Be Still and Know
Day 33 - Issue 33

Day 33 - Issue 33

May 15, 2020

Matthew 5:3 NLT

'God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.'

Blessing is most easily associated with happiness. Some of the translations of the scripture replace the word “Blessed” for “Happy” in the opening statements of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Governments have also, in recent years, become obsessed with seeking to understand the determinants of happiness, or ‘well-being’ as it is often now called. Government seeks to identify some interventionist mechanism that might increase personal happiness in the hope that it might boost popularity at the polls. Yet, Adam Smith, the great Scottish ‘Father of economics’ in the eighteenth century warned against the person who “seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chessboard”.

Here, Jesus presents a series of paradoxical statements. A paradox is a statement that appears to contradict itself. Here Jesus locates being blessed, or happy, with circumstances we might naturally seek to avoid. It highlights that for the follower of Jesus, happiness is not something to be manufactured but encountered. It is the result of a deepening and enduring relationship with God.

It would be contrary to go in search of poverty, mourning or persecution in hope of finding happiness. However, it is reassuring to know that even in such circumstances, the comfort and mercy of God are available and in evidence. We must not assume we have accessed in the gospel a guarantee of a charmed life, free from interruptions and hardships that can throw life off course. None of us can avoid the storms of life. Our comfort is that Jesus comes to us in such storms. Our challenge is always to discern and respond to God’s visitation.

QUESTION: Can you confidently rest in the knowledge that God is present and a trustworthy navigator through the storms of life?

PRAYER: My life is beyond my control. Thank you, everlasting Father, that it is not beyond your control.

Day 32 - Issue 33

Day 32 - Issue 33

May 14, 2020

Psalm 34:8-9 NLT

'Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Fear the Lord, you his godly people, for those who fear him will have all they need.'

I enjoy cooking, working with taste, texture and colour for both plate and palate. My mother likes to remind me of the grey mince pies I made as a child; grey because I failed to wash my hands when turning to baking from playing in the garden. But no one refused these sweet offerings, nor suffered any adverse physical effects!

For me, the joy of cooking is twofold: the trialling of a mix of ingredients in a variety of combinations, and the joy of people enjoying what I have prepared. Life is a unique menu prepared for each one of us by God. Many of the ingredients are the same, the standard basics with a collection of unique flavours and additional bespoke elements. Having the ingredients is essential, but no guarantee of a flavoursome dish. It is the precise measures, combination and cooking methods that determines the end product. Life, and cooking, takes time, trial and error, but none need go to waste if we are open to learn.

So, your and my life mistakes can be a blessing! It is why the psalmist encourages God’s disciples always to take refuge in God. We are all tempted at times of disappointment, disillusion and despair to point the finger of blame away from ourselves, just like Adam in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:12), but these painful episodes can provide understanding to guide future decisions and can yield a fruitful future harvest.

It’s remarkable how great food often requires very few ingredients. We have in Christ all that we need to live a full and blessed life. But we need to discover how to handle those ingredients effectively.

QUESTION: Do past mistakes haunt and blight, or do they inform and instruct your today?

PRAYER: Thank you for providing all the ingredients I need to thrive and live a blessed and fulfilled life. May my life be a rich diet to bless you, me and others with heavenly food.

Day 31 - Issue 33

Day 31 - Issue 33

May 13, 2020

Jeremiah 17:8 NLT

'They are like trees planted along a river-bank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.'

As a new Christian I read a lot of Christian literature. One of the books that impacted me most was, Green Leaf in Drought, by Isobel Kuhn. Based upon this verse from Jeremiah I learned about the faithfulness of God. Reading this book humbled and inspired me as I began to understand the power of scripture as God’s word impacting present-day circumstances.

In honesty I’ve struggled to apply the simple message from this book and often looked to my own understanding and ability to navigate life’s difficulties. I have only gradually learned that the principle of scriptural truth in the foothills of life’s challenges must precede any experience of more overwhelming demands.

