Sunday, 24 January 2016

Acquainted With Grief

These are some words that may look like a poem, but they're not really literary enough for that- so let's say they are more like a series of non-prose thoughts on sadness, reflecting on the following four things:

1) Jesus has suffered as we suffer.
2) God worked for good in the suffering of Jesus.
3) We are in Christ- so God will work for good in our suffering too.
4) Jesus has walked the path of our suffering, so that we can walk the path of his glory.

Though this isn't everything when we're walking through the valley, it's something. And with hope, every little helps. Once again, all words about suffering can seem trite and shallow, but Jesus, who they hopefully point to, is neither of these things.

He is familiar with grief.
That sledgehammer slam of loss, of shock-
He's stood beneath its blow.
He knows what it is to mourn,
to feel the sting of death,
to weep-
face to face with its concrete full-stop blockading hope for future goodness.
He is acquainted with the stench of decay,
He's cried tears of desperation.

He is familiar with pain.
With wounds, with aches, with the most destructive of disease-
He's buckled, he's been brought low.
He knows what it is to be weak,
to bare sorrows and to stumble;
to bleed
in a broken flesh, gaining scars that time won't heal.
He is acquainted with the stripes and the shame,
He's pled for another way.

He is familiar with rejection,
With standing shelterless in the storm.
He's been exposed; alone.
He's seen friendship without faithfulness,
family without home:
faces he loved turning away, one by one by One.
He is acquainted with nights of longing,
He's known dark and silent skies.

He is familiar with waiting,
bearing the burden of precious promises,
he's known their fulfillment seeming slow.
He's had no hope but God,
no life but in resurrection.
He's relied upon on a Love stronger than death,
and been vindicated by a greater Power than the grave.
He has been led through the darkest valley,
and brought to a victory feast.
He's acquainted with glory,
He's known darkness turned to light-
He's ascended, with great power-
and he leads captives in his train.

Inspired by:
Psalm 22 and 23 , Isaiah 53 , Job 16:7-14 , John 11:35 , Hebrews 4:15, Mark 15:27, 15:34, 46 , Ephesians 4:8 , 1 Corinthians 15:49 , Psalm 44:22, Song of Songs 8:6 , Romans 6:5, Romans 8 and  all those other ones.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Hope on Hopeless Mornings

This morning I am tired. I am fed-up. I am aware of my sinfulness, my sadness, my slovenliness and my other weaknesses that do not alliterate. I am guilt-ridden, and helpless, and hopeless.

But the good news is, the LORD, according to the Psalms, is something very different.

According to the Psalms, the LORD is...

a shield about me.
my glory.
the lifter of my head.
a stronghold for the oppressed.
a stronghold in times of trouble.
king forever and ever.
in his holy temple.
my chosen portion.
my cup.
my strength.
my rock.
my fortress.
my deliverer.
my God.
my rock in whom I take refuge.
my shield.
the horn of my salvation.
my stronghold.
worthy to be praised.
my shepherd.
my light.
my salvation.
the stronghold of my life.
my shield.
the strength of his people.
the saving refuge of his anointed.
near to the broken hearted.
robed in majesty.
great in Zion.
exalted over all the peoples.
enthroned forever.
remembered throughout all generations.
high above all nations.
on my side as my helper.
my song.
my portion.
my keeper.
my shade.
my refuge.
my portion in the land of the living.
slow to anger.
abounding in steadfast love.
good to all.
righteous in all his ways.
kind in all his works.
near to all who call on him.

"Blessed is he whose hope is in the LORD his God." Psalm 147:5 

In the words of Louie Giglio, "I am not, but I know I AM."

So that's a relief. 

Monday, 11 January 2016

The S Word

I don't want to blog about singleness. It feels like the kind of thing I would have written about aged 17, whilst listening to Alanis Morrisette (five years behind trend) and wearing blue mascara (ten years behind trend) and a choka (never on trend), and I feel like I should have moved on by now.

