Be Still and Know
Day 16 - Issue 29

Day 16 - Issue 29

April 22, 2019

John 20:1-2 NLT

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

I am a big fan of stillness, but recognise this is a preference not shared by all my friends. I imagine the stillness and tranquillity surrounding this account’s events; the calm that followed the storms of Holy Week. Into that calm Mary makes her way to the tomb, no doubt to pay respects to Jesus following the Sabbath. To her surprise and shock the grave stands open and empty. She immediately assumes that someone has stolen Jesus’ body. There were many who might find that convenient.

Mary’s humanity is wonderful. Like me, she immediately assumes the worst. When Jayne is delayed coming home, and I receive no text giving a reason, even though I have no reason to worry, I do! It seems we are wired to believe the worst and not the best. It also reveals how impoverished our listening and understanding are in practice. Jesus had carefully schooled his followers in both the purpose of his ministry, and its conclusion in his death and resurrection. Yet, how hard it is to hear and practise what we don’t comprehend. This surely lies at the heart of the mystery of our faith.

It’s so much easier to doubt, even deny, that which lies beyond our understanding. Yet, isn’t faith the very definition of the incomprehensible? Understanding means to “stand among”. We can build our life upon what we see, yet here the seeing is not through the lens of either logic or intellect. It is the raw conviction that God’s word is true and therefore by faith, sightless, I can depend upon it as surely as a blind person may rely upon their guide dog.

QUESTION: Do you need to understand in order for you to believe?

PRAYER: Lord, it isn’t always easy to believe in things I have never seen. Help me in those times to have faith.

Day 15 - Issue 29

Day 15 - Issue 29

April 19, 2019

Luke 23:33-34 NLT

When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified – one on his right and one on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.

Powerlessness is frightening. When events lie well beyond my ability to control in any way, I try to hold to my preferences, but I cannot secure a single one of them. I’m dependent upon the whim and the will of others, over whom I may exert no influence. This is where Jesus finds himself as he is finally crucified. He gazes down as others distribute his ‘estate’, reminding him of his loss of decision-making power.

As I grow older, and observe my mother some years ahead of me, the natural physical and mental decline that accompanies ageing is self-evident. Loss of independence is both experienced in my need to adjust my perception of what I can do for myself, while maintaining my dignity and self-respect as I age. Confidence begins to leak away and life can become frightening. Emotions from anger to fear understandably become more apparent. It is the measure of the compassionate nature of both Church and society that will be able to quieten such emotions and give hope.

We do not know what emotions were flowing through Jesus as he was nailed upon a cross. What we observe is someone who, despite the pain, physical and mental, despite the complete loss of personal control over his destiny (even his heavenly Father looks away), Jesus retains his dignity, self-respect and peace. He forgives his accusers and executors, has time to make provision for his mother, Mary, invites a robber to join him in Paradise, and chooses the moment at which he yields up his life.

QUESTION: How do you react if you lose control over elements of your life?

PRAYER: Sovereign Lord, even when I am not in control I know that you are. Help me to trust in your power.

Day 14 - Issue 29

Day 14 - Issue 29

April 18, 2019

Mark 15:21 NLT

'A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the countryside just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.)'

And now the walk to Golgotha begins in earnest. Weakened and brutally punished already, Jesus has to find the strength to carry his cross to his own execution. Here we see the reality of Jesus’ humanity fully expressed again. He experiences the burden and weight of the reality we face working out life every day. Life is not an easy ride, yet we can encounter Christ in every moment.

Honestly, I sometimes struggle here. Much of life can become drudgery. Task follows task and I merely complete each one out of habit, with little conviction or awareness of God’s presence. I sense it is the greatest gift that Christianity offers each one of us, a substantive purpose in each moment of life because of the reality of an eternal, people-focused God. In saying this I am not intentionally minimising the pain and displacement of millions, for whom life is indescribable. However, I am suggesting that Christ is present in the darkest experiences and historical processes. It is we who have to choose to discern Christ in such places.

