Monday, 6 August 2012

We Bear the Scars

I have a little scar on my knee. It happened when I was about eight years old I think. I was playing at the park, with two of my brothers and my Dad. I decided to walk along the seesaw and make it tip from one end to the other but as I was confidently walking I misjudged quite how extreme the tip would be and I fell onto the gravel. My dad came over to see what had happened and there was a lot of blood, a lot of tears and a piece of gravel stuck in my knee. We made our way home, in fact I was pushed in my little brother’s pushchair because I didn’t deal well with pain and could barely walk! We got home and mum cleaned it up and my Dad went to the shed for a screwdriver! When he came back we were all a little disturbed at the thought of what he would do with the screwdriver but he very quickly held me tight and flicked out the gravel from my knee with the screwdriver. Having a Dad in ‘the trade’ had many benefits!! :-/ But it worked and I now look fondly at my scar. The scar that was born out of pain and suffering, now speaks of healing and reminds me of how my Daddy got that piece of gravel out.

We all have scars: some physical and some emotional. Some that we look at with fondness because they ignite memories of how far we’ve come but some that still remind us of pain and suffering. Some people’s scars are bigger and deeper than others but nevertheless we all bear them in some way.

My journey over the last year has left me scarred. I will never be the same again. In fact as it turns out the last two weeks have left me physically scarred from surgery that will be a permanent reminder of one of the most traumatic times in my life. I am wounded and my body is scarred but I find comfort in the fact that Jesus too bears the scars of his darkest hour. In fact in His darkest hour He cried, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Mat 27:46) If I’m honest I have felt like that. I have felt like shouting, “why have you left me? Where are you?” But He never left and actually He saved me from something even worse. It is comforting to know that even Jesus felt like His Dad had left him, but God saw it all, the whole picture and He knew the right time to step in.

During this time I have longed to feel the protection of God. I knew it was there but I didn’t feel it. I knew I was safe, but I didn’t feel safe and in our human minds that is a real emotion that can be difficult to deal with. As I lay in my hospital bed I cried out to God and said, ‘Please… you have got to do something, I can’t take anymore’, and right at the last minute, or so it felt to me, God stepped in and He said ‘That’s enough!’ His grace sheltered me from more pain and I felt His protection.

A few days later I was reading in the UCB word for the day and the verse was Job 1:10 ‘You have… put a wall of protection around him…’ and I felt that. It then went on to say:

There are times… ‘When the enemy comes in like a flood…’ (Isaiah 59:19 NKJV) to attack your mind, your marriage, your ministry and anything that is born of God in your life. When that happens Isaiah says, ‘the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard (shield) against him’. When you feel you’re at breaking point and you can’t handle one more thing, the Holy Spirit lifts up the wall of the blood of Jesus and tells satan, ‘This far and no further!’

This passage will mean something different to all of us, but for me the part that says ‘anything that’s born of God in your life’ is significant. It rung true with me that, the thing that is being attacked is being so because it is born of God. It’s not just something I want, it is born of God so the enemy wants to destroy it. Interestingly, in my story, I knew that the enemy was involved and he tormented me with irrational fear about a particular issue. I asked some close friends to pray into for me and some strange things started to happen, to the point where I was being rushed in to hospital on account of the very thing I was scared of but I knew the enemy had gone too far and not for one minute did I believe even the doctors when they said we are concerned that it was what I initially feared. I knew it was a lie, but it was that lie that caused the investigations and following surgery, and I now see how God has totally redeemed that situation, you see I would not bear the scars had it not been for that lie and, as a result, I would not have the proof of where God has brought me from.

When Jesus died on the cross the nails that pierced his hands and feet left him scarred. Actually the word ‘pierced’ does not describe the horror of what happened. The nails ripped His skin and veins and muscles. The pain of that alone would have been unbearable but He bore that pain on our behalf and I believe He still bears the scars.

If we look at the closing chapter of the book of Luke we find an account of the risen Jesus appearing to his disciples.

While they were talking about this Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do you doubt in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; see that it is myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. And when he had said this he showed them his hands and his feet.’

His scars were the proof that He was, and still is, who He said He was. Any who doubted were convinced at the sight of His scars.

My scars are proof of what I have been through and how we have suffered but in the future they will be proof of where God took me from and how he made beauty from ashes. Perhaps I will even look fondly upon them as a sign that He has shown me that He is all that He says He is.

I want to be in that place.

The place where Jesus met His disciples and said ‘Look! It’s really me!’ The place where He went from feeling forsaken to fully rescued and restored beyond belief. The place where scars are not seen as a product of pain anymore but of healing and wholeness, where my scars become proof of where I was and what God has brought me through.

We bear the scars of this world.

So does Jesus.

We should remember His scars often. We should always remember the pain He suffered but alongside that remember His scars with overwhelming love and gratitude. If I could I would kiss His hands and His feet, because my heart is bursting with thankfulness and hope that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us and that our Dad is exactly who He says He is.

The Psalmist said in Psalm 61:2 ‘…When my heart is faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I’. In the Word for today the passage concludes by saying,

When your resources are depleted and you think you’re going under for the last time, God has provided a refuge that’s higher than your circumstances, a place where you’re under divine protection and the enemy has no jurisdiction. All you have to do is lift your eyes toward heaven.

So as I lift my eyes I feel safe again. I think back to my Dad removing the gravel from my knee with a screwdriver and I think “I wouldn’t’ have done it like that!” and I imagine many of you would feel the same, but it worked and I now think fondly of that moment. This can be true of our encounters with the Most High sometimes. We can say “I wouldn’t’ have done it like that!” but He knows far more than we do, and He is always good and always right.

We suffer and we bear the scars, but one day our scars will be evidence and proof of what we have been rescued from in fact, it is promised in 1 Peter 5:10 ‘And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.’

Look up. It is well.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Without You

This week I went for breakfast with a very dear friend. We can chat about everything and this meeting was no different. We talked about life and she confessed that on occasions she feels quite fearful of what the future holds. Life is made up of transitions and time seems to move so fast.

I was reminded of a trip to my Dad’s church in which he spontaneously prayed out loud during the worship. He said, “God, I don’t want to live without You! I don’t want anything if You are not in it.” It was a prayer full of love and passion and it moved my heart because I thought the same; “God, I don’t want to live without You! Whatever is going on in my life, whatever tomorrow holds, I can’t live without You! You are the reason for living.”

