Day 15 - Issue 23

October 20, 2017

Psalm 37:13 NLT

'But the Lord just laughs, for he sees their day of judgment coming.'

I’ve noted that ageing can be accompanied by increasing anxiety. This seems so sad. After living a long and productive life, the last thing I’d want an elder within our society to experience is anxiety. Surely this is a time to reflect, smile and simply enjoy life, physical constraints acknowledged. My mum really does ‘sweat the small stuff’. My encouragements are swept away with an irritable wave of her hand, while her frown indicates her conclusion that I don’t understand.

There is much to worry about. My daughter, living as a young person in London, has observed an increased tension in the capital, and has experienced her own fair share of trouble, from stolen mobile phones to a violent attack. It is easy to question the reality of God’s omniscience, or total authority and power throughout the earth.

A confused and turbulent world where a minority enrich themselves and gorge on the produce of the many can seem unjust and beyond God’s capacity to influence.
Given the serious and cruel implications of much of the social, economic and random violence across society, it may seem inappropriate that God laughs at the wicked. Yet, the laughter is at the futility of their efforts, for ultimately they lose their grip on life and face the judgement of God. Those efforts are also of little long-term value to society, and work against the realisation of God’s kingdom in the earth. Instead of railing against the efforts of the wicked, we can take comfort in establishing small oases of calm that reveal the character of God, and of a social order that demonstrates the viability of God’s way in the earth. It takes effort and courage. Its impact may not make headline news, but it will practically and positively influence lives for good and God.

QUESTION: What makes you feel anxious about life?

PRAYER: Holy God, help me to trust in your goodness, and let worry not rob me of my joy in you.

 

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Day 14 - Issue 23

October 19, 2017

John 16:24 NLT

'You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.'

Ageing has its benefits. While I don’t like the aches and pains, or the physical challenges around the garden that some years ago I’d have taken in my stride, I do enjoy the ability to see life in context. Where once I was a blind slave to consumerism, feeding and serving my acquisitive nature, with the benefit of age I have found freedom to live without, in contrast to living wanting.
Understanding is one thing, practise something else altogether! I recall always wanting the latest technology to play with. My family teased me relentlessly as I begged, borrowed (yet never stole) to acquire the latest gadget. I am an early adopter by nature and stretched myself financially to buy a first-generation Prius hybrid car. And as for books, my shelves were filled with partially read volumes I coveted and purchased. Today, I am pleased to say I am free from all that. I now know what I want and why.

My prayer life was also pretty acquisitive in the early days. I mistook Jesus’ invitation to ask for anything I wanted as a blank cheque to fill my life with my own desires. In fact, Jesus was speaking to his disciples about Pentecost, when they would receive the Holy Spirit and subsequently discern what it was that the kingdom on earth required of them, and their dynamic friendship with God. In other words, praying is always to seek to see God’s will happen on the earth. Where once I prayed through a list, now I simply offer those I am praying for to God, and hold them in God’s presence that God’s will might be done in their life on earth.

The joy that flows from prayer is not about securing my material happiness, but about seeking the presence of God in the earth. This may have a material effect, but such an effect is no objective measure of the work of God. Jesus also invites us to go on praying (see Luke 18:1-8). Pray and then pray again, and after that pray again.

QUESTION: In your prayers, are you asking out of a desire to provide for your material well-being?

PRAYER: My Father in heaven, your will be done, your kingdom come, on earth as in heaven.

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Day 13 - Issue 23

October 18, 2017

James 1:2 NLT

'Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.'

In the last ‘Be Still & Know’ I wrote of perspective; the way we perceive and subsequently engage in life. Much of that is a product of who we are, and each of us is different. For years I showed up in my evangelical charismatic church as an outgoing, socially interactive people-lover. However, I am by nature an introvert who draws strength from my own company more than from the company of others. So for years I was worshipping in the wrong context, where my behaviour was an act; one that was honest and lived out with integrity, but not truly the person I was created to be. Discovering who we are is essential in making progress in the way of God.

James’ instruction to count all tribulation as joy sounds counterintuitive. It’s as if when I bang my finger with a hammer I am to say “hallelujah” rather than “ouch”! Yet, James invites us to see tribulation in its true perspective. If the core purpose of my humanity is to grow into maturity in Christ, and if I’m a slave of Christ, my life’s journey is all about discovering more of God. The route will in many ways be determined by the person I am, my personality type, for example, but a path there will be. The challenge is in discovering and then agreeing that life is about this maturing process. This creates my perspective, how I see myself, God and the context within which I live.