As you ponder this scripture, you recognise that a tree is rooted to the spot. Unlike us, it cannot dodge to remove itself from the source of discomfort. The tree draws upon the hidden source of nourishment for its survival in a bleak landscape. If its roots have used time well, it has grown deep into the earth to secure the water it needs to survive. We can be distracted by a host of interesting sideshows and fail to deepen our friendship with God to the degree that will prove necessary to stand firm in the times of drought.

Today I understand that it is God alone that I require and it is upon God alone that I may rely. My roots must consistently sink deeper into God’s word, which is less a narrative than the very food I require every day to nourish me and enable me to life effectively and well.

QUESTION: Are your roots deeply embedded in God’s word, your source of nourishment?

PRAYER: The many demands of life try to draw me away from my life source. I turn afresh to you, my source and sustainer.

Day 30 - Issue 33

Day 30 - Issue 33

May 12, 2020

Ephesians 1:4-5 NLT

'Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.'

One of the benefits of ageing is the recognition that life can be taken far too seriously. As a younger person, I was certainly convinced of my need to make some difference in the world. There was what I can only describe as an innate desire for significance. In my early struggles with ego and ambition, I confused significance with fame, the need to be noticed, admired and receive some level of public recognition.

I’ve come to see this was just selfish ambition entangled with personal insecurity. It has taken time to appreciate that my total significance lies in the simple fact that I am both recognised and accepted by God. Strangely, my initial reaction was to struggle with an internal dissatisfaction with this definition. Why did I feel this need to ‘prove’ myself, or at least, my value, to God and a silent watching crowd?

It is my privilege to be a touchstone for God to express whatsoever he chooses in and through me. No matter the context in which I find myself, there is God. I have simply to be available. This can prove a challenge for, within each and every context, rationality assaults my standing as a blessed child of God. I always journey with my own internal luggage containing my fears, anxieties, threats and the like. These cry out for my attention. They collude within my head with comparisons with peers and established normative social behaviour; the white-water rapids I must navigate to enter into the full knowledge and experience of the reality of God’s blessing that is constant and consistent.

QUESTION: You were chosen by God before the creation of the world. Is there anything more significant than that?

PRAYER: Help me disentangle myself from the mirage of significance, and deepen my relationship with you.

Day 29 - Issue 33

Day 29 - Issue 33

May 11, 2020

Ephesians 1:3 NLT

'All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.'

It has taken me too many years to unravel what being united to Jesus is really all about. An enthusiast by nature, and always one who seeks to secure approval through service, I try too hard to please God when, in fact, all God wants from me is my love. There is nothing I can do to secure God’s approval; this was granted through Jesus’ journey of redemption. All that’s required of me is to say yes to God, just like the thief crucified alongside Jesus. My actions, which I determine are a demonstration of my love of God, are most often mere attempts to prove to myself that I love God.

My actions add nothing to the salvation story. Only in so far as I surrender to God completely and both acknowledge and enjoy God’s hard-won provision for me do I in fact reveal the truth about God within the spaces I occupy. I am no more than a container for God’s grace.

It is so hard not to try to do great things for God. They are all unnecessary. All I am invited to do is make myself available for God to dwell within, and God will do the rest. What a blessing!

Better by far to cease from struggles, with the conflicting anxieties and ego battles they engender, and rest in God, knowing that everything has been secured in Christ Jesus, and all is available to me just as I am.

QUESTION: How does it feel to realise there’s nothing you can do to add additional benefit to the work of God?

PRAYER: I am available to you, God, to live in and through, your grace made perfect in my weakness, warts and all.

Day 28 - Issue 33

Day 28 - Issue 33

May 8, 2020

2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

On a childhood holiday, I once found a lobster pot washed up on the beach. I launched it into the waves and watched until the tide carried it out of sight. Later my dad told me that the coastguard helicopter had been alerted to a possible small boat capsized out at sea. It was discovered to be a lobster pot, probably my lobster pot, floating in the water. That story illustrates how many feel about their life; adrift with confusion and fears.