So we sat at our table in the restaurant, with tears in our eyes and the revelation again, how much we need Jesus and how in love with Him we are. Whatever the future holds, I don’t want anything unless God is with me, and we can be sure that He is so we do not need to fear.

Imagine a world without God. It is desolate and dark. There is no hope in this world, no need to dream, only human love that sometimes fails. In this ‘Godless’ world there is no purpose for living and everyday we start with the question, “why am I here?”

Our problem sometimes is that we live with the knowledge that God is with us but we fall in love with life. We know that there is purpose and that God loves us, but we forget quite how much we need him because we can ‘do’ life our own way without him. We love our friends and families, we love our children and partners and we get caught up in enjoying them so much sometimes that we forget that actually we were born for Heaven. We are here to bring light of course, but ultimately we will live forever with our Jesus in Heaven and when we loose sight of that we don’t see how much we need Him and how much we could fall in love with Him if we let ourselves.

Every now and then I return to the prayer of Sir Francis Drake and every time something else comes alive to me. This time I was reminded of the part that says:

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

We possess so many things that we sometimes forget the need to drink from the living waters of life. Revelation 21:6 says, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.” The water in that spring is life in all it’s fullness. Are you thirsty for it? I can’t live without it. I want to be drenched in it and never dry up. Do we dream of what we will happen in the next five years or what will happen next week? Or do we dream of eternity? I was at a conference not too long ago and there was a group of us chatting about heaven. I love those chats! We were discussing what it would be like and the usual question of whether we would recognise our loved ones who are already there was discussed. I said I was looking forward to joining the worship of heaven. Someone then spoke into the discussion saying, “I hope there is more than worship in heaven because that would be really boring!” I believe that he meant that in the new heaven there will be plenty to do and it is more wonderful than we can imagine, but something sat on my heart that day and I thought, “What could be more glorious than worshipping Jesus forever? How could we ever get bored of His presence?”

The truth is none of us know what it will be like. We have glimmers of it and my most vivid glimpses have been in times of worship and surrender. I ache for the presence of God. I am thirsty for the living waters of life to flood my soul everyday because without them I don’t want to be alive.

I have always loved The Song of Solomon. As a book I find it’s imagery and poetry captivating and I have always felt a deep pull to verses like chapter 8:6, ‘Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is as strong as death, passion fierce as the grave’. This is a passionate love and I believe we can look at this book allegorically and metaphorically. Not only is this about the love between a man and a woman but it is also about God’s love for us and potentially our love for Him.  I want the name of Jesus to seal my heart. No other man will have that place in my heart, it is reserved only for Him. I find myself falling in love with Jesus again and again. Perhaps the fact that I am a woman makes it easy for me to fall head over heals in love with Jesus, but I believe, though it is different I imagine, that men can experience this too. This is not about human love, though that is of course our understanding of it. This is about a supernatural intimate connection with God, and I don’t think our gender needs to come into it too much. If you choose to fall in love with Him, it will be in a way that is comfortable to you but each one as deep and meaningful as the other.

When we discover how much God loves us it is very exciting. It is so wonderful to know that God loves us, but God is also very pleased that we are starting to love Him. The Song of Solomon is a romance. Chapter 2 verse 3-6 says this,

With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to his banqueting table and his intention towards me was love. Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples; for I am faint with love. O that his left hand were under my head and that his right hand embraced me!

This whole picture makes me heart flutter. To sit in the shadow of Jesus and feel that you are loved is beyond anything that this world alone can offer. To be under His protection and to enjoy the fruits of grace, forgiveness, love and the assurance of glory is beyond compare. To be held by Him and embraced by Him leaves me desperate for more of Him. You may find this concept uncomfortable. It may seem that to you there should be an amount of respect that puts a distance between you and God. I believe we should fear Him more than anyone, but I believe too that we should love Him more than anyone, with intense passion.

I don’t know how you view your love for Jesus? I only know how I view mine. I would push through any crowd to touch him, not because of what He could do for me if I touched him but because of who He is. I would kneel before him, not just in desperation for something from Him, but because I wanted to kiss His feet and kiss the wounds of the nails that hung him to the cross for me. He is everything, without Him there is nothing of any worth.

I think of the words of the old hymn, ‘My chains fell off, my heart was free! I rose went forth and followed thee!’ My heart is free because of the cross and I am free to love Him with all of my heart. I would follow Him anywhere. I encourage you to read The Song of Solomon and ask God to reveal Himself to you through it. Some parts speak of a man and a woman but some verses will capture you with the passion of Jesus’ love for us. He is my beloved and no one can compare with Him. I don’t want to live without Him.

My gifts and talents mean nothing without Jesus. Without Him the air is not clear enough to breathe. He is the lover of my soul, the lifter of my head, my beloved and I belong to Him. Spend some more time with Jesus this week and fall more in love with Him. Ask that his ‘left hand be under your head and his right hand embrace you’. He is on His way and heaven is coming.

‘Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.’

Whatever is going on in our lives we cannot do it without God.
Disturb us Lord when we forget that.

Friday, 8 June 2012

The Cottage of Dreams

I am not a runner. Anyone who knows me will know very well that my in-turned knees and mild asthma prevent me from being the runner that I ought to be! Or maybe it’s just the fact that I don’t have the discipline to train or get myself fit enough to be able to go for a run and not wake up the next day paralysed with muscle ache! Nevertheless, I decided to go for a run. We are away on holiday as I write this and are surrounded by countryside and views that never seem to end. The beauty in this place makes me feel near God somehow, but if I’m honest, even encapsulated by the wonder of creation I still found myself searching and asking many questions. I think we go through seasons in our lives and in this season, for me, there are lots of questions. I don’t think it is wrong to ask questions sometimes and I also don’t think it is wrong to argue things out with God, so I ran with purpose two days in a row, looking for God’s attention and trying to give Him space to speak to me amidst my rantings to Him. My heart felt heavy and I figure that if God is my Father, as I know Him to be, He is happy for me to go to Him with my issues and He will listen and He will respond in the way He thinks best. Sometimes I am just angry and He takes it, but sometimes I hold Him to account over the promises that I have over my life and say ‘I will pursue this, I will overtake, I will recover it all’.

