry.  With God’s help (ultimately faith comes from him!) I will continue to trust in his wisdom and goodness as he leads me.

 

Nim

 

Why I’ve decided to take up wrestling…

I’ve decided to take up wrestling.

Ha, I bet that got your attention! (Or you may just think that’s normal behaviour for me?)

In any case I’m referring to spiritual wrestling. Wrestling with God.

When it comes to our questions and doubts I believe it’s essential, because if we don’t work them through in God’s presence, we’ll either ignore them (and they won’t go away on their own), or deal with them without him, and then perhaps the answers we come up with won’t be his.

Think about human relationships: We reserve small talk and polite conversation for strangers and acquaintances, but our close friends and family get to witness our struggles, questions, embarrassments, disappointments, and doubts (as well as the good bits) because we know that the relationship can handle it, and they might even be able to help us.

How much more God?

Yet we must wrestle in the right way, and so I write this with care.

Wrestling with God

A Dangerous Fight

God is still God. The one who made and sustains the vastness of the universe. As we limber up for the fight, let’s take this into account, because there are no weight classes here!

We can’t put God in the dock and question him like a human being who must answer our accusations. This is not what I’m suggesting. Remember what God says to Job in chapter 40:

“The Lord said to Job: ‘Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!…Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his?” (Job 40)

Despite Job’s immense suffering (which he is never given answers for), he meets with God and is humbled and astounded by what he finds, saying:

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand… things too wonderful for me to know. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’(Job 42)

This is not a surprise! God warns us of what we’ll find when we seek a serious encounter with him: “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

 

A Merciful Fight

Perhaps you’ve read the mysterious story of Jacob in Genesis 32, where he wrestles with God so that he might receive his blessing?

Jacob himself doesn’t fully realise what is happening till later, he just knows that he’s filled with fear of his vengeful brother Esau, and he desperately needs the help of God. Yet when he does recognise the true nature of the fighter he says “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

What really strikes me about Jacob’s story is that he actually has no right or ability to wrestle God! It’s a reflection of God’s grace and his plans for Jacob that means that he doesn’t perish in the process.

It’s the immense grace of God that allows us to  humbly bring our doubts and questions and ask him to help us, to recast them in the light of his sovereign character, wisdom, and plans. We can wrestle with God in a way that honours him by saying ‘God I know that you are wise, good, and powerful, and yet I don’t understand/ I’m angry with you / I’m struggling/ I need help…’

In wrestling like this, we invite God to be God in our situation. We ask him to treat us according to his good character. We express our faith that he can deal with our questions and hurts, by bringing them to him. We wrestle so that we might leave the fight with greater faith and submission.

God has already promised us that he responds to this kind of bold persistence: And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. (Luke 18:7-8)

I know this post is getting bit long, but I can’t end without telling you about the heavy weight champion…

 

The Ultimate Fighter

Sorry if it’s a bit cheesy, but I hope this is a helpful metaphor. The Bible tells us that we are not left to fight alone. There is someone who wrestles on our behalf. Romans 8:34 tells us that Jesus Christ fought and defeated sin and death at the cross, and now he intercedes for us at the right hand of God!

This should humble us and give us a hopeful perspective as we prepare to engage with God in our difficulties. The true fight has already been won for us. We wrestle with one who is already on our side!

If God is for us, who can be against us? 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 8:31-2

 

In Christ

 

Nim

A Bump in the Road

What should the Christian do when life takes an unexpected turn for the worse? It might be something major and life changing, or just a minor annoyance that trips up your carefully cultivated plans.

I tend to find that I’m ready with my spiritual armour and confident answers when anticipated challenges occur, or things I can explain, but something that always throws me is when I think I know what God is doing in a situation…and then I don’t.

The Bible tells us to expect frustration and suffering as a part of life. But it’s when I’ve been acting in faith, seeing specific prayers answered, and doors opening seemingly by God’s hand, and something spoils my plans out of the blue, then I’m really thrown by it.Bumps-Ahead

My reaction is fear and worry, and (I’m ashamed to say) petulant anger against God.

What I thought was faith, was really trust that I knew and approved of where God was taking me, and confidence that his will and my plans aligned! I may have let him take charge of the driving, but I’m in the passenger seat studiously glued to my map and panicking at any departure from it. Yet when we follow Christ we agree to do just that! These moments reveal my heart, and God graciously uses them to teach me, but it’s still hard.

 Lessons to Learn

Here are some of the things I remind myself of, when my life and plans hit a bump in the road. I hope they will encourage you too:

1. I am delighted in by God, I am his beloved child (Ephesians 5:1), and he enjoys blessing me. The way he treats me always reflects this, even when he allows me to go through hard times. I cannot be convinced of this and continue to hold the view that my plans have changed because God doesn’t care about me. It helps me to trust him even when I can’t see where help or relief will come from. It produces true faith.  “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!” Luke 12:27-8

2. I am not the centre of the universe or God’s plans in it! He is infinitely gracious and forgiving of my self-centred attitude to life, but he will not indulge it, his plans will be for his glory….and my good. God sees the big picture and how all the bumps and twists in the road fit in.