Here I can find joy, where joy is defined as the prospect of possessing what I desire. Joy can be present and future tense. The difficulties arise when I only want it in the present tense. God invites me to consider living very present in the substance of my life, yet with a future focus. This determines my perspective and gifts me the ability to pass through tribulation.

QUESTION: How well do you know your own personality and character?

PRAYER: Everything is an opportunity to learn to become more like you. What a joy and privilege. Thank you.

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Day 12 - Issue 23

October 17, 2017

Psalm 126:2 NLT

We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, “What amazing things the LORD has done for them.”

When locked into challenging circumstances, it can prove hard to imagine anything other than the continuation of the daily grind, with its relentless wear and tear on our resources, emotions, psyche and health. In such moments we look to a fresh revelation of God, reviving hope. In the heat of the storm in caring for Katey, observing her steady deterioration, I would return to a photograph of us in happier times. This was not to escape reality, but to remind me of the person Katey truly was despite her wasting away before my eyes. It also refreshed my memory as to who I truly was, even as I thrashed about in the stormy waters that sought to consume us.

When facing difficulty, it is wise to consider life beyond the hardship. Not to escape it, but to seek sanctuary in the fact that this is not the essence of life. Yes, it consumes every moment and demands my full attention, yet I dare to dream, to look beyond the constraints life lays upon me. I’m reminded that I am not defined by present troubles, for I am joined to God, along with others, many of whom are fighting their own battles, and may have stories of survival. When I manage to do this, then indeed I can experience some moments of release from the immediate anxiety, and my mouth fills with laughter.

Learning to laugh is often a healthy sign of navigating life’s trials effectively. We no longer chafe at the hand life dealt us, but find ways of drawing strength from what we know of God for all we are experiencing in life.

QUESTION: You might not be able to change your circumstances, but how might you change your perspective?

PRAYER: Lord, help me to see your goodness and grace in every moment of life, help me know the depth of your love to me in Christ, and let the joy of that love rise in my heart.

 

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Day 11 - Issue 23

October 16, 2017

Genesis 21:6 NLT

And Sarah declared, “God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me.”

Laughter, we’re told, is the best medicine. Psychologists say laughter reduces pain, increases job performance, connects people emotionally, and improves the flow of oxygen to the heart and brain. So it’s comedy films for me! As a child I laughed a lot. My parents used to come into my bedroom because I laughed in my sleep, something Jayne tells me I still do. Certainly laughter lightens the mood and relaxes body and mind.

Of course, laughter is not always an expression of mirth and joy. It is also a means for expressing disbelief, as in, “Don’t make me laugh.” Indeed, Sarah laughed in disbelief when she overheard God’s promise to Abraham that she would fall pregnant at an impossibly old age. A laugh she stifled, then denied, when challenged by God.

I remember arriving at university to discover a card beneath my door from the Christian Union with an invitation to a coffee evening. I laughed, being a convinced agnostic, only reaching for prayer when I’d run out of other ideas. Little did I realise that two weeks later I’d be responding to an appeal to discover more about Jesus. Previously I’d laughed in God’s face and now I knelt in acknowledgement of his reality.

It’s easy to hide behind a laugh. Many words of encouragement I received from well-meaning friends as Katey began her journey with MS were laughed off in my inner pain and growing lack of conviction that God would bring a physical healing. However, laughing these words off proved unhealthy, for it only deepened my cynicism and nourished a root of bitterness within my soul.

Joyful laughter restores a connection between people, and so laughter can only prove positive in building friendship with God. The medics tell us laughter will reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular disease and so is to be highly prized. Just a few verses later, Sarah is laughing with delight. Her desire had been realised even when she had completely given up on the idea. Laughing in anticipation is an approach that we might want to explore and practise whenever we find we laugh out of disbelief.

QUESTION: How often do you laugh?

PRAYER: Lord, grow in me that fruit of the Spirit called joy that brings laughter to my soul.

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Day 10 - Issue 23

October 13, 2017

Psalm 118:28 NLT

'You are my God, and I will praise you! You are my God, and I will exalt you!'

