Day 37 - Issue 21

May 24, 2017

Psalm 139:16 NLT

'You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.'

One of my biggest challenges has been accepting that God knows my life from its beginning to its end.

How might free will play out if all is written in God’s book? My guess is that I make choices as to how I respond to the many apparent reverses I experience through life. God’s book, when considered from the end of time, a point we’ve not yet reached, will carry the complete narrative of my life. It is a book still being written from my perspective, hence, while certain plot lines are set out in draft form, how each gets worked out in practice is down to my reactions and responses to God. God knows more than I can know in the present. My future is forever unfolding until I die, and I am master of the narrative that unfolds within the pages of my book, albeit God can have sight of it at any stage of its development.

So, as each day dawns and as I pause to wait upon God, I consider how I will take up my pen and craft my narrative for today. As a solution-finder my danger is to seek to rescue others, and fail to reflect upon my own life. Katey battles MS and my first desire is to rescue her. But I can’t. Katey, meantime, has to see beyond my sincere, loving desire to rescue her and face the reality of her neurological disease.

As each of us found ourselves and made our own peace with God within the reality we faced, we became a source of comfort and encouragement to each other. We each discovered the role we were able to play in empowering each other in life.

QUESTION: How are you working with God to write the story of your life?

PRAYER: Lord, I live under your sovereignty and gaze, and I am grateful for that.

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Day 36 - Issue 21

May 23, 2017

Psalm 139:14 NLT

'Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it.'

Resilience is a word that means elasticity. It is the ability to return to original form once bent out of shape. This well describes the wonder of our humanity. Life teaches us that no matter our plans and dreams, life happens to us and along the way we are subject to difficulties. These difficulties impact every aspect of our humanity: emotions, physicality, psychology and spirituality.

The challenge to securing the benefits that come from human resilience is refusing to grow rigid and inflexible given circumstances we’ve not chosen. Early days with Katey’s MS, I stood my ground on physical healing through God’s supernatural intervention. Miracles were a part of the faith I’d embraced and I wanted and needed one now. Was that too much to demand of God? I was encouraged in this stance that together as Church we called ‘faith’ and we agreed a programme of fasting and prayer gatherings that eventually exhausted us by both their regularity and apparent failure to make any real impact. Of course, to question our approach was called ‘faithlessness’ and no one wanted that on their Christian CV! So on we went, our rigidity presented as steadfastness, and our ability to encounter God diminished through our virtuous good work of prayer.

Resilience gifted to each by God, seeded into our human DNA from conception, enables each of us to discover, through pain and heart-searching, depression and despair, that we are created with the capacity to absorb a high degree of disappointment, yet still encounter God. This discovery silences all else: our demands for relief, our angry outbursts, our bloody-mindedness in holding a position that God abandoned long ago. The problem with rigidity is that it shatters and breaks, much as a glass into which boiling water is poured. Shattered shards are not easily repaired, and bear the signs of their repair.

I am resilient, yet also fragile. Memories are rich, if painful, and like memory foam retain the knowledge gained from each experience I’ve had of being bent out of shape along my way.

QUESTION: In what ways has God made you resilient?

PRAYER: Father, may I not become so rigid in my ways as to miss your greater purposes.

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Day 35 - Issue 21

May 22, 2017

Micah 6:8 NLT

'No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.'

What does humility look like? The prophet Micah says it is to be just, kind, and to love mercy. I spent my teenage years campaigning for justice. I worked with young Oxfam, and collected signatures for a petition to government concerning the war in Biafra. All my energies and spare cash were poured into this activity and the many campaigns I subsequently worked on. But, many years later, I see little effective outcome from all that effort. When multiplied by the efforts of countless others, what does it add up to?

The powers that blight our world are all disempowered by the cross and resurrection. We are then empowered through obedience to God to express the life available, freed from the scourge of power other than God’s. This is justice, this is right, living out God’s kingdom practices today. It doesn’t guarantee our experience will be free from injustice; it does demonstrate that injustice is on the way out.

