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’.