Be Still and Know
Day 37 - Issue 30

Day 37 - Issue 30

August 20, 2019

Psalm 90:2 NLT

Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from beginning to end, you are God.

I love the phrase “God is first cause and final end”. For me it is a comfort to declare that God precedes everything and endures beyond the destruction of everything. My confidence in God is not in God’s presence or absence, but in God’s eternal reality.

How I feel or perceive life can neither enhance nor diminish that truth. Many of us will have experienced grief. We may have lost a close relative or friend. While we may no longer enjoy a casual coffee and catch-up, their permanent absence does not delete the reality of the many enjoyable past moments we enjoyed together.

During tough times when God seems distant, I have found great value in revisiting historic moments when I’ve known God’s presence. Not to compare and contrast my present lostness with happier times, but to renew my confidence in a God, presently invisible, but whose work surrounds me. Nature was birthed by God. The sights and sounds of God’s presence abound. It is a season for faith for me. Have I the courage and resilience to walk it?

In an age of convenience, we assume that God, along with takeout coffee, Amazon Prime and social media, must be available 24/7. God is present 24/7, for how else is the world sustained upon its axis? It is my troubles, the perspective it produces, my own loss of perspective that obscures my capacity to experience God. But be assured God continues. The question is simply will my faith in God prove as robust as the mountains that give witness to God?

Times when God appears absent are a part of the evidence for God’s abiding presence. For here you discover your own motivation in pursuing God. God is not some candy store for self-gratification. God is Lord of all who chooses to demonstrate the coming kingdom through the lives and testimonies of you and me. God is indeed “first cause and final end”.

QUESTION: What testimony do you have of memorable moments when you have experienced God’s presence?

PRAYER: Creator God, you are almighty, everlasting and all-knowing. Your ways and purposes are often beyond my understanding. I put my trust in you.

Day 36 - Issue 30

Day 36 - Issue 30

August 19, 2019

Psalm 90:1 NLT

Lord, through all the generations you have been our home!

It is important to look back and consider the past. But beware of rose-tinted spectacles! These glasses distort our memories and we only remember the good things, deleting the bad. Nostalgia has the habit of distorting past realities. It can give the impression that all of our yesterdays were golden, while today is only full of difficulties.

When life offers up a challenge, it is natural to yearn to go back to a time before it. We remember life being less complicated then and want to exchange our present for our past. However, this recollection is a distortion. What’s more, God remains as much our hope and shelter in the challenge as before.

Troubles will afflict each of us. God isn’t absent from such troubles, but harder to find, yet God remains the safe shelter throughout. Finding and then making my way to that shelter is difficult when in trouble. The word comes from the Latin “turbidus”. This means variously foggy, murky, wild and stormy, a pretty good description of the emotional “weather” that surrounds me in my troubles. Navigating on a clear day is easier than when in the midst of storms and poor visibility.

God is our shelter. We have progressed as far through life as this present moment safe in God’s care. Now comes the challenge. Sheltering in God when I am in pain, physical, emotional, mental, is a tough call. But, frankly, it’s all I’ve got. Clinging to God, while not changing my situation, in fact secures my safety. Neither looking back or abandoning God going forward changes my time of trouble.

QUESTION: Do you have a tendency to live in the past?

PRAYER: God, I cling to you for safety and a pathway through my present troubles. Help me to live in the present, to cling to you and not past memories.

Day 35 - Issue 30

Day 35 - Issue 30

August 16, 2019

Psalm 23:4 NLT

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

Fear is perhaps the most disabling emotion. Our failure to talk about death is often the fruit of fear. We know little about it, we haven’t had experience with it, we know it is an end to all that we know in this world. All this can create fear. Yet, we are in friendship with one who has died, and then rose again to demonstrate that death is not our final state. Jesus now accompanies us. God is with us even as the shadow of death blocks us from the warmth of the sun’s rays. I love the psalmist, for this valley is not a little bit shady. No! It’s the very darkest valley. Whatever we individually face that threatens our mortality is for us in that moment our darkest valley.