When working with those who were persecuted for their faith, I was amazed at their grace and perseverance. They looked to those beyond their shores to speak and work on their behalf. Even more, they requested that we pray for them. In responding we are able to demonstrate kindness and mercy, the second criteria Micah identifies.

I also recognise that I enjoy benefits that may arise from the injustice experienced by others. My access to cheap goods and services is dependent upon the labour of others in parts of the world where they have little opportunity to attain the quality of life I enjoy. I accept Christ’s great victory over the powers, and seek to fathom how I can express the consequences of that victory through my daily life and the choices I make.

QUESTION: How is the call to love justice and mercy worked out in your life?

PRAYER: Lord, help me to do what is good, to do what is right in the world.

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Day 34 - Issue 21

May 19, 2017

James 4:10 NLT

'Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.'

If humility is maintaining a modest self-opinion, then equally it demands that I establish an appropriate opinion of God. All too easily I have thought of God as a holy superhero who risks all to rescue me. Yet, in reality God sends Jesus to address a covenantal problem created through the Fall and a failure of a covenant people to realise their own vocation. Jesus is the Messiah who fulfils that Jewish covenant. Having broken the power of sin, Christ invites everyone to consider accepting his Lordship and leadership in challenging evil throughout the earth.

The redemptive purpose for all of creation is God’s. My part is to collaborate with God, and that requires my submitting to the will of God in my life. The extent to which I do so, consistently, impacts the influence God asserts in the world today.

When Katey was first diagnosed with MS, we both waited to discover what this was. It soon became apparent when it exhausted her and swiftly removed her legs from under her, placing her in a wheelchair. Disbelief that this was happening was accompanied by anger; anger directed at everyone including myself and Katey, and especially at God. I knew that God wanted physically to heal her, yet God seemed deaf and Katey entered a spiral of decline. I could see the muscle wastage in her leg, which meant the miracle required grew in scale by the month.

Slowly I discovered that I had been blind to people whose ability was in some ways impaired. My benchmark for ‘normal’ was able-bodied. I had never really considered why some were born disabled, while others entered disability along life’s highway. What does such a mixed humanity reveal about God? Jesus was able-bodied, therefore is disability less than God’s norm?

We wrestled with the reality of our situation while having our eyes opened to the reality of a broken world. We cried out against it, but with little practical benefit for anyone. Eventually we humbled ourselves and trusted that God might exalt us and a broken world, through grace born of quiet obedience.

QUESTION: What does it mean for you to humble yourself before God?

PRAYER: Lord, submission to your will is not always easy, but I trust that you are good.

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Day 33 - Issue 21

May 18, 2017

Luke 1:38 NLT

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

Yielding to God presents some clear obstacles. As individuals we discover from an early age that we are expected to take decisions for ourselves. Like most children I trusted the decisions of my parents but at the age of 7 I encountered opposition. My dad wanted me to move to a minor public school. This meant leaving all my friends at primary school, friends I felt really close to. I forcefully, well, as forcefully as a 7-year-old can, argued my case, never thinking I wouldn’t be heard and accommodated. To my horror, my case fell on deaf ears and I moved school. I made a note that it was important to plan how to get my own way in future.

Such a simple example reveals how self-will is forged. For some it is simply the product of survival where life begins in horrendous circumstances. The alternative to assertiveness is non-assertiveness. Here compliance comes easily and we all too readily surrender to the opinions and purposes of others. So how might we approach God, who has redeemed us from slavery to freedom, yet invites us to yield to his authority in return? Having submitted to my dad’s authority over schooling, authority became something I carried great suspicion towards, and still do.

Here Mary, in a surreal moment, asks reasonable questions and then takes the lead in asserting her decision to yield to God. Perhaps here the reality of humility is best revealed. Her questions have been answered in a mysterious way, yet she takes responsibility in saying “Yes” to God. The consequences of that yes are unknowable, yet the essential element is her yes. So it is with God that the important response is yes even when the consequences are unknowable and may appear unpalatable. God’s concern is to restate in and through my life the overwhelming victory over the power of sin that works its way throughout all of life, causing pain and destruction. My response, my yes, enables my life to become consumed with the purpose of God in this world, even when the realities of my experience remain wrapped in mystery.