It is a challenge to rest in the mercy of God. Circumstances and events appear to work against this.

Yet, St Paul tells me that in such circumstances, when I feel completely diminished in the midst of life, this is a place of grace. The challenge is to weather the storm and rough seas that may carry me away, like the lobster pot. Are we able to accept the hand of God in this?

I have learned some things are worth talking through, while others remain a mystery I wrestle with, like Jacob, alone with God (Genesis 32:24). It can be a lonely and painful place to be. Faith can appear fragile and at risk in this season. Holding our nerve, refusing to project our anguish onto another, usually a loved one, proves challenging.

In such moments, resting in God is an act of the will. It is to remind myself that in this very present weakness I am, in fact, as secure in God’s grace as when I sense I’m at the top of a mountain. I am weak and tempted to discard my faith and run somewhere, anywhere that offers me relief from my inner angst. Yet, if we will persevere, engaging with regular rhythms of prayer and scripture reading, however hollow they feel in the moment, we shall eventually emerge. The reason? God is faithful.

QUESTION: When your faith is tested, what is your reaction?

PRAYER: May my anchor hold in the storms of life.

Day 27 - Issue 33

Day 27 - Issue 33

May 7, 2020

Romans 12:1 NLT

'And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.'

‘Sacrifice’ is not a word we encounter much in our society. If heard at all it is usually presented in ways that draw attention to me: “I sacrificed to put them through university.” The very statement places me centre stage and I anticipate both respect and admiration. But this conspires with my pride and debases the mercy of God, which alone is the basis upon which I’m invited to live my life. I may not speak of my sacrifice but I often allow myself to feel hard done by as I complete unwelcome chores, believing I’m making a greater sacrifice than others. Such a view of sacrifice will only lead to bitterness, which in time will rob me of my joy.

Sacrifice is to give up something by choice for the greater benefit it will bring to others, not merely myself. Jesus is our great example. Incarnate of the Father, he chose to step away from his heavenly home to redeem humanity. In that action we have a clear picture of sacrifice. It is an action that involves real personal cost and is primarily for the benefit of others, including God. This story of redemption is not solely for the benefit of our world. It carries within it the metaphor for effective Christian living.

Only God knows how I might best be deployed in the service of his mission. God alone can ensure that I find my deepest fulfilment. The fact that I can live a fulfilled life is itself a mercy in and of itself. Many have spent fruitless years in a vain pursuit of happiness. But true happiness can only be found in God and offering my life in his service.

Sacrifice is total availability to God. It is not in the doing; not some great exploit to which I am called. It is the ability to encounter and give thanks to God in the minutiae of my daily existence. God’s mercy is that the very practical realities of my experience of life is the space in which I both encounter God and may offer my life as a sacrifice. Here I demonstrate both my love for and my service of God.

QUESTION: Do you give thanks for the gift of today and the ‘ordinary’ blessings you receive?

PRAYER: May I live each moment of this day in a sacrifice of praise and service to you, my Lord and Maker.

Day 26 - Issue 33

Day 26 - Issue 33

May 6, 2020

Matthew 6:12-15 NLT

'…forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.'

It is difficult to grasp the scale of God’s forgiveness. Jesus points out that we first have to experience the extent of our waywardness before we can comprehend our need for God.

For years I took my acceptance by God for granted. I hadn’t grasped that God’s forgiveness was not on merit but by grace. I remained unaware of my real need for God, somehow believing I was a reasonable and OK guy. This meant I easily entered into criticism and judgement of others as I considered myself better than them. But no one but God is good (Mark 10:18). In acknowledging my waywardness, or sin, I accept that I am wholly dependent upon God for everything. This demands humility; I no longer advance my own merits. I accept God’s description of my nature and that I am nothing without God’s forgiveness.