Fear is disempowered through knowledge and confidence. By talking about death in its many aspects, our knowledge grows and it loses its power to intimidate us. As for confidence, here is the acid test of our friendship with God. God loves us whatever level of faith we have. It’s me who suffers if I’ve few tools in the tool bag for relating to God. Jayne, who has regular treatment for her pain condition, has deepened her friendship with God through the Jesus prayer. She manages her anxiety and discomfort by resting in the presence of God.

It is possible to pray for “a peaceful and a perfect end”. These are words said each evening in Compline, the prayer office that completes the day and ushers in night. We pray it as we go to bed in case we are to be called home to God in our sleep. Praying for a peaceful death ahead of any sign of that event, is itself a helpful way to discovering the purpose and power in the rod and staff God carries for our comforting.

QUESTION: Are you at ease talking and praying about your death?

PRAYER: Lord, preserve us from fear and help us to lean into your promises never to leave or forsake us.

Day 34 - Issue 30

Day 34 - Issue 30

August 15, 2019

John 11:25-26 NLT

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” 

In the fifteenth century, a medieval manuscript appeared called Ars Moriendi or the “art of dying”. These manuals informed the dying about what to expect, and prescribed prayers, actions and attitudes that would lead to a “good death” and salvation. The Church wanted to instruct priests and laity in the way of dying well.

I cannot remember ever hearing a sermon about how to prepare for death. Yet this is an event common to all. Instead we have a culture of fighting death. So we sign up for endless cycles of treatment in the hope that our lives may be prolonged.

It is always going to be more difficult for those who survive the deceased. Who wants to lose a relative or friend from their life? Yet, we need to encourage each other to take greater responsibility for ourselves in determining the nature of our journey to the grave. Jayne knows I’ve settled not to resist death’s call when it comes. I want to journey with my family, in the comfort of my own home. I would like all of us supported by a hospice team. People to answer our questions and help me manage my pain. I’ve read extensively about the death process as recorded by health professionals. I am as ready as I feel I need to be. Of course, only the reality will test that.

In Christ we have a great hope. Who we leave behind will carry a sadness. Yet, at the same time it affords great comfort if we recognise our death is not an end but a transition point. If we cannot find faith for that, we must admit to having serious questions over the authenticity of Jesus’ message. Even though I was sad when Katey died, my tears were mingled with a joy that she had migrated to God’s presence and her struggles ended and her forever life with Christ begun.

QUESTION: Are you wired to fight death?

PRAYER: I entrust all of my tomorrows to you, God, and choose to live my life with you today.

Day 33 - Issue 30

Day 33 - Issue 30

August 14, 2019

Revelation 14:13 NLT

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!”

It’s difficult to have appropriate conversations about death in a society that is “death averse”. I remember meeting an experienced health professional who had organised all her own affairs, not least because of what she had observed as a result of her job. But she was unable to engage her grown-up children in the conversation she really wanted to have. This was to advise the children where all the appropriate paperwork was and other essential details that once dead she would no longer be able to communicate. She was nearly in tears as she described her situation.

There is a need to talk about death cross-generationally; the work of the Death Café movement has been brilliant here. People come together to drink tea, eat cake and talk about death. The objective is “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives”. For info; deathcafe.com/what/

Most people are so death-illiterate that they not only fail to prepare for our own death, but are not a great comfort to either those who are approaching death or their surviving relatives. Lacking a vocabulary, we tend to avoid contact post-funeral and just hope those who survive might return to “normal”, whatever that might be, as soon as possible.

When my first wife died, I felt supported through to the funeral, then everyone went quiet. This was the time I felt most alone. After her death, the house was overwhelmed with beautiful bunches of flowers. After the funeral, nothing. I now seek to send some flowers a couple of weeks after the funeral to say, “You’re not forgotten.” We need to recover a vocabulary for this season of life and unavoidable experience.