There is an ocean of difference between saying, “You are God” and declaring, “You are my God.” Accepting and describing the attributes of God is most certainly to declare truths about him. Yet, the wonder of the incarnation is to be invited to discover that this indescribable, unknowable creator God of all is, in fact, my God. I think I partially understood that at my first introduction to him, but it took time to separate my needing to own him as my personal miracle-maker, from resting in the majesty of God.

Hope is born of such knowledge. For where else can I turn for the fulfilment of every appetite ever experienced, every dream carried within my heart, and every insecurity that obstructs my ability to flourish in everyday living? I have invested so much time and energy, foolishly it seems, in seeking to become the person I imagine I needed to become. I have served external criteria that I wrongly thought were measures of my self-improvement and ultimately my maturity. I’ve invested in pursuing material goals in a never-ending pursuit of personal affluence and safety.

If life boils down to just one acclamation, “You are my God”, then I have spent too much time rambling along the wrong pathways. So often convincing myself I’m on the narrow way, I realise to my cost that I am actually strolling one of the many broad roads that leads to destruction.

The pursuit of God is to jettison all of the baggage of success, prowess and power in exchange for the sure and certain hope that my God is Lord of all. If I ignore what appears insignificant in an attempt to take hold of what is seen as fashionably significant, I am likely to miss discovering my purpose in every way.

The demonstration of hope is the declaration of thanks to a God who I can know, not merely as a powerful deity, but one who is my God. My hope is in that reality, for everything else, while offering the promise of substance is, in fact, no more than an empty vessel.

QUESTION: What things are you hoping in, that will not ultimately last?

PRAYER: Lord of all hope, be my all in all.

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Day 9 - Issue 23

October 12, 2017

Psalm 118:27a NLT

'The LORD is God, shining upon us.'

God has given us light, so that no matter where we find ourselves, we have an ability to find our way both to God and through life. Light is the agent that makes things visible and stimulates sight. If we have eyes that see, wonderful things will come into sight. So I ask myself each day, what do I see?

On a recent weekend, our neighbour’s dogs were barking non-stop. We have had to renew our fence, for the dogs were breaking through and I was anxious for the safety of our own Chihuahua, Dylan, who always thinks he’s a Rottweiler so takes on all-comers. I was gardening and chilling, but the noise got under my skin and I found myself ranting at dogs, noise and neighbours, and not just once. This had not been my finest hour.

So I talked with God about it. I was ashamed and humbled by my behaviour. I emerged from this reflection recognising that my angst was in part justified for fear of these dogs getting loose and hurting Dylan. However, I was also trying to manage my neighbours’ dogs and getting increasingly frustrated that the situation wasn’t calming or changing. Yet, neither was I! So with fresh eyes I recognised I had opportunity to train Dylan not to react when the fence was banged by barking canines, and also acknowledge I had no authority over what took place next door. Jayne trained Dylan brilliantly, and in a week he was disinterested in our noisy neighbours. I mentally chose to manage my mouth every time I entered the garden.
This is how light works, enabling me to serve God more effectively as a disciple and a witness.

QUESTION: Where does the light of Christ need to shine more brightly in your life?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, teach me to see each day and each person I meet through your eyes.

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Day 8 - Issue 23

October 11, 2017

Psalm 118:24 NLT

'This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.'

I love the early morning. I light a candle, pray for God to light my path into this day, and take some moments in prayer and reflection. Everything seems fresh, the day is bursting with opportunity. I have drawn a line on my bad behaviours and disappointments of the day past, while before me is a fresh canvas. I step into the day filled with hope.

Soon my optimism is challenged. I haven’t changed my personality, cracks and all, with a simple moment of prayer. What I have done is acknowledge whose day this is. It is easy to live as though life is an entitlement rather than a gift. I begin to assume I have a right to peace, health and happiness. When I don’t feel I am receiving my entitlements I simply demand them.
This is God’s day, and I want to discover God within it and reveal his reality. My mindset has changed to acknowledge that what happens in each day must be mined to retrieve the riches God has deposited within it. Caring full-time removed me, or so I concluded, from the frontline of Christian ministry. Only towards the end of Katey’s life, and even more so since her death, have I realised that in that caring role I was actually on the very furthermost frontline.