QUESTION: How do you respond to authority?

PRAYER: I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.

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Day 32 - Issue 21

May 17, 2017

Luke 18:14 NLT

'For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.'

There is a deep-rooted fascination in storytelling down the ages that presents a ‘nobody’ emerging as a hero. Something within us demands the emergence of the underdog and is instinctively suspicious of those exercising power, however competently. Luke describes a tax collector, distrusted and hated by those who considered him a traitor and a thief, who assumed God had no time for him. Yet, in his heart he yearned for God’s love and acceptance. Little did he know that he was the apple of God’s eye.

Like the tax collector, I can consider myself a failure. Professing to be a Christian I can be haunted by my past assertions, many with the privilege of a pulpit behind them. I regret much of what I said. Much like the Pharisee, I would descend from the pulpit to bask in what I imagined was God’s pleasure, and neither noticed nor offered any form of hospitality to the least.

Pride is a sin that creeps up slowly, like an incoming tide, and before I could react I was drowning in self-promotion. This tax collector had the right approach. His perspective of himself may have been low end, yet his appreciation of God was spot on. He knew he was no one without God.

I have learned that it is not in demonstrating in public forums that I am God’s friend, but in the private spaces of prayer and practical service that I live out the reality of such friendship. I am just one among the many whom God befriends. I do not need God’s constant approval or presence. I simply choose to live within God’s boundaries as I recognise and celebrate the privilege of being known and accepted by God. Each evening as I close my day with a brief prayer, I am at peace realising that I am God’s child. That’s enough for me; I am content.

QUESTION: Are you actions inspired by love of God or self-promotion?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me, a sinner.

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Day 31 - Issue 21

May 16, 2017

Ephesians 4:2 NLT

'Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.'

Growing up I confused arrogance for conviction. I would doggedly argue my case and stand my ground assuming that I was defending the truth, without acknowledging this was truth to me. I was so convinced with my own arguments that I could neither hear nor respond to what might have been excellent refinements to my own case. I alienated friend and foe alike by reducing everything to a binary choice.

The referendum on EU membership best illustrates the limitation of binary choices, for it requires proponents of either case to grow strident in attempting to win the argument by demolishing their opponent’s case. Could this ever have brought clarity or careful reflection? The consequence of a brutal public discourse has been increased alienation and division.

Humility is the ability to have a conviction in myself rather than my argument. Paul reminds us that we are to behave in a certain way despite our clear convictions about God. The cross has ushered in God’s kingdom here on earth, as it is in heaven. This can never be established by argument. It is behaviour that demonstrates conviction; a conviction that God is able to be true to both word and promise.

Bearing with each other in love invites me to reframe my approach towards others, especially those who annoy me. Perhaps I need to become more curious about both why I am annoyed, and also explore getting to know them as opposed to avoiding them. Having lived in community for years, and far more recently with Mum arriving, this behaviour commended by Paul has been tested and is subject to scrutiny.

Step one is always to move away from locating fault with the other, and reflecting first upon my own reactions and the narrative I create to support such reactions. Maybe there are complexities and issues that lie outside my control. Yet I want to be loved and accepted, and Jesus commanded I love neighbour as self. So it’s do as you would be done by.

QUESTION: How willing are you to make room in your life for God’s kingdom values and practices?

PRAYER: Lord, help me to learn from others today, to love, listen and serve.

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Day 30 - Issue 21

May 15, 2017

Genesis 12:1 NLT

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.”

I discovered I might benefit from spiritual direction when God disturbed my comfort zone. I was living faithfully as a Christian, diligently pursuing God and confident in my call. Yet, a change in personal circumstances started tremors that ultimately erupted into a full-blown earthquake. The constructs I’d come to depend upon began to collapse. I was in danger of serious injury.

I now faced two choices. Either run around in the hope that I could resist the power of the earthquake, or recognise that the damage was so great that I needed to pack up and move out. I chose the latter, not least because I had little conviction to either repair or rebuild what had failed to withstand the storm.

