Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Present Tense Hopefulness

Sometimes I find, living in the "now and the not yet", that my faulty heart tends to default to thinking that the LORD of the "now" is passive, distant, waiting.

I know that one day He will come, and act decisively, swallowing up death and sin and darkness; all that has been sown in dishonour, weakness, death will be raised- in glory, in power, in immortality. And this gives me huge hope.

But the problem with this is that it means I tend to see God as being aloof, or quiet, or, for the time being, passive.

This is a gross underestimation of the Sustainer of the Universe!

Re-reading some of the psalms recently, I was reminded of these amazing words of Jesus:

"My Father is always at work, and I too am working."
John 5:17 

The psalmists look to the future with great hope and joy, but their hope in God is also in the present tense. It's a joyful reminder to me of the truth about the LORD; he is not distant, but attentive. He is not passive, but active.

As I read the psalms I am moved by the intent tenderness of God. Rather than painting a picture of a far off, hardened impersonal deity, the psalms testify to a kind, merciful, star-making yet profoundly personal covenant LORD, who takes attentive, affectionate care of his people.

In the psalms, the LORD is active.

He delivers, he shelters, he shields with faithfulness. He commands angels concerning those who take refuge in him, he protects, he hears prayers; he answers! He accompanies those in trouble, he rescues, honours, satisfies and upholds. The LORD shows his salvation, he forms, he leads, he hems in, he upholds. The LORD is a Shepherd among his people; his people are the sheep of his pasture. He restores, he comforts, he prepares, he anoints. He surrounds and heals and redeems and crowns with steadfast love and mercy.

Yes, many of these things will be finally and decisively fulfilled with the return of Christ.

But the LORD is at work now. He is doing these things now. He is actively at work for good in all things now.

The LORD is working righteousness for the oppressed; he's making known his ways. He's showing compassion, executing justice, setting prisoners free. He's opening blind eyes, he's lifting up the bowed down, he's binding up broken hearts, he's watching over the sojourners, he's upholding the widows and the fatherless. He's exalting the humble, and he's bringing the way of the wicked to ruin.

It is so profoundly comforting to me to remember that the LORD is not passive. Of course, sometimes it feels like He is. But when I feel like this I need to say to myself: Look! Look at the psalms! Look at the wealth of his activity! Look how good it is! Look at the promise of Romans 8:28!

Yes, I am called to take refuge in Him, but He is not a passive shelter- I take refuge, and he provides shelter. I hold fast to him, and He holds fast to me.

Yes, I long for the return of Jesus. I long for his reign of righteousness and goodness and power. And as I long I wait, thankful for the Lord's patience.

But, note to self-  the Lord's patience does not mean passivity; in countless and God glorifying ways, it means salvation.

"The Lord's patience means salvation." 
2 Peter 3:9 

"My Father is always at work." 
John 5:17
"What is man that you care for him, the son of man that you are mindful of him?"
Psalm 8:4 

The psalms I referred to above include: Psalm 8, Psalm 23, Psalm 91, Psalm 100, Psalm 103, Psalm 139, Psalm 146...

"The word of God is living and active." Hebrews 4:12 

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Daily Stockings

There is nothing that has made such a difference to my joy levels over the years, as reading the Bible.

Ever since I came to see, aged 18, that I should do more than just read the Story Factfiles in the "Youth Bible" (about Tanya's battle with peer pressure and Jim's reconciliation with his mate Dave who broke his bike...) and move on to listening daily to what God himself had to say, there have been few things that have done me as much lasting and life-changing good as spending time alone, reading the Bible and praying.

And yet, my Quiet Times still lack discipline, consistency, and at times even existence.

I've been trying to understand why. The reasons I give for not spending more time reading the Bible are many: that I'm tired, that listening to Jesus choones in the car will be an adequate substitute, that I don't have enough time, that I have plenty of time and so will do it later, that I can't make up for the time I've missed, that I don't want to be legalistic about Quiet Times and that I won't do a good enough job anyway so I should just go back to scrolling through my Newsfeed instead.