It is also clear I am not expected to endure alone. Here a total stranger is forced by military might into helping Jesus. He has little choice but to obey. Yet, I too can help, but will do so only as I yield to the compulsion of the Holy Spirit. It is often inconvenient, perhaps unpleasant, yet I am the one who is chosen to share another’s load. It’s the reason why Church is at the heart of God’s purpose, for none of us can navigate the Christian life alone. The way of life expressed by the Church is the clearest proclamation of the gospel that exists, as Jesus testifies (John 13:35). As we look at the landscape of Church, this presents us with a mighty challenge in considering the way we behave as witnesses to Jesus’ testimony.

QUESTION: How does your church present the gospel by the way that it lives?

PRAYER: Lord, may your Church by its words and works present the good news of Christ to the world.

 

Day 13 - Issue 29

Day 13 - Issue 29

April 17, 2019

John 19:2-3 NLT

'The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a purple robe on him. “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked, as they slapped him across the face.'

Mental anguish is perhaps my greatest battle. I can be withdrawn, moody and depressed, often accompanied by a loss of self-confidence. I know my natural personality is to live within my head rather than engage with the material world that surrounds me, and maybe that adds to my mental anguish. As I reflect upon it, I have come to meditate upon the crown of thorns here thrust upon the brow of Jesus.

Worrying changes nothing, yet knowing this offers no respite from the anxious thoughts that besiege me. For me, it’s a sort of torture. My thoughts drum back and forth within my skull, destroying concentration, aggravating me and keeping me from sleep. I am living in a world that has not arrived, yet is as real to me as though I were living and having to navigate my way through it.

I do not know how Jesus processed the intense physical and mental pain he experienced. The cruel process of his execution had begun. What were his thoughts as he imagined the journey that lay before him?

Considering Christ in these moments of excruciating pain, I note that he has nothing other than the promise of the Father to hold on to. He has yielded to the Father’s will and now there is this outworking of the divine redemption in his person. My learning is that in the midst of my mental tempest, I must wrestle to recover my sense of identity in God and ride out these moments, rather than giving full expression to my anger, fear and pain. It seems I’ve discovered that the Christian Way is more about learning to find peace through having Christ as my centre than it is in seeking to execute some well-intentioned rescue plan. I’m already rescued; this is the outworking of salvation in me and in the earth.

QUESTION: How do your worries affect your faith in God?

PRAYER: Lord, even when there is pain, sorrow and suffering, help me, as Jesus did, to trust your promises.

 

Day 12 - Issue 29

Day 12 - Issue 29

April 16, 2019

Mark 15:15 NLT

'So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.'

The fickleness of the crowd who once hailed Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem is evident to us all. I am reminded of my own fickleness. I have been among that crowd when it’s suited me to keep quiet about my love and friendship with God. It is remarkable how a culture that offers little by way of hope, and has reduced the purpose of life to accumulating wealth and consumer products, can silence a message offering hope to human existence. Individuals are prepared to convince me of the merits of one motorised metal box over another with a zeal that I can barely muster in speaking of God, even to Christians.

When I pursue God, I experience the very real pain of choosing God’s way over my natural inclination. I am also made aware by God’s Spirit of the gap that so easily exists between my vocal declarations and my practical life and time style. This is perhaps where those Church traditions that allow for third party confession to a priest have identified something valuable. When I make confession to God in private, as I do, I am not ever exposing my daily hypocrisy, but entering a loop of self-distortion at best, deception at worst.

I’ve learned that there is no way to follow Jesus without pain to my pretentious (however well-intentioned) self; I’m reminded that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. I, unlike Jesus, might deserve scourging; he, however, embraced it on my behalf so I might know that life in Christ is not without its slings and arrows.

QUESTION: What distracts you most from pursuing a deeper relationship with God?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you neither feared nor followed the crowd. Help me to pay attention most of all to your voice.