QUESTION: Do you have a vocabulary that enables you both to talk about death and with those facing death or family and friends who are supporting them? If not, start building one.

PRAYER: Eternal Father, thank you for the assurance that death is no more than a staging post. 

Day 32 - Issue 30

Day 32 - Issue 30

August 13, 2019

Isaiah 57:1 NLT

Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die.

In any conversation about death, the same regrets and questions arise. She died too young, his family were robbed of a wonderful husband and father, no parent should expect to bury their own child. It is difficult for us, especially in so-called developed nations, to accept that the gift of life comes with risks attached. Disease, inhumanity, natural disaster, accidents...there is a long list of inexplicable events that steal away human lives.

While death is an inevitability, the lives we choose are not. We are in part subject to circumstances outside our control and in part in charge of the decisions we take navigating life. God’s invitation is that we live in obedience to God’s ordinance. Put simply, this is to love God and love others (see Matthew 22:37-39). Of course, this challenges our instinctive selfishness, and the fears that if I don’t act for myself, I shall miss out on life’s benefits. The reverse is true in loving God and others; I open a door to being loved myself. Love is the source of our deepest joy, as anyone who has been loved will know.

Most people facing up to their death through illness or old age speak of their need to make peace with their past life. They want to be reconciled to people, express gratitude, and give expression to those periods when they experienced the most happiness. Why wait until the shadow of death hovers? These are the principles of loving God and others. So today is the day to be reconciled. Consideration of death will enable us to live life to the maximum, for we shall address regrets as they happen, renew relationships that go wrong and want to live life to its fullest extent.

QUESTION: Who do you want to be reconciled with, say thank you to, and give thanks for?

PRAYER: May the love of God our Father, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us today and always.

Day 31 - Issue 30

Day 31 - Issue 30

August 12, 2019

1 Corinthians 15:42b-44 NLT

Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live for ever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.

Many people avoid talking or thinking about death, while others live in fear of death, which robs them of enjoying their present for fear of the future. This is upsetting because death is a celebration on the Christian’s journey into eternity. I cared for Katey, my first wife who was diagnosed with a neurological disease. When we asked for a prognosis, the medical profession winced at engaging with the reality of death, which was very frustrating.

Many people in the UK avoid any contact with death until relations begin to die later in our life. On visiting the undertakers, a friend of mine, daughter of the deceased, nearly broke down when I suggested I step outside the chapel of rest and leave them alone with their father’s body to say farewell. Death is no longer normalised within society. It is at best forgotten, at worst discreetly hidden. Yet, unless the Lord returns meantime, we all have to die.

Christians can reignite a creative conversation around death to demystify it and disarm its power to frighten. Preparing for that event is something I’d encourage everyone to do. Reconciling yourself to death enables you to live well.

I cannot know what your perspective on death is. I might have touched a raw nerve of grief, anger or plain confusion. However, death does not need to be a morbid subject, but one that empowers you to live your life now to the fullest extent, safe in the prospect of stepping into God’s eternal embrace.

QUESTION: Will you pause now and reflect on your own death?

PRAYER: Thank you, Jesus, for defeating the power of death through your own resurrection. I trust in you and look forward to new life with you in eternity.

Day 30 - Issue 30

Day 30 - Issue 30

August 9, 2019

Psalm 27:11-12a NLT

Teach me how to live, O Lord. Lead me along the right path, for my enemies are waiting for me. Do not let me fall into their hands.

For many years I chose how to live with an eye to ensuring it appeared Christian. I could “window dress” my behaviours to match my rhetoric. No one, except for God, trawled my mind and knew my innermost thoughts. Only as I emerged wounded through a serious trial in my life did I start to desire God alone. I really needed to learn how to live, for my choices had not worked.