Anyway, back to my run, so I was half running, half walking and saying to my Father in heaven ‘Reveal who You are! Show me who You are! I want to see you! I want to see what You can do!’ And as I ran I looked out onto the fields and shouted (in my spirit!) ‘Will You speak to me Dad? I need to hear from You’. Then I stopped and waited and walked a little further and then stopped again, and this is what I stopped in front of…

This cottage was called ‘Rose Cottage’. It was idyllic. It had roses growing over the doorway, a tree in the garden and a wooden front door. It was warm and had lamps in the window. It made me feel inspired and full of hope again.

The phrase ‘The Cottage of Dreams’ came into my mind and God said to me, “I have lead you to your cottage of dreams, why do you think I wouldn’t open the door if you knock?” And I said, “Because I have been knocking for so long and You haven’t opened it yet”. Then, I felt like God said then to me, “Too many people walk up the path that I have led them to and they get to the door and wait, without knocking or they knock once and if the door doesn’t get opened straight away they leave…disappointed.” Something rose up in me and I thought, “I am not someone that leaves, though I can understand why people do, I will not leave without my dreams.” I had this overwhelming sense that God was provoking me to claim the promises in His word.

We all have our own ‘Cottage of Dreams’. Only you know what is found inside yours but there is a chance, a good chance, that God gave you those dreams in the first place. I don’t understand why sometimes we don’t seem to see them come to pass or why things go wrong but I believe that if God gave you those dreams they will come to pass. Sometimes it is worth waiting on God to determine whether He gave us those dreams in the first place, and if He did you can be sure He will make them happen. If you can find a promise in the Word of God to back you up, hold on to it with every thing you have. Our Father will not let us down, His love never fails.

Having imagined myself going up to the door of the house and knocking I was reminded of the verse in Matthew 7:7-8 that says:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

And I thought I am going to hold God to the ‘knock and the door will be opened part’. He promised that, and I will knock and knock until He opens the door for me to the Cottage of my dreams. I have really been thinking about the idea of arguing with God, holding him to account on the promises that He has made.

In his book, ‘Prayer, Does it make any difference?’ Philip Yancey gives a perspective that I found helpful. In chapter 7 Wrestling Match, Yancey talks of arguing with God. He uses Abraham as an example of someone who bargains with God and he uses Moses as an example of someone who argues with God. He says, of Moses, “But his example, like Abraham’s, proves that God invites argument and struggle, and often yields, especially when the point of contention is God’s mercy. In the very process of arguing, we may in fact take on God’s own qualities.’

Yancey also points out that the arguments of Abraham and Moses are tame compared with the ‘rants’ of Job. I tell you what, if I were Job, I would rant! But we see by the end of the story God seems to side with Job’s ‘bare-all approach’. Jesus himself wrestled with God in the garden of Gethsemane struggling with God’s will and asking if there was another way. I think we can see in the Bible accounts that lead me to believe that it is acceptable to argue with God. In fact Yancey asks these questions and I find myself aligning myself with them. He says,

“Does God require the exercise as part of our spiritual training regimen? Or is it possible that God, if I may use such language, relies on our outbursts as a window onto the world, or as an alarm that might trigger intervention? It was the cry of the Israelites, after all, that prompted God’s call of Moses.”

It is an interesting point and one that I cannot ignore. Do our ‘outbursts’ get God’s attention? Do they provoke Him to action? Could it be that He is provoking us to battle for the promises over our lives, to hold him accountable to the promises He made. I will continue to knock until He opens the door. Some might say that is bold and irreverent, but I think there are sufficient examples of this in the Bible that give us permission to do the same.

I take heart from this final quote from Yancey:

“Like Abraham, I approach God at first with fear and trembling, only to learn that God wants me to stop groveling and start arguing. I dare not meekly accept the state of the world, with all its injustice and unfairness. I must call God to account for God’s own promises, God’s own character.”

Of course we have to acknowledge that God is God. He is in charge but He is also my intimate partner. If my husband promised me something and didn’t do it I would remind him of what he said.  With God too, my dearest friend and Dad, I cannot sit still. I cannot keep wrestling so internally, I need to verbalise it. When it comes to seeing dreams fulfilled I believe that if God gave us those dreams we can hold Him to the promise from earlier:

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

If we do not hold God to this promise it can become a painful struggle. If we ask and we don’t receive, how can we find peace with the verse unless we cling to it with everything we have and keep reminding God of what His word says.

As I ran back to the place we were staying, I felt lighter and focused on claiming the promises of God. I started to sprint with determination and a sense of how I should battle for my ‘Cottage of Dreams’ and as I looked there was a double rainbow in the sky. I started to cry. I felt that at that moment God had sent this rainbow just for me to remind me of His promises over us all, and that He wouldn’t let me go under.

When God first sent a rainbow in Genesis 9 He said this:

13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

We live in covenant with the living God, our heavenly Dad, who has given us the Bible which is full of His promises to us. This book is the ‘most valuable thing that this world affords’. It is our window into who God is and I believe He is trustworthy and will keep His promises. Sometimes we have to understand that we need to hold Him to His word.

So keep knocking. Keep claiming the promises. Remind God of what He has said in His word and hold on to the hope that at some point He will open the door. I believe in breakthroughs. I believe in persistence and I believe that, more than anything, God is love and He loves us more than we could ever know. We need to assume that God knows what need more than we do and at some point He will open the right door into our ‘Cottage of dreams’.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Ouch! That was uncomfortable!

For my brave sister in law Joanna who challenged me to speak the uncomfortable and has chosen to let God grow her in her discomfort.

Do you ever read parts in the Bible and it feels like for the rest of the day your heart is coming to terms with what you have read? For me the book of James is one of those books and when I read it I find myself saying “Ouch! That was uncomfortable!’ It is uncomfortable because it challenges me beyond my flesh and my flesh hates it! It feels uncomfortable but it will continue to feel uncomfortable until I change. God’s word will not bend to suit me; it does not shape itself around my ways, it is the complete opposite. I HAVE to change! I HAVE to do the work in order to feel comfortable again, even if it is only until I read something else that does the same. But this is a way of life for me. I must be made to feel uncomfortable to grow.

