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

 

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So Much More Than We Know

What is sin?

We tend to talk more in terms of sins – things that we do that break God’s moral standards. And this is biblical and helpful.

Yet we also need to understand and feel that sin goes much deeper than our actions. Behind our behaviours there are attitudes of the mind and heart that are deeply insulting to God. Some of which we’re oblivious to.  It’s also not just about what we do, but about what we withhold.black-and-white-person-woman-girl

Yet I don’t say this to condemn myself, or you, because realising the seriousness of sin makes the forgiveness of Jesus Christ much more beautiful and precious to us!

And so I want to share some words by John Piper that powerfully capture why sin is so serious, by showing us how we rob God of what is rightly his:

What is sin?
The glory of God not honored.
The holiness of God not reverenced.
The greatness of God not admired.
The power of God not praised.
The truth of God not sought.
The wisdom of God not esteemed.
The beauty of God not treasured.
The goodness of God not savored.
The faithfulness of God not trusted.
The promises of God not relied upon.
The commandments of God not obeyed.
The justice of God not respected.
The wrath of God not feared.
The grace of God not cherished.
The presence of God not prized.
The person of God not loved.
That is sin!
John Piper , from “All Consuming Fire” by Shai Linne.

I hope that these words help you like they are helping me, to humble myself before God again, crying out for his forgiveness and joyfully embracing the grace and help that he freely offers us in Christ.

How merciful he is, when we wrong him so greatly!

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world . . . gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Ephesians 2:1-5

[WordPress informs me that this is my 100th post on the blog! Thank you to all my faithful readers and encouragers, and all glory to God for continuing to work in and through me via this blog. Please keep your comments coming if there are ways it could improve!]

Nim

Treasure

I can be pretty grumpy at times.

Sometimes I’m irritable just because it’s a Monday, or I haven’t had enough coffee. But I’m sure you’d agree that we live in a world with more than enough real reasons for irritability, worry, and despondency.

So the question I’ve been asking myself this week is: What difference does Jesus make to my experience of life in a difficult world?

Like me, you’re probably watching the news, and despairing over the pain and suffering that many migrants are facing. It’s been making me think – what if that was me? If I was experiencing those horrors personally, would I give up on my faith?

Is following Jesus only for the good times? Is it the privilege of the wealthy, healthy, and happy? (The Bible and human history demonstrate otherwise!)

What if I was to lose everything?  Would Jesus be enough?

It made me think of the two mini parables in Matthew 13:

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.Treasure - God

The good news about God’s kingdom – that his love and home is with anyone who would repent and trust in him through Jesus – is such a precious treasure in itself, that in these stories people sell everything they have to possess it! (And it is a treasure that comes at great cost.)

Yet I can find myself acting as though I have little of value, when I in fact have everything! How short-sighted I am.

John Newton hints at the silliness of this attitude with the following illustration:

“Suppose a man was going to New York to take possession of a large estate, and his carriage should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way; what a fool we should think him, if we saw him ringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, “My carriage is broken! My carriage is broken!”

The Works of the Rev. John Newton (Banner of Truth, 1985), 1:107.

Here are some of the other riches that Christians have been given:

  • The riches of God’s grace towards us, expressed in his full forgiveness of all our sins and adoption into his family – Ephesians 1
  • The wealth of God’s eternal kindness to us through Jesus – Ephesians 2:7
  • Stores of new strength supplied by God’s Spirit – Ephesians 3:16
  • Generous and wise provision for our needs – Philippians 4:19
  • An everyday relationship with Jesus Christ that nothing can sever – Romans 8:35

And finally a powerful reminder that ultimately it is God himself who is our treasure, and nothing can part us from him; not our feelings, or experiences, or shifting circumstances:

Isaiah 33:5-7

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
he will fill Zion with his justice and righteousness.
He will be the sure foundation for your times,
a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

 

In him we are rich indeed.