But recently I've spent a lot of time in Clintons, flicking through the engagement cards and wondering why they don't sell them in multi-packs- and the singleness clouds of dread are looming on the horizon.

I'm afraid of being single.

I mean, right now, I'm not afraid. Right now I'm drinking a banana smoothie. But as the years stretch ahead of me, the fear begins to creep in.

I'm afraid of loneliness. I feel like at one time 'my people' were all on one landmass hanging out together, having the same experiences- but that year by year, the land breaks up- couple by couple drifting away on their own islands, and the population of mine getting smaller. I'm afraid I'll end up alone on my island. Of course, people might still invite me over to theirs- but I'll still essentially be on my own. And their islands will be completely different to mine and so maybe we won't have so much to talk about...

I'm afraid I'll become a crazy cat lady (even though I don't really like cats), or that people will think of me as a "spinster", or that I'll become so insanely stubborn that I won't be able to tolerate people laying the table in the wrong way.

I'm afraid of bitterness. Envy rots the bones- and I'm afraid it might rot mine; that somehow sin will get a stranglehold on my heart. I'm afraid that disappointment will make me cynical, that my heart will harden, that I won't be able to take joy in my friends joy, that I won't have a smile on my face as I wave them off the island.

I'm afraid that bitterness, or hardness, or cynicism will make me less attractive and that people will see that as the reason I'm by myself to start with. I'm afraid it will isolate me more from my friends- that they'll become cautious of me, reluctant to bring up any conversations about relationships, or children, or table laying...I'm afraid that people will not only know I'm single, but that they'll know I'm resentful too.

I'm afraid because I know that deep down, I am mainly concerned about how my bitterness might make me look, rather than how it makes God look.

I'm afraid that my fear and my bitterness and my cynicism and my hardness won't tell the truth about God. That somehow I might undermine his glory by not trusting Him. I'm afraid that all these fears might cloud out the truth about my Heavenly Father: that He is faithful, and steadfast, and good, and that he upholds the oppressed, and the widows, and that the barren woman has cause to sing for joy in Him.I'm afraid my life will say, "I do not know the LORD"- because those who know His name put their trust in Him, for He has not forsaken those who seek Him. (Psalm (9:10)

That's a lot to be afraid about. But the Lord says,

"Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, and help you, and uphold you with my righteous right hand." 

Isaiah 41:10

What an incredible promise! The Lord is with us! He will be our strength, and help- He will uphold us! How could I be so afraid?!

I have known, for many years- Jesus is sufficient for my singleness. He has promised to be with me, He has promised to take away my shame, He has vindicated my worth, He has made himself my justification so I don't need to worry about my reputation. I have experienced his sufficiency- frequently! I can sing, "I'll have no longings for another; I'm satisfied in Him alone." because He is sufficient for all my needs. There is so much that could be said about the comfort, the joy, the peace there is in the gospel and in Jesus, who brings it.

But in spite of this,  I am often still so sinful, so forgetful, and so prone to bitterness. And so the phrase, "Jesus is sufficient for my singleness" can sound more like a condemnation than a comfort.

What blows my mind though, is that even if I am still single at ninety, surrounded by cats I don't like and determinedly laying my table just right , having struggled every step of the way, Jesus will still love me. I will still be forgiven. I will still be a precious child of God! My life will still tell the truth about God: that He is one who commits himself to the broken, who is gracious in forgiving the struggling, who is generous to the stingy and faithful to the faithless. And any glimmer of kindness, peace, generosity and joy will be evidence of his sustaining power, his amazing grace.

Jesus is sufficient for my singleness- and the blood of Jesus is sufficient for my struggle with singleness.

For every moment when I forget that He is enough for me, when I doubt that He is with me, when I stumble on the way, His blood will be enough to cover my sin- my bitterness, my fear, my jealousy. His blood will be enough.