Day 11 - Issue 29

Day 11 - Issue 29

April 15, 2019

Matthew 26:39 NLT

He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

As we enter Holy Week, we follow Jesus through his suffering and death. This journey starts in the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus wrestles with his call and destiny.

Like us, Jesus gazes at his future and turns to God in prayer to appeal for a less demanding road to walk. My prayers for many years were basically about risk management. I did not want disease or disaster to touch any part of my life. Yet, why was it I assumed God might spare me? Is it not through trials that God purifies the gold of his intention within my willing heart? I admit to refusing to walk God’s way on more than one occasion as I faced the realities obedience presented. Here Jesus ends his prayer with the words, “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

This is the core to obedience: a willingness to agree to discipleship on God’s terms. This is hard, especially when we are consumed by experiences that we can neither explain nor understand. I have observed two dear friends and their families pass through difficult seasons of life-threatening cancer this last year; both younger than me, with children in desperate need of a father as they completed their growing into adulthood. The timing seemed all wrong; God’s purpose confusing, if not outright opaque. Yet, they discovered God within the heat of the storm, where I, gazing from a distance, could neither fathom God nor his purpose. God’s ways are not ours (see Isaiah 55:8-9).

The way of Jesus can only be pursued to the degree to which you, and I, say yes to God’s invitation to follow him. Learning to say yes is a challenge. And as with Mary, the mother of Jesus, that yes carries few guarantees apart from the reality that God’s will expresses itself in the earth.

QUESTION: Are there times when you have refused or ignored God, rather than saying yes?

PRAYER: Lord, may your will be done in my life as it is in heaven.

Day 10 - Issue 29

Day 10 - Issue 29

April 12, 2019

Luke 19:38 NLT

'Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!'

Jesus is appropriately welcomed into Jerusalem by the people as the King of heaven. Yet, in a very short time, these same people will be baying for his blood and sealing his excruciating execution. While we will explore that journey next week, it’s worth noting that we can prove as fickle as those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem that day.

I’m amazed how easily my mood swings from celebration and adoration to complaint and criticism. I often lack the resilience to endure life’s experience when I don’t like it. I find it difficult to ‘set my face like flint’ (Isaiah 50:7), as Jesus did. I’ve discovered that following Jesus boils down to the level of my resolve to follow. There are no inducements or rewards that can take away from the challenge of pursuing Jesus today. There is much criticism and indeed often hostility to the gospel message. If I’m looking for some endorsement, it will be hard to find. If the Church becomes the source of my ‘resilience’, then I have misplaced my trust, for this is to be in God alone.

The way of trust is a lonely path, I have concluded. I’ve learned that the only one I can converse with about my commitment to God is, in fact, God. I draw encouragement and strength from joining with my congregation. I am stimulated and challenged by the testimony of others. I reflect upon my walk of faith in the light of all I hear with my spiritual director. Yet, I know that I have an account to give for myself, and I must take responsibility to walk out my faith as the Spirit leads.

QUESTION: When has your walk of faith been lonely or challenging? What did you learn from those times?

PRAYER: Lord, I pray, save me from fickleness but instead grow faithfulness and fidelity to you in my heart.

Day 9 - Issue 29

Day 9 - Issue 29

April 11, 2019

Luke 21:2-4 NLT

Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”

As a young teenager I remember taking my French penfriend on a London sightseeing visit. Sitting in a leafy square to eat lunch, I noticed that there were a lot of ‘tramps’, for want of a better description. We’d eaten our fill and so I just had the thought offering our remaining packed lunches to these guys. I approached a man and he immediately took the food and paused before embracing me in a huge hug. I remember two things; the smell and the sense of peace and warmth that flowed into my soul.

I was a long way from giving “everything I had”, but I do attribute the start of my journey in search of God to that moment. I’d never experienced that inner sense of well-being. It catalysed my work with “Young Oxfam” and my engagement with issues of social justice. This was long before I became a Christian. It’s always good to be reminded that Christians don’t have a monopoly on goodness.