Nim

Ice Cream, Escapism & Worshipful Rest

Last week I had a ‘holiday at home’ and it was blissful! My sister came to stay, we ate good food and shed loads of ice cream, stayed up late watching superhero films, and gloried in doing nothing of consequence!

icecream escapism

. . .And yet last week I also felt a disinclination to prayer. I was self-satisfied, self-centred, and worshipless.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that rest is bad, or that happiness and fun are unspiritual! I’m so thankful for time off work and good things to enjoy! I’m just saddened by the effect that it sometimes seems to have on my relationship with God.

I compartmentalise things, as though time with God is reserved for when I’m feeling serious or ‘spiritual’, or when I perceive that I’m in need. And yet if we approached our human relationships like this, how deep and authentic would they really be? When you are truly close to someone they share the complexities of life, but also the times of joy, rest, and random conversation.

What’s more, with God comes an element that doesn’t enter our human relationships, yet defines his with us. Worship.

When I look at the worship of the Psalms, God’s people are joyful in him, their happiness and enjoyment is increased when it takes place in his presence. They are quick to worship and praise God for his character and ways, and not just his direct blessings. They love to spend time with him in worshipful rest:

Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple. Psalm 65:4

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Psalm 62:1 

Those who look to him are radiant . . .Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:5,8

This is a dimension that I need to cultivate! What can I do about this unhelpful tendency to exclude God from my leisure and rest, and neglect worship in my downtime?

Worshipful Rest
Firstly I think it’s right to acknowledge my sin in this. God deserves my heartfelt worship all of the time, I dishonour him when I divorce rest and enjoyment from relationship with him. I need to repent and I’m begging God’s Spirit to perform spiritual CPR!

Secondly, perhaps I don’t hunger for God in my rest times because I’ve already filled my belly?

We all remember our mums telling us “if you eat sweets now, you won’t have room for dinner!” Sometimes we let lesser enjoyments spoil our appetite for a truer and deeper enjoyment of God. Even in my rest times, I need to create room to hunger for God. If my holiday routine is an endless search for entertainment – a constant carousel of Facebook and Instagram and Netflix or a solidly booked social calendar, where is the space for worship and rest in God’s presence?

Of course worship doesn’t have to be formal or scheduled, and it can be good for us to rest from our everyday routines when we’re on holiday. Our worship can continue in enjoyment that praises its source, heartfelt thankfulness to God, and unrushed time spent in prayer and in his word.

Richer Foods
Finally, instead of just filling my days with mindless escapism and ice cream, I can be training my palate to crave the richer tastes and lasting rest of contentment in God; filling myself with the food of his wisdom, character, and kindness, and his thrilling promises for the future. I suspect that in eating my fill of these, I won’t feel such a desire to ‘escape’ in the first place (although it probably won’t affect my ice cream consumption!)

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.

This is something I’m still thinking through, so if you have wisdom to share, let me know!

Nim

The Story of the Potter and the Clay

This is a story about a potter and a sadly delusional piece of clay:

The potter is busy at work one day in his studio, forming a new pot with the easy skill of a master craftsman. As he turns the wheel the clay twitches suddenly under his hands and he hears a reedy and mutinous voice say “You did not make me!”

The potter is speechless, not primarily because his pot has begun to talk, but due to the blatantly ridiculous nature of the words it utters even as he continues to shape it.  Yet the small piece of clay continues, warming to his theme, “You did not make me. And furthermore, I don’t think you know what you’re doing! I could do a much better job.”

I’m not sure where the story would go from here, but I’m pretty certain that it wouldn’t end with the lump of clay usurping the role of master craftsman! The scenario is fun to imagine, but pretty absurd. Yet did you know that this is an illustration that God uses in the Bible of you and I, and our attitude to him?!

‘He Did Not Make Me’

Isaiah 29 is a prime example. The context is that God is speaking to the Israelites about the way that they treat him. Their foolish attitude towards their powerful God and creator has led to their punishment at the hands of other nations in war, and yet they still haven’t understood that their pride and rebellion is the cause.

This is God’s rebuke in v.16:clay potter

16 You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?

These words may have originally been directed at Israel, but they speak just as powerfully to us today.