In the first chapter of James, the very opening of the book, in the NRSV we find this verse:

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind consider it nothing but joy because you know the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have it’s full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Trials are uncomfortable. Sometimes they hurt…a lot! So how can we consider it nothing but joy? That bit was uncomfortable! My flesh says, “Joy? It’s not joy! That was the worst day of my life, how dare you say consider it joy… you obviously don’t know what has happened to me!” But my spirit says, “Hang on. If I choose to consider this joy I will be complete and lack nothing. That’s what I want… to be complete, to feel whole again, to get back the joy that the enemy stole from me.” Which do I choose? I choose to work against my flesh. My flesh hates the fact that this verse reclaims joy in the sadness. My flesh wants to mope around. I am not saying that we don’t feel pain… we do and we suffer but we can choose to not let our joy be taken from us. My flesh says, “Testing my faith produces endurance! I don’t want endurance! I’d rather have an easier life where trials are few… or in fact I could just give up on God, He’s let me down one too many times this time and I am not sure it’s worth it!” But my spirit says, “ You need endurance if you want to fulfill all the promises over your life, the dreams and the goals. You need some shaping, you need to be more mature and you need endurance, so persevere. You cannot give up on the God of hope.”  

The battle of the flesh and the spirit is uncomfortable. We have to die to our flesh. When I say ‘flesh’ I mean the things of me, the ‘I want… I need… I deserve… I don’t like… I’m not doing that!’ I mean the part of us that thinks that the Bible should bend to suit us. We have to fight hard for the spirit inside us to win sometimes. We have to choose that. The spiritual man wins when we work against our flesh, but it is uncomfortable.

Here’s another one: Chapter 1 verses 5-8 say this:

‘If any of you is lacking is wisdom, ask God, who gives generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.’

Ouch!! ‘Must not expect to receive anything from the Lord!’ Wow! Have you ever doubted that God could do what you need? I confess I have. To doubt is to be ‘double-minded and unstable’. I don’t want to be that person. I want to know beyond any doubt that God is on my side and that His plans are to prosper me not to harm me, so I have to work against my flesh when it tells me that there’s a good chance God won’t do that thing that I need. If I let myself become that person this verse tells me that I must not expect to receive anything from the Lord! It is there… in this verse and it will not move just because I feel uncomfortable with it!

We are 8 verses in to the book of James and already, again, I am suitably challenged. In fact my heart is restless as I write because I am so aware of my failings. Nevertheless, sometimes we just have to get over ourselves and try harder.

I am going to jump now to chapter 2 and unpack some verses that continue to make me uncomfortable. I hope that you will feel the same and that together we can understand what this means for the future of the church.

James 2:1-5 says this,

‘My brothers and sisters do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also come in, and if you take notice of the one wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘stand there’, or ‘sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Has God not chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?’

These verses led me into some thoughts; if you shun someone who comes in to your church who doesn’t look right, or is dirty or who smells or has an alcohol problem or has mental health issues or is gay or who doesn’t fit your mould, you leave yourselves open to the question ‘Do you really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? I know I have taken this out of context but I am trying to put it bluntly into our world today. If we show ‘favouritism’ to anyone more than another we become ‘judges with evil thoughts’. I don’t believe this verse is just about poor clothes and rich clothes, I believe it is about people; people who we decide ‘don’t fit’, who deserve to fit and who belong to the family of God.

The thing that makes me so uncomfortable with these verses is that these acts of favouritism are still rife in our churches, whether we recognise it or not. We judge people because of how they appear. They may be vulnerable people who desperately need a family. It is not up to us to judge them. It is up to us to welcome them and treat them as people who God is especially fond of. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Something that challenges me is the use of the term ‘weirdo’. I know that we are all weirdos in our own little ways and usually this word is used in a harmless humorous way, but we have to be so careful with it too. If we look across our congregation and see someone and say of them ‘There’s that weirdo’ we have to check our attitude. Are we willing to give an available seat to someone who makes us feel uncomfortable? Please hear me right, if someone potentially presents a risk then, of course, proceed with caution and let these people shape our structures so that they can be cared for by those who are skilled in this area. But if someone makes you feel uncomfortable because of how they appear, challenge yourself, open up the seat. Firstly, because your flesh hates it, but also because they need it. They might need that seat more than we will ever know. They might need acceptance and love. In fact that seat might save a life, it might save yours too from showing favouritism and become ‘judges with evil thoughts’.
I believe that God is on the move. I believe that there is a world out there who need to hear the good news of Jesus to change their lives but I find myself uncomfortably asking the question “Will God trust us with more people?” If we want to see our churches grow, I believe we all need to understand that God will only bring more people to us in a supernatural way if He knows for sure that we can be trusted to welcome them in with open arms and love. Love does not label someone as ‘weirdo’. It keeps no record of wrongs.

Sir Francis Drake opens His prayer with these words ‘Disturb us Lord when we are too well pleased with ourselves’. We have not got it all together! Far from it! Work against your flesh for the sake of His Kingdom. I hope you feel uncomfortable. I do! I feel challenged to change my part in this and do better. I hope that very soon God will be able to trust us all with precious people. Not numbers to fill a building, people who will change the world in their own way, and with people who are willing to say “Ouch! That was uncomfortable! What can I do about it?” 

Friday, 18 May 2012

Looking for His Presence

Have you ever lost your keys? I lost mine one day in the supermarket. Members of staff were looking for them and I was running around like a headless chicken, crying and praying ‘God please help me find my keys!!!’ My elderly Grandma was outside waiting at the car (that we couldn’t get in to) and my 4 year old daughter was more than ready to leave behind her the boredom of shopping and was a little fractious shall we say. I was supposed to be somewhere and for 25 minutes I was in a state of panic!! (Just as an aside panic never solves anything, it just robs your peace.)  The staff were looking for my bunch of keys and so was I. Then a security guard came and said to me, “Did you leave your coat in the café?” And I thought, I didn’t even bring my coat in, but he said, “We have found some keys in the pocket.” I was praying God please show me where my keys are and in fact they were at the desk that I had been to many times, inside my coat pocket, that I have no recollection of taking in to the shop with me. The relief I felt was instant and then I felt very foolish having panicked so much! I said to the staff, “No one can tell me there isn’t a God. I have just prayed that God would find me my keys and there they are!!!” And then I left: lighter and wiser.

I got myself in to a bit of a state and was so blinded by my panic that I had completely forgotten even taking my coat into the store. I must have left it on the back of a chair after eating lunch in my rush to get the shopping done and be where I needed to be in a short space of time.