The other thing that was stirred was a reflection about when is enough, enough? I want to acknowledge that we are all different personalities. There is no one right answer to the question. Yet, Jesus appears to recognise that extravagance in giving is to be commended. His own example is itself an example of extravagant giving – or, as with the widow, giving everything she has.

The challenge of giving out of my surplus is that I always have the temptation to increase the size of my surplus. Usually, though, surplus is not a problem I have. There’s usually too much month for the money. It is also giving everything from every part of our lives, and not limited to finance. So we are invited to wrestle with how we can give to God everything, holding nothing back.

QUESTION: Is it possible for you to increase your giving? Make a plan today.

PRAYER: Lord, create in me a generous heart and help me to excel in the grace of giving.

Day 8 - Issue 29

Day 8 - Issue 29

April 10, 2019

Luke 20:45-47 NLT

Then, with the crowds listening, he turned to his disciples and said, “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public.”

It’s easy to feel guilty by the way we live out our Christian faith; it’s also easy to become convinced that we are real assets to God’s kingdom process. My own capacity to feel self-important and ‘special’ simply because of the path I cut into church leadership in my younger days, shocks me. Certainly I performed well and enjoyed the encouragement and affirmation of both peers and those to whom I ministered. Yet, I failed to find the inner resource I needed when tragedy struck.

Church, while essential in expressing God’s love throughout the world and encouraging a loving community, quickly becomes a honeypot for hubris. There’s a tremendous responsibility that God lays upon the Church to be the bearer of good news in a troubled and troubling world.

Jesus identifies these as problems for the Jewish leaders of the Temple system in Jerusalem. There was a hunger for an authentic encounter with God; the queues lining up to get baptised by John indicate this. At the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, there were a number of experiments taking place as the Jews explored how they might deepen their faithful following of God. Church is also meant to offer an experimental model in which we practise loving God, one another and the stranger. It offers hospitality ahead of judgement. It converses with rather than criticises culture, revealing through its shared life the realisation of the values it holds by revelation of the Holy Spirit. The characteristic of the true Church is that it is the willing servant of all. It is the embodiment of Jesus and appropriately judged as such.

QUESTION: How can you be a part of helping your church love God wholeheartedly?

PRAYER: Lord, may your Church, wherever it is found, be full of your humility, hospitality and love.

Day 7 - Issue 29

Day 7 - Issue 29

April 9, 2019

Luke 20:25 NLT

“Well then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

I pray the Lord’s Prayer often. I love it, for every aspect of the Christian walk is included. It clearly expresses the reality of two kingdoms that are in conflict with each other. A material kingdom within which we live out our life in the earth, which is then contrasted with a heavenly one that is immaterial, yet finds expression through the life of the Church and its members, you and me.

Here I experience a tension between reaching for God’s kingdom in contrast to the reality of all I encounter and experience in my everyday life. While I can intellectually grasp the reality of the possibility of God’s rule, my priority, navigating the immediate realities I face, often means that I conform far too readily to the world around me.

Very practically Jesus acknowledges the coin of his day, bearing the head of Caesar, was in fact entirely a product of this world. Its capacity to impact or influence God’s coming kingdom was immaterial. It was simply something that enjoyed value only within the rules created by humanity for its commercial usage. There’s nothing in God’s kingdom that can be valued financially. This is difficult in a world that has framed itself almost entirely in economic terms. That Jesus had so little interest in wealth causes me to reflect upon my own financial wants and worries. They can only ever be distractions from the reality that lies at the heart of God’s kingdom.

I find this deeply unsettling for I’ve invested time and energy in securing my financial well-being. I’ve not been too successful to date, mind you. However, I guess that depends against who or what I am measuring myself. I wonder if money has been a distraction blinding me to my true kingdom purpose in the earth.

QUESTION: How much of your energies are concerned with your material and financial needs?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, may I not be worried about what I eat or drink, but instead, help me to seek first the kingdom of God.