Additionally, I've noticed that I tend to feel nervous about reading chapters I know I should find particularly moving or significant. Those chapters that get made in to sunset posters. I might be enjoying the gospels until the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, but then start to procrastinate over reading them for fear my response to them will be inadequate. I might be finding Romans a meaty challenge, until Chapter 8, when I'll ground to a hesitant halt. I've also noticed I have some odd ideas on what really "counts" as a Quiet Time. If I cannot answer the following questions with the affirmative, then it doesn't really count: did I spend at least half an hour on it? Did I write anything down? Was I out of bed when I did it? Did I understand it? Did I enjoy it? Did I use the ESV? (That last one's a joke. Kind of.)

This is all fairly strange behaviour, given what Bible reading is actually for.

It struck me afresh the other day that, without realising it, I was living as though Bible reading, Quiet Times, Devotions (or whatever it is you want to call them!) are some kind of service I do for God. The word "devotions" itself seems to imply that it's about how I show my commitment to the Lord. Sometimes the faith versus work issue gets applied in these terms too; we don't read the Bible to earn God's favour (we're not Pharisees!!), but as a grateful response to his having given us his favour.

But the problem here still seems to be that the emphasis is on Bible reading being about me doing something.

Of course, reading the Bible is a good thing to do that comes from a changed heart. Yes. But is it something I do for God? If it is, it's no wonder I shy away from it, for fear I won't do it justice, or because I am not holy enough for such activities! Because I'm right- I won't do it justice, and I am not holy enough.

But thankfully, the Bible is not given to us that we might show God our goodness, but that He might show us His.

I've not come to the Bible to show my steadfast love, but to receive steadfast love- from Someone who is completely and gloriously and delightfully and eternally good! And generous!

The Bible is a means by which God gives himself to me, rather than me to him. So when I read the Scriptures, it is a reminder of devotion;  the Lord's devotion... to me!

Through His Word, according to His Word, the Lord:
- revives the soul
- makes the simple wise
- gives joy to the heart
- enlightens my eyes
- warns us
- guards my way
- gives me life
- comforts me
- lights my path
- sets me free
- and so. much. more.

So it doesn't matter if I don't "do a good job", because reading the Bible daily isn't about what I do. It's not a work, it's faith- it's me looking away from myself to Another. It's me going to a generous Father with empty hands open to receive from Him. The cure for, "I don't want to be legalistic about Bible reading" is not less of it, but more- for in God's Word we find Jehovah Jireh revealed: our Provider.

Now, daily times with God don't always feel like I've been given a gift.

Sometimes they do. Sometimes I have felt like God has given me ointment for a wound, a shield for the day's attack, a wise word for a friend, a sword to cut through entangling lies, a torch for dark days ahead. But sometimes it feels like I've been given nothing more exciting than a brick.

 But those days and weeks where it seems as though I've only gained a boring brick, have piled up to be a monument to remind me, when the storm comes, that God is my refuge and my strength. And by this I don't mean that in difficult times I will be protected by my knowledge of the Bible. No, I will be protected by Jesus. But in the tempest, I will be equipped to remember that Jesus is at work, protecting, providing, and working for my good.

Of course, ultimately, when we read the Bible we're getting the greatest gift: Himself. We're not demonstrating our faithfulness to God, God is demonstrating his faithfulness to us. We are not serving God with human hands, as if he needed anything; He is serving us. He is showing us the truth of who His Son is, the One to whom all the law and prophets testify, the One who will rise like the dawn in our hearts.

So maybe I should think about my "Quiet Times" as "Gift Times." I'm getting up each morning, not to give, but to receive.

I mean, no child skulks in bed on Christmas morning because they don't think they'll do a "good enough" job of opening their stocking. If they do, there's something not right. Either they have crazy, demanding, distant parents or they've completely misunderstood the purpose of stockings and the generosity of their parents' love.

Of course, a chuffed child looking at her brand new sheep socks, or magic beans, or satsumas or iPhone6 (#modernkids) may overflow with love and delight in the Giver- but the stocking opening is about their receiving, above all else. And so with my Quiet Times, I may love Him, and grow in devotion to Him, but it's always going to be because he loved me first. Quiet Times will always be more about His love for me, than mine for Him.

When with the ransomed in glory, his face I at last shall see,
Shall be my joy through the ages to sing of His love for me!

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