When life takes strange turns and we find ourselves in a state of panic it is very easy to charge headlong into a search for answers and solutions, without actually noticing what is right in front of you. I was looking for the wrong thing. I was looking for my keys but if I had been looking for my coat I would have been given it straight away and the answer (my keys) would’ve been found in the pocket. We look for reasons. We look for the thing that we want instead of looking to the God who holds all the answers in His pocket. We need to look for His presence. There is no panic in that, just peace.

In his book The Practice of the presence of God, Brother Lawrence writes:

“The most holy practice, the nearest to daily life, and the most essential for the spiritual life, is the practice of the presence of God, that is to find joy in his divine company and to make it a habit of life, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with him at all times, every moment, without rule or restriction, above all at times of temptation, distress, dryness and revulsion and even that of faithlessness and sin.” Pg 68, English Translation by E.M. Blaiklock 1981, Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.

When we practice the presence of God we make it a habit of life. When we are at work we ‘practice’ what we have been trained to do, we may practice nursing or medicine or education or retail the list goes on. We have been trained to practice our profession. We have to see the presence of God as our ‘practice’ if that makes sense. It has to be a ‘habit of life’. We may want to go looking for the presence of God, and particularly in hard times we can find ourselves desperate for the presence of God and it is right to look for it, to look for God to open the windows of Heaven but it is absolutely essential that the practice of His presence becomes an every day habit. We must talk to Him always. We must love Him always and worship Him always. This is where joy is found. It is deeply rooted in our time spent in His presence.

In the book of Exodus we find the account of Moses going up Mount Sinai and entering the cloud of the glory of God. God gives Moses instructions regarding the Ark of the Covenant. He describes very specifically how it should be made, what it should look like and goes on to describe the table that should dwell in the tabernacle. In Chapter 25 and verse 30, having given measurements and clear instructions regarding how to set the table, we find this ‘And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me always.’

Is this just a loaf of bread? Perhaps it was to be set there as a symbol of ‘food for their souls’ or perhaps it is much deeper than that. The Hebrew word here is לחם פנים lechem panim literally meaning bread of faces. It is thought that this name may be eluding to the bread being placed before the face of God in the sanctuary. There is intimacy in the connection. The bread is set before the face of God and so embodies His presence. This verse acknowledges our great need for His presence in the tabernacle.

After Moses had been talking with God, Exodus 34:29 tells us that His face shone. In fact later in verses 33-35 the Bible tells us that the Israelites saw the ‘skin on his face was shining’. That is what happened to Moses when He spent time directly in God’s presence, face to face. If the bread is set before the face of God it is the bread of His presence. It may not have done, but if you imagine that the bread on the table shone too with the presence of God it is a powerful image. It may not have been as visible as Moses’ face but metaphorically speaking, it was set before the face of God.

We need ‘bread’ (food) to survive. Our bodies cannot survive naturally without food, so everyday we must consider our spiritual food too. It must be filled with the presence of God.

It occurred to me also that in the New Testament bread was placed on the Passover table. In Matthew 26:26 Jesus tore the bread and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat; this is my body”. This verse acknowledges the need for His presence in our everyday lives. Jesus was in the presence of his disciples. He was there with them but he knew he would be going soon. They ate the bread of his body in his presence. I wonder if they understood the significance fully. I wonder if they knew they were in the presence of the High King. Were they aware that as he passed them the wine too that he was making an eternal covenant with the whole of mankind?

The bread in the tabernacle, the bread of the Presence carried with it the body of Jesus though the people did not know. When we take communion this is what we experience: We remember again who Jesus is and what He did and we eat the bread of His presence. Perhaps the bread is not shining or glowing like the face of Moses, but it is filled with the same presence if we believe it to be.  

The bread of His body is eaten during communion and the bread of the Presence is eaten during communion with him. We must hunger after it as though it were necessary to our survival because it is. Communion with Him is intimate communication.

So when we look for his presence we are saying ‘I want to spend more time with you Jesus. I want to talk intimately with you and love you and worship you.’ We don’t need to look hard for His presence. We don’t need to panic that we need more of it or we can’t feel it. We don’t need to make elaborate gestures to find it. Someone who runs around panicking, like I did looking for my keys, is not someone who understands the confidence that practicing His presence brings. We just stop. We make room and we get hungry.

Imagine what it would feel like to not have food to eat for days. Imagine the pangs of hunger. Some may know what they feel like. It is a pain that only food will satisfy. We need to be people who are so hungry for the presence of God that it hurts, that we will pray with perseverance and longing for God to show us His glory. I want my skin to shine with the presence of God because I have constant intimate communion with Jesus. Constant, not just every time I need something or when I remember, every single minute of every single day. The more time we spend in His presence the more we know how vital it is. We see mundane things of this life differently, in fact our whole view changes. If I go back to my story at the beginning, I would’ve found the key to my car instantly if I had looked for the coat that was holding it. Looking for the car key wasn’t the answer: looking for the thing that held all the keys was. I am learning to look first, every day, to the holder of the keys: to Jesus who holds all the answers, to His presence that brings joy and wholeness.

A good friend pointed me in the direction of a preach by Bill Johnson called ‘The Resting place’. I encourage you to find it on You tube and let it shape you. He talks about understanding that the kingdom of God is within us. We carry the presence of God within us but we have to learn to host it and let it rest on us. He says,

“Make sure you host this presence because you have been positioned to release him into the atmosphere that He might find places to rest. He’s always looking for a resting place.”

We have to understand what it means to ‘host’ the presence of God. We can change atmospheres if the presence of God rests on us. We can change someone’s life if our words become His spirit ministering to that person. Do all you can to keep hold of that presence so that you will impart that presence wherever you go.

When we are hungry a piece of bread is sufficient. How much more then is the bread of the Presence sufficient to our souls? Eat it every day as if your life depended on it and then carry it with you wherever you go. The glory of the Lord is found in the Presence and when you ‘eat’ it is also found in you. Swallow His presence for nourishment, consume it, take it in so that you can take it out into your workplace, your streets, your towns and that the glory of God may shine from your face and make Him famous. If you are wondering where you belong; the answer is in His presence. 

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Open the Windows of Heaven!

“Put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.” Malachi 3:10.

I am desperate for God to open the windows of heaven. When God says, ‘Put me to the test’ he is talking about tithing. The first part of this verse says “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house”. In effect God is saying, “Give me your whole tithe and wait and see!! I will open the windows of heaven and put out immeasurable blessings!”