3. Satan does not like it when encouraged by God’s Spirit within us, we step out in faith. He will go to great lengths to distract or dissuade us, and he’s an excellent liar. When we face a seeming set back or disappointment, he is close by, ready to attack God’s character and motives (Remember his conversation with Eve?) He will suggest that God is unkind, untrustworthy, and neglectful. The Cross silences every such accusation of course, but we are more susceptible to his lies when we are hurt, disappointed or fearful, so we need to watch out for them and fight them with truth.

4. God desires humility and faith from his people –  And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

5. I must not locate my trust in my circumstances, but in God who guides me. He is completely trustworthy.

6. Although I often believe there are things I just can’t live without, Jesus Christ is able to satisfy me fully in himself if I let him.

7. God’s ultimate plan is to make me more like Christ (which should be what I want too!), this plan is never in jeopardy, whatever happens, it may even be helped by times of confusion and difficulty.

8. Jesus is a faithful and sympathetic high priest in good and bad times, he invites us to come to him for help (Hebrews 4:14-16) He is a strong and peaceful refuge when life is rough.

 

Humble Rest
Trust and rest may not come naturally to me when my plans change or life is stressful, but here is a great Psalm that I’m striving to imitate, as I trust God for his wisdom and provision in the small and the big things:

Psalm 131 

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;

    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvellous for me.
But I have calmed and quietened my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time forth and for evermore.

 

 

Nim

P.S If you want to think more about this subject I wrote about this from a different angle a year ago here

My Résumé and the Superior Wisdom of God

I’ve been feeling really challenged by a sermon that one of our Pastors preached last Sunday on Mark 6:1-6:

Jesus returns to his tiny home town of Nazareth, and he’s rejected by the people who should have known him best. He’s the Son of God, but he doesn’t do the things they expect and he refuses to fit into their mould, so they’re offended, and they miss out on his blessings.

Rejecting Jesus

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

They ignore his incredible miracles, and continue to measure him by their own stunted standards. He’s the village carpenter, he doesn’t have a rabbi’s training, and they know his mother and brothers! There is no room in their minds for anything different, any greater wisdom, or trust.

It would have been easy for me to let myself off at this point. I’m a Christian, I believe that Jesus is who he says he is, I’m not like those villagers!

But a little voice in my mind said “but you have been rejecting his ways of doing things in your own life“. And I couldn’t deny it.

We can reject God in so many ways even once we recognise his authority. We might accept his way of salvation, but we wish Jesus didn’t say this or that. We might accept his mission, but we wish he wouldn’t build his kingdom in the way that he does, using the people he does. We accept that he has plans for us, but we wish it wasn’t that plan, or that way!

(Please note – I’m moving away from the specific applications of this particular passage to follow this principle…)

Rejecting His Ways

Let me give you a personal scenario by way of illustration:

I work as a Pastoral Assistant for Cambray Baptist Church. I love my job, but sometimes I’m hit with sudden insecurity. There are so many things I don’t know, so many things I’m bad at! On paper I’m just not very impressive. My CV (or résumé for my US friends) just doesn’t fit into the neat categories that I desire. I don’t fit.

I’d find it much more palatable and worthy of (self) trust if it contained a Theology degree from a reputable Bible College, instead of a degree in Fine Art – and perhaps a Masters degree in Pastoral Counselling for good measure! “None of this painting nonsense, that can’t be nearly as helpful or God-glorifying!”resume

Can you see what I’m doing? You see, each section of my CV represents prayerful life decisions based on God’s guidance, and yet I catch myself rejecting the way that God has led me so far, as though I can better construct my life for his glory than he can! The subconscious reasoning behind all of this is that, if my life looked the way I want it to – my skills, giftings, and qualifications – I could dispense with faith and prayerful reliance on God. I could stop relying on the wonderful way that God uses weak sinners in his service, and trust instead in my own achievements and knowledge!

Just like the people of Nazareth, I know what I want to see. I have my neat categories all set. Like them, will I conclude that Jesus and his ways don’t measure up? It’s a dangerous road and a sad one.

Accepting His Wisdom

Here is a verse I’ve been using to reshape my thoughts:

This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, 24 but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 9:23-24

Please hear me – a good education, qualifications, and experience are all valuable, and I intend to use everything on my CV for the glory of God – and continue to improve to the best of my ability! But I will trust him in the choosing, because this is the wisdom and knowledge that I need most: to know God, to love the things he loves, and to serve him faithfully.

My ‘CV mindset’ is just an example, we try to fit Jesus and his ways into our pre-set categories all the time! 

Jesus doesn’t always say and do the things I expect. His word challenges and changes me. His plans are different. He calls me to leave the familiar and follow him, trusting that he will provide what I need. He is who I need. I must continue to live by faith in him, for whom wisdom was living among sinful men and women for 33 years before dying on a cross to save them.

As our Pastor Tim Martin challenged us on Sunday as he concluded his sermon, “Will our human assumptions outweigh divine authority?” or will we conquer our“miracle-stopping unbelief”?

Nim

(Although I’ve developed his thoughts in a specific direction here, you can listen to Tim’s helpful sermon using this link)