This meant leaving all that I knew, with no clear understanding of where I was to go. How I depended upon someone I could talk with honestly without fear of judgement, correction or rejection. The shock I carried with me from the rubble of my previous existence impacted my ability to focus upon the journey I needed to take. I had questions and recriminations concerning the earthquake I’d experienced. I needed to tell things as I saw and felt them. Until I did so, the dust from the rubble obscured my perspective from every angle.

Heading in a fresh direction and beginning again are terrifying. All I knew had to be revisited and tested for fear that I would reconstruct substandard buildings. The very act of deconstructing to reconstruct required effort and raised the prospect that I might actually lose God in the process. In fact I did lose sight of God on a number of occasions. As I moved through this process, made my way, as it were, through unfamiliar landscapes, the encouragement of someone listening and accompanying me cannot be overestimated. The questions I might never fathom, let alone frame, were presented to me, the emotional reactions and responses explored, in ways that made me uncomfortable, for which reason, left alone, I might have avoided them. Slowly a new landscape emerged and I was able to build once again.

QUESTION: How open are you to God’s call to move onwards?

PRAYER: Lord, not my will but yours be done.

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Day 29 - Issue 21

May 12, 2017

2 Corinthians 4:7 NLT

'We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.'

When my daughter was young, she used to like visiting charity shops and jumble sales. As she worked her way round, she was always on the lookout for small animal ornaments and especially those with some visible damage, such as a chipped ear. Her rationale was that these were rejected and most in need of a loving home, something she could provide. The cash value of her purchases was negligible, yet her emotional attachment immense.

I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it distinctly difficult to see through my own warts to appreciate the wonder that God has crafted into me. Others are much better placed to notice. Yet even when they comment, I am too self-effacing to accept their compliment. Failure to do so reveals a lot about just how little I think of myself. While I agree with Paul that I’m not to think more highly of myself than is appropriate (Romans 12:3), many of us tend to judge ourselves too harshly. Yet, we are filled with the very essence of God in the Holy Spirit.

A great benefit to spiritual direction is finding a space in which to separate the fragile mortal flesh from the great deposit of faith within. I often have to talk through my own fears and insecurities in order to discover that treasure within. And this isn’t my treasure. It’s wealth created by God who accepts me just the way I am, with an invitation to walk on into ever greater degrees of glory. No matter if this earthen vessel has some chips, scratches and bits missing. It is still a worthy container for the miracle of God’s loving grace.

QUESTION: How has God used the scratches and cracks of your life to reveal his grace?

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for putting the great treasure of the gospel into this jar of clay.

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Day 28 - Issue 21

May 11, 2017

1 Samuel 1:17 NLT

“In that case,” Eli said, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”

When Katey and I struggled with childlessness, we assumed that our prayers would be answered through conceiving our own baby. God had heard our prayer but the road to parenting would be complicated. First, a second tragic event brought Jayne to live in our extended household. Abandoned by her husband while pregnant, she was homeless and struggling. We shared a shattered dream experience. Hearing anything constructive from God was difficult for each of us, and yet the extended household offered each of us hope and opportunity.
When the birth came it was by emergency caesarean, and both Katey and I had the privilege of holding a new baby minutes after birth. At age 7, this child then asked me if I would be her “real daddy”, as she put it. How the children lead us in the ways of God!

I was adopted rather than me, the mature adult, doing the adopting. In a beautiful way, without removing the pain, rejection and insecurity each of us had experienced, God responded to our prayer in a unique way. We were family, as firm as any family might be, and we have never loosened the love or the hold we have on each other.

Sometimes to discover God’s gift in our life, we must go by way of dispossession. Clinging to our assumptions and demands merely obscures God. At times such assumptions and the pain that surrounds us deafens us to the still small voice that is God. This is the benefit of listening alongside another; one with no agenda and who freely admits they have no solutions for us, yet whose ears may be better attuned to discern the questions God places before us.

QUESTION: Who can help you discern the purposes of God in your life?

PRAYER: Lord, when I see that your ways are not my ways, help me to trust in you.

 

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