For me, the challenge was always taking time to be with God. I’ve learned that high levels of activity, however worthy and valued, are always a distraction from encountering the presence of God. I do far less these days; but there again, I rejoice far more in each and every day, knowing within it there is treasure to be unlocked. I also have confidence that whatever my lot, God will be ahead of me and I need have no worries. I will rejoice and be glad in it.

QUESTION: Do you start each new day as if it were a grace-gift from God, or is it already running away from you as you race to complete all the tasks that you feel must be accomplished?

PRAYER: Sustaining Lord, whatever I may feel I have to do today, I pray I do your will.

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Day 7 - Issue 23

October 10, 2017

Psalm 118:13 NLT

'My enemies did their best to kill me, but the LORD rescued me.'

When Katey lost the use of her legs due to the MS, I set about decorating a room downstairs to be our bedroom. It was a small extension someone had added, with patio doors into the garden. I prepared all the existing paintwork, applied fresh, bright colours, and finally stood on my ladder admiring my efforts. Sadly in my excitement I forgot where I was, stepped back, and fell. Now everything moved into slow motion. In attempting to regain my equilibrium, I grabbed at the ladder which now joined me in my journey to the floor. I stuck out a foot that landed in a paint tray and my other foot landed in a bucket of wallpaper paste that exploded to decorate the walls. The noise had brought a small audience of helpers to witness my humiliation in a heap on the floor, and all I could do was lay there and laugh.

A fall is seldom a pre-planned action. Falls hurt and can damage the body. In falling, we lose our balance and collapse. Here the psalmist suggests there are forces that seek to push us over. We move from happiness to unhappiness, from security to insecurity, from confidence to uncertainty. It is in such times we need God most. For when all is well in the world, we run the risk of taking God for granted. It’s in the falling and landing that the substance of faith is both found and forged. When I hold to faith, when circumstance offers little reason to do so, I have the greatest opportunity of discovering something fresh about God. For he is most present in the gaps within our lives, gaps down which we so easily fall.

The floor sounds an unusual place to encounter God, yet perhaps explains the tradition of prostration and kneeling as expressions of worship. The floor does reveal our true character. Sometimes we act as if we had this planned all along, driven by feelings of shame and embarrassment. However, while we fall, we cannot be destroyed, for God remains our helper. Falling is not simply failure. Finding the floor is a place where we can always find God.

QUESTION: What have your falls taught you about yourself and about God?

PRAYER: Thank you, loving Father, that you stooped down in your love to pick me up.

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Day 6 - Issue 23

October 9, 2017

Psalm 118:1 NLT

'Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.'

For our last family holiday before my daughter went off to university, we signed up for a cruise. It resembled ‘Butlin’s afloat’ more than ‘Downton Abbey takes to the ocean’. It was fun, with lots to do and places to see. It was late in the year and the Mediterranean weather was mixed.

One evening we were warned that we were entering stormy seas. Sick bags appeared everywhere and so we prepared as best we might for the unknown. The storm slowly built in intensity and the ship rolled and rocked as it made its way through mountainous seas. All those on board placed their hope in the cruise ship as we sailed into the force and fury of what was a comparatively minor storm. The vessel withstood all the storm threw at it and ploughed on to its next destination.

In the ever-changing tapestry of our lives, our only hope is that God is good and his love is never-ending. As with the cruise ship, I might disembark ahead of the storm and entrust myself to the water, or I may live assuming the ship will be torn open by the raging waters and sink without trace. Neither option is appealing or guarantees a better outcome. Instead it’s best to place my hope in the seaworthiness of the vessel, the competency of the captain, and hope that we shall sail through the storm to safely emerge on the other side.

Hope is a feeling of expectation. It’s a choice. I can invest in a feeling of doom, fear, grievance, or I can hold onto hope. Hope is also a desire for a particular outcome. Nurturing that desire in the face of what appears impossible might appear foolish, yet I believe it offers a better approach than abandoning all hope. When I lost hope caring for Katey, all of life appeared an insurmountable mountain for which I had neither the inclination nor equipment to climb. Hope nurtured and kept alive through, at times, grim determination afforded opportunity for the weather surrounding my life to calm. My perspective changed and life continued, with its challenges and disappointments framed by hope.

QUESTION: What things do you hope for?

PRAYER: God of all hope, you have my trust today.

 

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