This is such humbling, Jesus-glorifying news.

He will not forsake us, He will not treat us as our sins deserve, He will not condemn.

Monday, 4 January 2016

January Though...



I know I already wrote off November so I'm probably sounding a little pessimistic here, but if I was an optimist I'd probably not mind January either. I'd be better able to see it as an opportunity to shake off the cobwebs of the past year, gird my loins and write (and then complete!) a list of all the ways I intend to be freshly fantastic in 2016. If I was an optimist I'd be able to look down the barrel of 2016 (though if I was an optimist I probably wouldn't use that metaphor) and delight in all that lay ahead- undiscovered wonders, unexpected blessings, unprecedented organisation...

However, I am no optimist.

January, as far as I can work out, is this wet, cold, drizzly slap in the face, reminding you that not only is Christmas over, but that the post- Christmas period in which you convinced yourself you'd become the ideal/ exercising/ healthy-eating/ organised/ optimistic version of yourself is also over. Now you have to either make some changes (which require more energy/ strength of character than you currently have), or accept the fact that you are not the ideal version of yourself.

Furthermore, with my non-optimistic bent, I don't tend to look to the future with hope. I tend to be afraid. I worry that my life might continue to be inadequate. I worry that something bad might happen. Or I worry that nothing really good will happen.

I don't like the Now January, and I don't like the threat of the Next January lurking menacingly at the end of the year. I just know that all too soon another New Year's Day is going to come along and ask me what's new, what I've achieved, how my character is growing, how I'm doing, and what's happening next... and I'm going to want to slap New Year's Day right back in it's wet, cold, drizzly face.

So, given all that, I was really, really relieved to read these words of Jesus this morning.

"Your heavenly Father knows what you need." 

Over and over again in Matthew 6, Jesus says these words.

There is so much that I am inclined to worry or feel fearful about. But these words are such a relief. Don't worry, because your heavenly Father knows what you need. He is attentive to you. He cares about you. He loves you and has loved you with an everlasting love. He knows what you need.

Jesus goes on to say, "seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and everything else will be given to you as well." The logic is: don't make yourself your primary concern. Your heavenly Father has got your back. In all of those scenarios you anticipate with fear, he knows what you need. So you don't need to focus on that. You don't need to be anxious about how it'll all work out. You don't even need to figure out exactly what it is that you need. Because before you've even begun to figure it out, He knows what you need. You can lift your eyes up, away from all the darknesses that lurk within you, away from the fog that seems to cloud the path ahead of you- and look to the righteousness of God.

January makes me feel heavily burdened by fears about the future. I've looked forward and felt bleak about it. But these words help me look away from myself, and up to my Father. Jesus says this, knowing the  Father better than anyone else and living a life that is completely dependent on His Father. He knows what it is to entrust himself to God when there is no future and no hope without Him. The Son himself points to Him three times in quick succession and promises: your heavenly Father knows what you need,: God is your Father, He reigns in heaven, and He knows what you need.

I know that I am so tempted at New Year to collect a few bricks of self-righteousness and self- bettering, and build myself a little shack to make myself secure in. Maybe I can built myself a shelter from the potential storms to come. I think, maybe if I am more disciplined, more generous, more hard-working I'll survive. But I also know that my bricks aren't enough. I don't know what the future will hold. I don't know whether storm or sunshine will come. I don't know what I'll need! But the Father knows all of this. And because he knows, Jesus says, "don't worry."

"Your heavenly Father knows what you need" are words liberate us from worry, and they liberate us from self! Both things we need very much at the start of a new year!

If my heavenly Father knows what I need, then my own needs need not be my primary concern. Knowing that my needs are met, I can fix my eyes on Him, and make His glory, His reputation, His kingdom the focus of the year to come.

I don't know what I need in 2016. But my heavenly Father, who gave Christ to meet my greatest need, to be my shelter from the worst of storms, to be my identity and my strong tower-  does.

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