Money is not an easy subject to talk about and in fact tithing is an even harder one! I am not sure we fully understand the significance of tithing so I have done a little Biblical studying into the topic in the hope that together we can come to our own understanding of it and work out whether we need to act.  

The word ‘tithe’ means ‘a tenth’ or ‘the tenth part of agricultural produce or personal income set apart as an offering to God or for works of mercy, or the same amount regarded as an obligation or tax for the support of the church, priesthood, or the like.’ In other words it means to give 10% of our income or produce. Jewish law says that 10% of seed and grain, fruit, wine, animals belong to the Lord. Basically 10% of your earnings and income and what you owned or produced belonged to the Lord.

There are many people who would say that they give their tithe to the work of the Lord by giving it to a charity, others believe that they should give their tithes solely to the church. There are so many teachings surrounding this and in my study I came across this verse in Nehemiah 10:39 which brings a little clarity to me:

‘For the people of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of grain, wine, and oil to the storerooms where the vessels of the sanctuary are, and where the priests that minister, and the gatekeepers and the singers are. We will not neglect the house of our God.’

I know that you could argue that this account is a picture of the time, but the key for me here is ‘We will not neglect the house of our God’. I believe we should be giving generously to the amazing projects and organisations out there that are building the Kingdom of God, but I believe that the church is the ‘house of our God’ and so too is the ‘storehouse’ of Malachi 3. I believe that ‘Church’ should be supporting these amazing organisations so in fact when we bring our tithe into the ‘storehouse’ we provide resources to go way beyond the walls of the church. Our offerings can go into these brilliant organisations but I think our tithe belongs to the church and church leaders have a heavy responsibility, to the church, to the city and to God, to ensure that our resources are used well. I take comfort in this matter from these verses in Haggai 2:7-9;

‘…and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.’

God says ‘the silver is mine, the gold is mine’. It belongs to Him and He can step in at any time to steer financial decisions towards the building of His kingdom if things seem to be going astray. My comfort is found in the fact that our resources ultimately belong to Him. He is in charge.

So if we look back again at the verse in Malachi, we find that God says ‘Bring the full tithe into the storehouse … put me to the test… see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.’ The Message translation puts it like this: ‘Bring your full tithe into the temple treasury…test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams.’ Wow! What if we get this right and God opens the windows of heaven? In fact He has said we can put Him to the test in this and He has promised blessings.

When I read this I feel like if getting our tithes sorted will ‘open the windows of heaven’ then we have to act. We all have to act. I have heard people say, “we can’t afford it at the minute” “I’ll sort it when we get a bit more money in”. In my mind if I had £1 left in the world 10p of that belongs to God and then I’d probably give some more to a project that I believed in. That 10p is not mine to keep. It belongs to God, in fact if we look at the two verses that precede Malachi 3:10 we find a challenge that has to shape your heart and your mind with it’s strong and blunt delivery:

‘Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “how are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me- the whole nation of you!’

The Message puts in like this:

“Begin by being honest. Do honest people rob God? But you rob me day after day. You ask, ‘How have we robbed you?’ The tithe and the offering-that’s how! And now you’re under a curse- the whole lot of you- because you’re robbing me.”

Is anyone feeling a pull in their spirit? These are strong words. It is easy to make excuses as to why we don’t give 10% of our income. Yes there are questions surrounding what this all means and yes we have to steward our finances well but I believe the place to start is with your tithe. These verses bring challenge and conviction but also encouragement and promise. Imagine what would happen if we put God ‘to the test’ as He asks us to. What would it look like if God opened the windows of Heaven and poured down blessings beyond our wildest dreams?

I would like to return to a picture of the ‘storehouse’ for a moment. A storehouse is a building in which things are stored. describes it as ‘a source of abundant supplies’. I picture the church of the future as a storehouse. If we neglect it, if we don’t bring God’s resources in to the house, we are not only robbing God, we are leaving His storehouse without supplies. Imagine if we lived in a time when, if we needed food, we could go to the storehouse and gather what we needed to live on. Imagine if we walked for days only to find the storehouse empty because someone, or lots of someone’s, didn’t give there 10% and as a result we arrive at the house of God in desperate need but the priests do not have the resources to give use what we need. In fact this is how many people live today but it is not so much about the ‘grain in the barn’ but about whether or not the house of God has the resources for whatever their need is. Do we have the resources to feed and clothe the homeless? Do we have the resources to pay for a counselor to spend time with the man or woman who has so little hope that suicide seems the only option? Do we have the resources to send someone on that counseling course that could save a life?

I know that there are so many things that we need in the storehouse and we need to pay staff and pay for the upkeep of our buildings as well, but if we see it all as a resource for our communities what difference can we make?

Now once the resources are coming in to the storehouse, we need to make sure that we have the people to make sure that these things can be given out accordingly. We could consider offering our time as well as our money to help steward these resources well. God wants to use us. We know that God can do anything but in the natural we need to resources to do His work. Sometimes this is just about giving our time but most of the time the resources to do his work are essential.  

So what can you and I do to see God open the windows of heaven? I believe that He will show us different things as individuals if we are willing open our eyes to what He wants to show us. If we let Him reveal himself through these verses we may well encounter Him in a tangible way that stirs us into action. I would say if you need to get your tithes sorted out, then do it. On a practical level, you can do it by standing order so you can give God the first fruits of your labour before you even see it. To me there is something so important about giving to God first, not after you’ve checked that you’ve got enough. You will see that if you give Him the first fruits you will always have what you need.

I am desperate for God to overwhelm us with His power and presence. I long to see heaven come to earth. If I can do any thing that means that God would ‘open the windows of heaven’ I want to do it. I challenge you to put God to the test on this, just as He said, and see what happens when you ‘bring the full tithe into the storehouse’.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Miracles do happen!

As a little girl I had such a simple understanding of what having faith in Jesus meant. It was very clear to me that Jesus could do anything and when I asked, I asked simply, believing that He would sort whatever it was that was troubling me. I lived carefree because I was young but I also understood that He was in charge. When I went to University I had my first real experience of anxiety and in that time I lost a little bit of who I understood Him to be, I lost sight of the simplicity because I took my eyes off Him and it has never been quite the same since.