We turn things upside down. We try to shrug off the authority that God has just by virtue of him being God. He made us – every atom, every cell. He sustains the existence of the universe that we inhabit, and yet like the pathetically delusional clay, against all signs to the contrary we defiantly announce “He did not make me”.

We think that if we ignore him, he’ll go away and there won’t be any consequences.

‘He Has No Understanding’

Or perhaps we’ve reconciled ourselves to God’s existence, we’ve given him our allegiance – even our love and worship, yet in certain matters we continue to withhold our trust. Do we honour his wisdom as superior to our own? Do we obey his commands and trust his purposes? Or like the clay do we mutter “He has no understanding”? We might never put this into words but it’s an unconscious attitude that can pervade our everyday behaviour. (Don’t forget that the accusations of Isaiah 29 were made to Israel –  who knew God and claimed to follow him!)

I stumbled across this passage whilst searching for another, but it hit me powerfully because so often this is me –  struggling in vain against the reality of who God is and who I am, and whether I really trust him – deludedly trying to announce my independence and greater wisdom, even as the potter continues his work.

Hope for Rebels

Fortunately there is hope for rebellious pots like me! Against all expectations, the potter is infinitely gracious and forgiving, he keeps on moulding and shaping us. This is a rebuke that calls us to return. Just one chapter on in Isaiah 30:15 and 18, we read this invitation:

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…

the Lord longs to be gracious to you;therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.

So let’s humbly heed the warning and take God up on his invitation, acknowledging and trusting our maker and accepting his grace whilst it is offered to us.

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

The Work under Our Work

Sometimes working for a church scares me.

I will always be inadequate at serving such a large and diverse group of people, there are some things I’m just not good at, opportunities that I miss, and my own sin gets in the way, distorting my desire to do good.

Last week I had a conversation at church with someone I’d not met before, my intention was to confidently welcome them, but I walked away feeling like a failure. I hadn’t said things I should, I didn’t come across as I wanted too, and I felt stupid and discouraged.

But I remembered a quote I’d seen and mentioned to a friend earlier that day, and it gave me the perspective I needed in the moment: “You’ll never take pleasure in your work until you realize that the ‘work under your work’ has all been done by Jesus Christ.” Tim KellerGod-At-Work-

This is something I’ve continued to think about this week, as several of my ‘best laid plans’ have fallen apart, and I’ve grappled with rising stress (and potentially spiritual opposition too). I think that this simple fact is vital for a Christian to remember, whatever kind of work you do, and whether it’s going badly or really well.

The Vital Work Is Done

The important things can’t be threatened because Christ’s salvation work on the cross is complete. Our identity as loved, forgiven, children of God is established. He is at work to bring everything under the Lordship of Jesus Christ forever!

Look at how the Apostle Paul sums things up in the verses below:

 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:4-10

 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Paul makes the link for us – we live our lives now in the light of all that has already been done for us, and what God continues to do on our behalf.


His work goes before our work
His work directs our work
His work enables our work.
His work under-girds our work
His work completes our work.

So we rely on God’s work for us because: Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain. Psalm 127:1    

10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 4:10-11

A Lightened Burden
We all experience failure, disappointment, and times of worry about our work or responsibilities. But because of this knowledge we can go about our work and service with humble confidence, joy, peace, purpose, and resolve.
When things crumble, we don’t have to!

The pressure dissipates when we recall that Jesus has already done all that is needed, he wants us to remain in his presence with a yoke and burden that are easy and light (because he shoulders the weight!): ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”Matthew 11:28-29


When we’re not up to the task we can go on, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Praise Him

Nim

P.S If you want to think more about this topic, John Piper writes about why it’s a great thing that God works for us here.

Know-it-all

You’re going to think I’m silly, but…

I want to know everything, about everything.

Or at least everything about something.I want to know it all

A Distorted Desire

Sometimes my thirst for knowledge is a blessing –  it means I read a lot, and learn things that help me, and that I can pass on to others. It’s good to use and stretch the mind that God has given me.

But sometimes it’s a desire that paralyses me, because I’m constantly confronted with how little I know about anything! I don’t know where to start with learning more, and I don’t know when to stop and call it a day!

