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

Ebenezer

I’m a little stressed right now. My postgrad theology dissertation looms, work is busy, and my diary is full … But I’ve been studying the Bible book of 1 Samuel with a friend and it has provided a helpful reminder:

In chapter 7 after a dangerous battle between God’s people and the Philistines we read:  Then Samuel [God’s prophet] took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” (1 Sam 7:12)

Ebenezer means ‘stone of help’, and whenever the Israelites saw the stone they would remember God’s rescue during this battle. It was a monument to God’s power, steadfast love, and willingness to help his people, and a call for them to trust in him in the future.  What a great antidote to fear, worry, and trusting in the wrong things!journalling

Till now the Lord has helped us.

Remembrance of God’s past help and faithfulness helps us to trust him in the present when life is stressful and we don’t necessarily know how things will work out. Satan loves to attack God’s character and goodness, and to fill us with doubt and unbelief. Yet remembering God’s past faithfulness to us is a great shield against this.

Whether it’s spiritual or physical blessings that we recall, it’s so helpful to our hearts and minds to be reminded of what our God is like, and his willingness to help and provide for us despite our sin and failure.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-3

The Bible is filled with concrete promises like this for us to trust in, but I think there is a place for active remembrance like Samuel’s too. When was the last time you sat down and reminded yourself of God’s particular help towards you in the past? Perhaps you keep a journal and can look back at answered prayers and unexpected blessings, or maybe it’s a case of making time to think through months and years gone by to identify the ways that God has helped you so far? You may even have a literal symbol of God’s provision that you can look at.

Let’s not be forgetful and anxious Christians. Till now the Lord has helped us.

Nim

Worship is a Defining Choice

 A couple of days after the terrible Boston bombings last week, the Gospel Coalition website posted an interview with a couple called Stephen and Emily McAlpin.

In the early hours of the morning, they awoke to a fierce gun battle between Boston police and the two suspects, taking place right outside their door – with several bullets piercing the walls of their home.

You can read the whole interview here, but it was one particular question and answer that stood out to me, and has stayed in my mind all week.

The interviewer asks “What would you say to those who find themselves in situations of fear?”

And this is their answer:

Pray, worshipfully. In situations of fear, there are really only two ways you can respond: worshiping God or not worshiping God. When you’re fearing for your life, that choice becomes a lot simpler. You strangely crave a meaningful life, if only for a moment. Don’t let that moment pass you by. Remember that Jesus is our only hope for true, meaningful life. Express your faith in him. Enjoy him—who he is and what he does—in that moment. Ask him to do the things that only he does, like gracefully saving sinners for his glory. He is faithful to answer.

If he rescues you in that moment, that’s an amazing thing that will change you and others forever. If he doesn’t rescue you in that moment, at least you’ll have had one of the best, sweetest moments of your entire life as you worshiped him in the threat of evil and death. God can do incredible things through worshipful, Christ-centered prayer.

From: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/04/21/the-boston-bombers-were-outside-their-house/

“In situations of fear, there are really only two ways you can respond: worshiping God or not worshiping God.”

Reading this response pulled me up short. Was this true or did it just sound impressive?

The more I’ve thought about it this week, the more convinced I have become that they are on to something important. This blog post is my (humble) attempt to think it through some more!

How do I respond in times of fear, loss, disappointment, or worry? What do I look to for comfort or solutions? Where does worship come in to this, and how should it?worship

Well, most of the time my eyes are firmly fixed on myself!

My situation may have already exposed my lack of control, and my powerlessness – otherwise I wouldn’t be feeling the way I do. Yet worship engenders a deliberate decision to raise my eyes from myself to my maker. It requires the conscious dethroning of me, in favour of the rightful king of the universe. It is acknowledgement that his ways are right, just, and good, even in the midst of suffering or danger.

This means that I learn from Job, who in the midst of unfathomable personal tragedy said “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)

It leads me to praise the Lord for his good and righteous judgements when I don’t understand them or know at that moment how things will work out.! I’m especially challenged by this couple’s immediate reaction in a terrifying moment to worship – and to do so humbly leaving the outcome in God’s hands.

Worship in such a situation goes against our instincts – and I hope I don’t seem like I’m saying that we should be stoic or falsely cheerful despite circumstances; because worship of God has a much wider definition than singing happy songs to him!