It appears we live in a world where wisdom seems to come with age, but I am finding that actually I know less now in some ways than I did as a child. I think I understood more then about how big God is. I know He’s big but with age and so called ‘wisdom and understanding’ have come limits because I think I’ve got things sussed and actually, I don’t know anything much! The God that I talked to as a girl is exactly the same. He is a God of miracles. Why then do I forget to pray prayers and simply leave them with Him to sort out?

Smith Wigglesworth is one of my biggest inspirations. I love to read stories of what God did when He prayed. He was also, at one time, in need of a life saving miracle. Have a read of the account in his own words:

At one time I was so bound that no human power could help me. My wife was looking for me to pass away. There was no help. At that time I had just had a faint glimpse of Jesus as the Healer. For six months I had been suffering from appendicitis, occasionally getting temporary relief. I went to the mission, of which I was pastor, but I was brought to the floor in awful agony, and they brought me home to bed. All night I was praying, pleading for deliverance, but none came. My wife was sure it was my home call, and sent for a physician. He said that there was no possible chance for me- my body was too weak. Having had the appendicitis for six months, my whole system was drained and because of that, he thought it was too late for an operation. He left my wife in a state of broken heartedness.
After he left there came to our door a young man and an old lady. I knew she was a woman of real prayer. They came upstairs to my room. This young man jumped on the bed and commanded the evil spirit to come out of me. He shouted “Come out you devil; I command you to come out in the name of Jesus!” there was no chance for an argument, or for me to tell him that I would never believe that there was a devil inside of me. The thing had to go in the name of Jesus, and it went, and I was instantly healed.
I arose and dressed and went downstairs. I was still in the plumbing business, and I asked my wife, “Is there any work in? I am all right now, and I am going to work”. I found that there was a certain job to be done and I picked up my tools and went off to do it. Just after I left the doctor came in, put his plug hat down in the hall, and walked up to the bedroom. But the invalid was not there. “Where is Mr Wigglesworth?” he asked. “Oh doctor, he’s gone out to work,” said my wife. “You’ll never see him alive again,” said the doctor; ‘they’ll bring him back a corpse.”
Well, I’m the corpse.
Since that time the Lord his given me the privilege of praying for people with appendicitis in many parts of the world; and I have seen a great many people up and dressed within a quarter of an hour from the time I prayed for them. We have a living Christ who is willing to meet people on every line.
                                                Smith Wiggleworth: The Complete Collection of His Life teachings, pg 351-352

This man was a plumber! A husband! The doctor said he would not make it but he did, and then he spent his life believing God for miracles and he saw them in abundance. It is simple, he was dying and Jesus brought him back to life because someone understood the power in the name of Jesus. Someone saw the evil spirit and forced it to bow to the highest name.

I believe that we need the gift of discernment in this area and I believe too that God will give you that gift if you ask for it. I hate giving the devil too much credit but we have to acknowledge that he is working with his spirits to destroy and disable us. He will not win. We need to be people who are able to discern evil spirits and cast them out in the name of Jesus. Sickness will leave people if an evil spirit is at the root of it and we will see the power of God in our everyday lives if we understand this.

The other gift that we can ask for is the gift of faith. Romans 12:3 tells us that there is a degree of faith apportioned to all of us and Matthew 17:20 tells us that faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain. A mustard seed is very small but if used well it can move a mountain. The Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts but imagine what would happen if you were given the gift of faith. I need more faith but also if faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain, and I dare say anyone who believes was given that, perhaps we all need less doubt. Doubt tells us it can’t be done; faith tells us anything is possible. So we actively need to combat doubt. We need to work against it as though it were something that was working against us.

When we read stories of God’s miraculous works it builds our faith and pushes doubt out of the picture. When I read Smith Wigglesworth’s stories I find myself longing for an opportunity where God will show me what He can do. Actually these opportunities are all around me and I miss them because I don’t want to look silly, or I arrogantly assume there will be another opportunity to pray or I just don’t see them! I want to pray that God will show me these opportunities. I love to read old stories but I believe we can read stories from yesterday and today and tomorrow, and I know that around the world these things are happening but I am desperate to see these things before my eyes.

The God of Smith Wigglesworth is the God of Jacob, of Abraham, of Joseph. He is the same God who told Noah to build an ark; who parted the red sea for Moses; who gave Hannah a baby; who shut the mouths of lions for Daniel. He has not changed. He is the God of our ancestors and the God of the generations to come. He is your God. He is my God and He has not changed. His power is available to us today.

I believe in miracles. Miracles happen everyday, look for them and look for opportunities to pray for them. Be thankful for seemingly small miracles because they prove God’s faithfulness and they are evidence that He is working, but pray with faith that we will see things beyond our wildest imaginations. Can you make yourself wholly available to Jesus and dedicate yourself to Him? Can you work on His behalf? It is simple, we want to do what Jesus did and He performed miracles. The disciples saw it. In Mark 6:6-13 Jesus sends out the twelve disciples and the account says in verse 13:

‘They drove out demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.’

All this is possible for those who believe. It is as simple as that.

Going back again to when I was little, if I hurt myself or had tummy ache, my Mum would very often pray at bedtime that Jesus would make it better. I went to sleep with great confidence; there was no doubt in my mind that God had done what we asked Him to; that I would wake up with no concerns. In fact I expected Him to so much that I believe often I received healing straight away, I didn’t think of it like that though, in fact I didn’t even give it another thought most of the time. I do not remember any point where God did not answer our prayers, there might’ve been some, but I don’t remember them. I know that life is so much more complicated now but the simplicity of my understanding then is still somewhere inside me. ‘Jesus can make this better’ still stands simply and powerfully on top of any sickness, or problem, or trouble. I don’t get why sometimes He doesn’t do what we hope for but I do believe our time would be well spent trying to do the things that Jesus did, instead of opening a door to doubt. Pray prayers of faith and believe that miracles do happen!  

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Rejoicing and weeping

Isn’t it great when every thing in life seems to be really good, thing’s just seem to fall into place and life is easy? We find ourselves in times of great joy and yet sometimes we forget to rejoice. When things are harder we then realise how easy we had it and that we should have been more grateful. By nature we are selfish. We expect that life will go our way and when it does we forget to say thank you and when it doesn’t we struggle.

Romans 12:15 teaches us an amazing lesson and if we can grasp hold of this and let it root itself in our hearts, our hearts will beat with the heart of God. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” NASB. (Some translations say ‘mourn with those who mourn.’)