As I begin an MA in Applied Theology, I feel this pressure again. I just can’t read or learn enough to reach my nebulous standards! I’m humbled and a bit frightened by how little I know, and a voice in my mind whispers “And you call yourself a church worker?” “everyone else knows more than you”

Knowledge and understanding are good things of course. I am so thankful for this opportunity to study again! And my hope is that God will use what I learn to bless my church family too. But I was created a finite being, by an infinitely knowledgeable God. My ability to gain knowledge is limited and so is my understanding.

In fact, it was the sinful desire to know everything, to “be like God”, that was behind the fateful decision of Adam and Eve in the garden. If I search out the reasons behind my own desire to ‘know it all’, they’re ugly. I want control, self reliance, and superiority. I think that knowledge will remove my need for other people, and for faith in God.

Knowledge 101

What does the Bible say, that will help me to resist this nonsensical drive to know everything all the time? How can I restore a good desire for learning that’s been twisted out of proportion?

1) I can rest in the knowledge that my heavenly Father knows all things: Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. Psalm 147:5

Being God is his job! “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand…6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Job 38:4, 6-7

2) There is plenty of wisdom literature in the Bible that praises knowledge and understanding, (and defines it biblically for us) and here is step 1 for those who pursue it: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10

3) God calls us to come to him for true wisdom and knowledge that will satisfy: For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:6 

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

And perhaps most importantly:

4) Over and above the pursuit of knowledge must be our pursuit of God himself.

When my knowledge, experience, and understanding are shown up as inadequate, I can turn to my infinite God for help. Dependence on him is a blessing and protection. To know him is what I truly need.

My prayer amidst the research papers and deadlines, is that my primary focus as I engage in study and increase my theological knowledge, will be to know God more fully and deeply, and to praise him for his infinite wisdom and glory!

Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. Psalm 119:66

Nim

 

 


The Surprising Truth of the Love of God

It’s a startling truth that we are loved by God. It’s a truth that I don’t always believe deeply enough, and even today a friend asked me how I could be so sure.

Christians are used to hearing it and telling it to others: “Jesus loves you” “God is love” “You are precious”. We sing it at church “I’m special because God has loved me” “It can trip off the tongue but if we are not careful it can become a shallow truth to us or a trite saying that doesn’t hold real comfort because we are unsure of its depth. Our non-Christian friends may think it’s just wishful thinking – a comforting thought to help us deal.new-heart

We should be continually surprised, amazed, and convinced by the love of God. If we are not, we have forgotten or we don’t understand. That’s to be expected but we mustn’t be content to stay that way!

I was recently at a conference for church workers, where someone reminded me that God delights in us. I found myself agreeing in my head, but my heart harboured doubts. We don’t always feel like this can be true! We know we wouldn’t love so freely and faithfully if the roles were reversed! We’re such a mess, and we don’t love him as we should, and sometimes life feels bitter.

God is infinitely powerful, Sovereign over all, creator and sustainer, holy, righteous, true, and just. And yet he loves the people whom he has made, deeply and personally! This is not some abstract thing, or even just a feeling. His love is a covenant – a promise and a faithful commitment, unyielding in good or bad times – we catch just a glimpse of this reality in the love and commitment of a faithful marriage.

What will make us truly believe it?

The Bible is full of God’s own words telling us about his love and care of us and our identity as his children. Jesus’ very great sacrifice at the cross is the prime and eternal example of his love, and the reason that sinners like us can feel secure in it:

1 John 3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!

1 John 4:10 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 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. 

Lamentations 3:22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.

Romans 8:37-9 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.

If you’re a Christian, God’s love for you is a fact, its part of your identity, and you can’t lose it! If you’re not, God invites you to come to him, accept his love and forgiveness, and be his child.

I think it’s important that we continue to find God’s love for us surprising. If we truly understand its capacity and its cost we should be amazed and joyfully humbled by it, as the words of this hymn writer capture so well:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

It sounds too good to be true, but it is this good, and it is true.

 

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