I sensed that my faith itself was under assault, yet failed to know how to connect with the God I prayed to and acknowledged as my Lord. So began the exploration of the contemplative life. Recognising that many of the things that captured my attention were no more than distractions, I had to let go of things to create space for God. I couldn’t have my cake and God too. It was a choice. God set the terms. I chose the degree to which I would sign up to such terms.

Slowly I recovered a sense of God’s presence. Then I began to desire God more than things that had once fascinated me. I feared I was becoming boring; loving God and not interested in much besides. Yet, as I learned more of my vocation, I settled in this reality. My life became increasingly centred on God. I knew who I was, and why I was born.

Encountering God at a personal level is the reality of the Christian life. You are invited to exchange the distractions that engage you and experience the continuous presence of God. God alone will teach you how to live to the fullest extent. It will mean relinquishing control over your own life and exchanging your preferences for God’s purpose. The reward? Fullness of life.

QUESTION: How open are you to create space for God in your life?

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, teach me how to live life to the full with you.

Day 29 - Issue 30

Day 29 - Issue 30

August 8, 2019

Philippians 4:7 NLT

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Some years ago I went through a training process that measured my instinctive workplace temperament. It identified that I moved from a state of calm to catastrophe in a single step! This helped explain much of my past life and my tendency to perceive a problem as an insurmountable obstacle. From that day on I started work on addressing this characteristic. Why else do we engage in self-discovery?

I discovered this also had a significant impact on my walk of faith. My catastrophic cycle obscured my view of God and I quickly became consumed with myself and my troubles. Like the disciples in the middle of the storm on Lake Galilee, I could only see the size of the waves and the strength of the wind. Sabbath at a personal level is my ability to remain centred on God despite the storms that rage around me. In losing sight of Jesus in the storm I am left to my own resources. In more recent years I have matured and can remain focused upon Jesus. The storm will be what it is. I choose to be centred upon God.

The only way I can tell if I am making progress is by my physiological reaction. My body tells me if I am oppressed by the reality of the stress, or living with it but free from its control.

Consider your temperament; you have a history of reactions and responses, and some you really know are harmful to you and to others. Take time to offer these temperament patterns to God and make your commitment to monitor your stress levels, however provoked. Determine to look away from the weather patterns and focus your attention upon Jesus. In this way you will live in the “perfect peace” God promises (Isaiah 26:3).

QUESTION: What is your natural temperament type?

PRAYER: When the storms of life hit me, help me to focus on you and experience your peace.

Day 28 - Issue 30

Day 28 - Issue 30

August 7, 2019

Colossians 2:16-17 NLT

So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.

The Old Testament is filled with instructions for the many Jewish feasts that God established. Each offered an opportunity to recall God’s faithful provision. These were deliberate interruptions in daily work cycles to remind God’s people of their dependence upon God, even though harvests may be the fruit of their labour.

In a society in which the demands of work are intense, it’s easy to lose sight of the true purpose of our life. This is to grow up into maturity in Christ ahead of exchanging our mortality for eternity with God. Today employment is hard to find and highly competitive. Holding onto a job demands I give it everything.

So we need to become creative. We must establish healing Sabbath moments within busy schedules. These become reminders and oases in the wilderness. Here we acknowledge and celebrate God, often with others, our objective always to deepen our friendship with God. In the Oratory we celebrate certain feast days as a deliberate interruption to our normal rhythm. We can choose what dates best inspire us, for the reason for the festival is less essential than the commitment to find some time to pause, consider God afresh, pray and remind each other that we are serving God through our life.

Consider your annual calendar and decide where and when to introduce God-centred interruptions to the mundane and the monotony of daily life. These don’t have to be whole days, but are occasions to pause and reflect. They are reminders throughout the year that you serve God, and in God alone is your hope and future truly secured. Failure to do so may mean your friendship with God never grows and your spirit grows weak under the daily pressures of life.

QUESTION: What organised moments of reflection do you observe?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, help me today and through the next year to establish times to consider your provision and to refresh and deepen our friendship.