I don’t reject myself or think badly of myself. I think soberly of myself. But as I began to appreciate my total dependence on God’s goodness, I discovered just how fragile my friendship with God was. As I started to explore many faith questions, one day when I was in my early 40s, I had a conversation with a lay Franciscan. She pointed out that while my interpersonal relationships and my engagement with life was strong, my relationship with God was minimal. I was stung by that, yet, over time I came to recognise how accurate her words were. I had to discover the depth of God’s forgiveness for me. In so doing I discovered I need not observe and criticise others.

QUESTION: Are you aware that you are nothing without God?

PRAYER: Transform me from caterpillar to butterfly, as I emerged to a greater appreciation and confidence in who you are and your loving forgiveness.

Day 25 - Issue 33

Day 25 - Issue 33

May 5, 2020

Psalm 51:1-2 NLT

'Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin.'

Who doesn’t love a hot bath? After a day working in the Oratory garden, I look forward to the prospect of sinking into a hot bubble bath.

Most people carry secrets, often guilty ones, from their past. These can be the cause of shame combined with a fear of exposure and discovery. Yet, God’s promise is that we can be cleansed and refreshed in ways even my hottest and sweetest smelling bath cannot match. This is the reality of mercy. God invites us to become fully relaxed before him, but also to live in complete peace with ourselves and those around us.

The consequence of working in the garden is that I arrive at my bath with the marks left from my endeavours. Muddy knees, elbows and hands, scrapes, cuts and bruises. These are eased as I lower myself into the welcome waters, yet unless I apply some soap and elbow grease, I will emerge with faint muddy marks. God intends that we are washed entirely clean from sin, and the shame it generates within. Some of this is washed away immediately. Scrapes, cuts and bruises may take longer to heal. Yet, by God’s mercy, I am completely forgiven. God forgets, and only I remember, a memory that the accuser, my enemy, will constantly want to reinstate.

We cannot deal with our sin problem. This is why we need a rescuer, who is Jesus. The great news is that we can live life guilt-free. In accepting God’s mercy and forgiveness, we begin a life of learning to live guilt-free and in humble appreciation of God’s grace. Every time I trip up over sin or guilt, I return to God’s bath of cleansing forgiveness and start over again.

QUESTION: Do you need to be washed clean again from the stain of sin?

PRAYER: I battle between my entertainment of sin and my desire to love and serve you, God, entirely. Help me today to make good choices for my life. Thank you for your shed blood which cleanses me from every stain of sin.

Day 24 - Issue 33

Day 24 - Issue 33

May 4, 2020

Matthew 9:13 NLT

Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Mercy lays the foundation for both forgiveness and acceptance. Mercy means I am delivered from the consequences of any action someone who has authority over me might take. As parents we err on the side of mercy when dealing with our children. They may have to face certain consequences arising from their actions, yet we fail to impose the full penalty. So, as a child, when I broke our next-door neighbour’s window with my catapult, too tempting a challenge and target, my parents made me contribute towards the cost of the replacement glass, but didn’t demand the full cost. They also dealt with my neighbour and shielded me from his anger.

The greatest act of mercy we have is God’s forgiveness. Here, not only are we invited to avoid the unpleasant consequences of our separation from our creator, but that same creator takes on and suffers the consequences himself.

When God approaches me with an offer of forgiveness, it is accompanied with a demand that I take responsibility for myself. My thoughts and my actions are to be based upon the undeserved mercy of God. Once we see this we can proceed as Jesus directs; we show mercy to all we meet, for this is the true sacrifice of a “broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17).

Making sacrifices to God will never deepen your friendship with him. This is already secured through God’s mercy. Your response is to live and extend mercy to others in every circumstance.

Having set myself free from the trap of seeking to earn God’s favour, and justify myself through sacrificial service, I now live grateful for God’s mercy and exercising mercy in every situation.

QUESTION: Will you take some time to reflect on God’s mercy that has been shown to you?

PRAYER: Thank you that in your great mercy you love me, forgive me, accept me, befriend me, fill me, lead me and walk with me, today and always.