Our Wedding day was arguably the best day of my life. I was excited and full of hope for the future. We invited others to share in our joy and it was a great day of rejoicing. I am very grateful to God that we have each other and our journey together began that day, but there had also been some very sad times and as a result amidst our rejoicing there was still a deep sadness. My husband’s brother had been killed two years before in a car accident and there was a hole where he should have been at our wedding.  His wife was with us to share the day and though she came to rejoice with us, we were also weeping alongside her. It’s not easy to go to a wedding and hear ‘til death do us part’ in the ceremony and be facing the reality of that just two years in to your marriage. But she came and we rejoiced.  We rejoiced as a family and as a family we wept too. The pain of losing a son, a husband, a brother or grandson does not go away. It changes but it remains.

When I think about this verse it sounds easy to say ‘rejoice with those who rejoice’. It’s easy to rejoice and be so pleased for others when you are happy. I often wonder though, if we get so consumed in our joy sometimes that we fail to notice those around who are sad. It is right that we rejoice. God has done, is doing and will do great things for us! We should rejoice with everything we have and with each other too but let’s be sensitive in that. Don’t be robbed of joy but don’t be insensitive. Real rejoicing is felt deeply it doesn’t have to boast; it makes your heart glad and doesn’t need to be arrogant. I want to seek to get the balance right.

If we look then at the part where it says, “Weep with those who weep”, again this poses a challenge. We can shed a tear at someone’s sadness, in that brief moment we can feel the pain of someone who has just lost someone close to them or has received bad news, but then we can easily carry on with our day. I believe that when the verse says ‘weep with those who weep’ it means keep on weeping, remember that they are in pain. Of course it is unrealistic to think that we can do that for every single member of our congregation all the time but you can do it within your circle of influence and if everyone did that we should have it covered.

We forget, when there is a lot of rejoicing, that there are many who are weeping. Time heals to an extent but it also forgets if we let it. The person who is weeping however does not forget. It is a challenge to us all to remember those who carry pain. A simple “ I was thinking of you today’, ‘that must have been hard for you’ or ‘ we still think about that person you lost you know, they won’t be forgotten’ means everything and it actually frees the ‘weeping’ person to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice’ because someone has remembered that they still carry pain and took the time to bring a word of comfort and to lift their head.

If you carry sadness it can be hard to find your place. It can feel like no one really understands and so you don’t know where you fit, but there are many who understand and if we remember that, it reminds us that we are not alone and that our experience could be of use to someone. God always works all things for good if you let him, no matter how bad it was or is.

Sadness is not your friend. It may be present in your life but don’t make friends with it. It may feel like you don’t know how to function without your friend ‘sadness’ because that is what you know and you can’t get away from it, or you might actually have got yourself comfortable there or even worse, that your sadness has turned to self pity. Please don’t get me wrong on this one. I am not saying that pain isn’t real, it is, but if we get stuck in a place where sadness has become a ‘friend’ then self-pity can get in and self-pity stinks! Pain is real and raw. Self-pity clings on to a time when pain was really deep and it tells you that you deserve to feel sorry for yourself and that you deserve for others to feel sorry for you even if actually the pain is not as bad as it was. We must get this balance right and be responsible for our actions and decisions. Check yourself to see if actually your need for others to weep with you is about attention. Check that you are not using something that has happened to you as a reason for not rejoicing with others because you get attention from it. It doesn’t mean that it is not hard but you have a choice to make to try and move away from self-pity for the sake of someone else’s joy. In fact, the antidote to self-pity is ‘rejoicing with those who rejoice’ genuinely! You might have to force yourself to do it at first but it will turn from a choice you made into your natural joyful reaction before long.

I came across this challenging quote:

‘Those who show pity and are always ready to help during times of trouble are seldom the same ones who rejoice in our joy: when others are happy they have nothing to do, they become superfluous and lose their feeling of superiority, and so they easily show their displeasure. Friedrich Nietzsche.’

It is not always the case, of course, that people need to feel superior in their pain to have a role but there is a danger of it. Please don’t become someone who is superfluous because you have nothing to do if people around you are rejoicing, instead find your place in the midst of rejoicing with others and let go of self-pity.

There is a challenge to all of us to ‘weep with those who weep’ and not think so much about ourselves, but I think that actually it is a bigger challenge to ‘rejoice’ when we are weeping. It is very hard to feel joy when you are jealous that someone has the thing that you desperately want or if you are just genuinely filled with sorrow. Their rejoicing can feel as though they are being smug but often they are just rejoicing and it is our view that is distorted. People should be rejoicing and if we are suffering it is a massive challenge to join them in their joy but it is to our honour if we can try.

In Mark 9 we read of a story of a boy with an evil spirit. When the spirit sees Jesus he sends the boy into convulsions and Jesus asks how long as he been like this? His father tells Jesus that it has been since birth and he says, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” Jesus replies, “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.”

We can be sure that the one who knows our deepest pain is Jesus and that he pities us. He feels great compassion towards us. The father of this boy says ‘take pity on us and help us’. We can say that to Jesus when we feel sad. We can make a choice to rejoice with those who rejoice, even in our sadness and ask Him to help us. If we want to rejoice we will be able to rejoice because ‘everything is possible for one who believes’. I am reminded again of Philippians 4:13  ‘I can do all things through him who gives me strength’. It can take all the strength we have, and then some, to make the choice to rejoice but we can do it through Christ, who is our source of strength.

If we understand again what Jesus did for us, we can rejoice. I remember one Sunday morning at church, I was in the worship team and we were singing a song called ‘rejoice’. At that time, life was great for me, but then I saw someone walk into the back of church and I knew that her sister had died that week. It felt flippant to be singing ‘rejoice’ when she had had the worst week of her life, but actually it wasn’t flippant. It was deep and true. “Let all that seek the Lord rejoice” we sang. I watched her and she lifted her hands to God in worship and I knew that she understood that the joy of the Lord was her strength that morning.

If we rejoice we don’t forget our sadness and equally, if we cry with someone we don’t forget our joy. There should always be lots of rejoicing but also lots of remembering: lots of praising God for His goodness but also acknowledging the need for His help.

Rejoice with those who rejoice: Weep with those who weep.

It is no coincidence in my mind that these two opposites were pulled together into the same verse and this verse describes the family of God. Let’s try to get the balance right.