Many of the Psalms contain the laments of god-fearing people in difficult times – they don’t hold back their anguish or confusion from God, but neither do they dethrone him in their fear – and this I think is key. In the moment of fear, or disappointment, or worry, they worship-fully entrust themselves to their God.

Our worship is an expression of recognising God’s authority over our situation, and of trusting him through it. We can worship when we are shaking with fear – like this couple, or speechless with grief, or wearied by our circumstances.

I’m ashamed that so often my day to day life is devoid of intentional ‘unscheduled’ worship let alone when the challenges hit.

Worship of course is wider than singing songs in church or praising God in prayer – we can have an attitude of worship in all of life as we respond to the things each day brings our way, with thankfulness, obedience, dependence, and an intention to glorify God in the things we do.

After all, God can see right into our hearts! He knows if a worshipful attitude informs mundane tasks done in his name, or if a cold and self centred attitude drives us to lead the worship at church!

So I’m seeking to expand my definition of worship, and I’m praying that God would grow in me, a worshipful attitude to all of life as I live for God’s glory in the good and the bad days. (Join me in praying also that he will draw near to those affected in the terrible wake of events in Boston.)

Nim

The Subtle Danger of Worry

Have you ever thought of worry and fear in your life as a danger? I know I hadn’t . I’m currently reading Edward Welch’s book Running Scared – Fear, worry, and the God of rest. It’s a deep and biblical treatment of the problem of fear and worry that we all suffer with to differing degrees.

Although I’m reading it with the intention of dealing with my own worry in a more godly way than I currently do, (My current strategy being to spend considerable amounts of time worrying!) It was a wake-up call for me to see that worry can actually be a danger to us spiritually.

According to Edward Welch here’s why…

Remember the parable of the Sower? (Matthew 13) Where the seed of the gospel falls on different types of ‘ground’, with different results?

Look closely as Jesus explains the reasons for the unfruitfulness of much of the good news that is heard:

 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Do you notice the powerful role that the worries and troubles of life play in making the gospel unfruitful?

Now it can’t simply be that enduring trouble and worry make you spiritually unfruitful, because no one is exempt from these! So what is it about worry that threatens our spiritual life?

One of the reasons is that worry is only a step away from unbelief. If we are worrying, it’s because we can’t provide for our situation and we’re unsure that God can or will provide for it….or that he will do so in the way we want! We begin to doubt his character, and his promises, and we ignore his word.

(“Do not be afraid” and “Do not worry” are some of the most frequent commands of God in scripture! For one of the key Bible passages on worry, look at Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34)

It also exposes our desire to be sat on the throne of our lives in place of Christ.

We feel our inability to control our circumstances, and we are not fully happy that we must leave it in the hands of our heavenly Father, we much prefer to feel like masters of our own destiny!

Worry can morph quickly from a right recognition of a problem, to a refusal to leave a situation in God’s hands. Welch says that worry prefers self protection over trust.

I know this is a right assessment as I look at my own heart!

So what is the solution? Try harder not to worry?

Nope.

“Here is where fear is a door to spiritual reality. It suggests that authentic humanness was never intended to be autonomous and self-reliant…will we abandon the myth of independence and seek God?”

Worry can transform into a blessing if we let it remind us of our own weakness, and call us back to reliance on God, and remembrance of his commands and promises. Jesus says to his disciples in John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

That’s not a negative thing! Our independence bristles at this, but it’s both a wake-up call and a great peace-filled promise. If we remain in Christ, and him in us, we will be fruitful! But first it takes the realisation that we are dependent on Christ.

And second it requires us to see and trust who he is. Who could be more loving, powerful, trustworthy, and dependable than Jesus Christ?! The more we get to know him, and see him at work in scripture, and our own lives, the more easily this trust will come, without us trying to conjure it up from nowhere.

So when worry and fear rears its ugly head, let it send you running back to Christ, and his promises to protect , provide, and sustain his people, making us spiritually fruitful. Surrender the throne of your life once more. Ask him to help you to relinquish control, and to trust in his deliverance. Rejoice in the peace that comes with knowing he is taking care of everything!

You will not be running from your problems and fears, but facing them fearlessly from the arms of God.

Nim

I realise that worry and fear are big and complex issues, I was trying to keep this short(ish!), so do comment if you think i’ve missed important things out! This is just one of many areas that Welch covers in his book, I highly recommend it if you want to think further about this.