Contented

‘I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.’ Philippians 4:12-13

I sing with such confidence and joy about Jesus our guardian, and lose the nerve so quickly.

This morning was wonderful. I got such a buzz sitting at the back of church serving the coffee and croissants, looking out at the faces of all these people and just feeling God’s love for them. The sun was shining. I could not have been more content.

Tonight at church we sang, “when I hear you say ‘trust and obey’, I will walk by faith and not by sight, God of my life” and I sang it joyfully, absolutely on board with God’s plan for my week. But midnight rolls around and it’s not always so easy is it?

Maybe it’s just time to get some sleep. Definitely. But I need to learn that even if I am not up to a challenge right now, I need to hand it over to him, and I will be up to it when I get there, because God is faithful. In that security, I can be content, even though there are a thousand loose ends in my life right now.

As part of his talk tonight, our curate Alex played the video of a young couple who lived through a terrifying turn of events, when they changed from being chiefly young and in love, to young, in love, and dealing with a traumatic brain injury. You had to see it to believe it, but they are proof that contentment is available whatever the weather, and God is faithful. I never want to have to go through such a test myself. I gladly went home and ate dinner with my husband. Alex’s point (and St Paul’s) was that contentment is available whatever the circumstances: it’s the difference between being a thermometer (reacting to the ambient temperature) and a thermostat (acknowledging the temperature of our surroundings and controlling our response, which in turn changes the world around us).

The fact is that we can be just as unhappy when things are wonderful, even when its true that the ‘boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places’ for us. We still have hard days. So it’s our response that has to be the biggest factor.

Please God help me not just react this week. Thank you that you are always there for me.

Please.

Established in Love

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:16-19

How can  we know the unknowable? Certainly, if anyone deserve to be at the centre of this seeming paradox, it’s God. The face it, we can keep getting closer, but however much understanding and experience we gain of God’s love, there’s always more to understand. This passage describes a process, of first being rooted and established in love, like a little seedling, and then to be given the power to grasp the dimensions of God’s love. Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers explains it clearly: the grammar of the Greek verb tenses gives the true meaning, which ‘seems to be that they may know from time to time, as each opportunity offers, what must in its entirety pass all human knowledge’. Lately I think I’ve been making progress in Knowing in my gut this love that surpasses head knowledge. What helps is when those around us show us love, but ultimately we have to be able to receive it.In the same way as we can’t receive God’s peace if we are determined not to trust him, we can only receive God’s love if we are prepared to let him be real to us, and not to argue with him that we are surely undeserving. Of course we are…yet his compassions are new every morning.

The Display of His Splendour

“The spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
for his has anointed me […]
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion –
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour. Isaiah 61, vv 1 (part), 2 and 3

 What stunning imagery. What transformation into hope and fresh purpose!

Isaiah is the key prophet of the old testament. He often draws imagery from nature, which easily crosses cultures and speaks to us directly today.

Back when I was at school, I did the first term of art ‘A’ level, and my one painting was an entirely unsubtle comparison between the raised branches of a fruit tree, and someone standing before it with raised arms. In hindsight it probably looked like tree-worship, but I was definitely aiming at something joyful and celebratory, trying to capture the wonderful display of something splendid in the reaching branches of a fruitful tree, and its similarity to the optimistic celebration of a girl with her arms raised high into the air. I’m curious now what led me to paint that, deep down, because it wasn’t a natural stance, a fact which was very evident when my friend Rosie sportingly modelled for it.

Now, looking back, the pose is very familiar: it’s how what people naturally do in moments of celebration and joy. It’s what people in many churches (and football stadia) do when we are free to express perhaps euphoria at the majesty of God, at his sovereignty, his goodness; to try to express something superlative. My painting  looks to me now much more like a regular experience in worship: maybe it was prophetic art.

These words are some of the most beautiful in the Bible.  I once asked a Christian friend at university what they really wanted in life. ‘Consolation’ came the answer. I believe now that God wants much more for us than just consolation: Jesus said he came to bring life, and life to the full.  I think he is more ambitious for us than we are: not content with us knowing that God is technically worthy of praise, he loves it when we know it fully, practically, bodily.

God really does replace despair with joy that turns to praise. I’ve known people whose entire demeanour altered when they were rescued from despair. One friend who changed his career, almost overnight stopped carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

When one is in ‘sackcloth and ashes’, mourning and in despair, it’s hard to imagine such radical transformation to be possible. It’s true that it’s rarely instantaneous. But God does transform us. When I look back on my life I can truly say I wouldn’t turn the clock back for anything. God’s presence is so often experienced as peace or joy. We have so much to praise Jesus for in the present, and the remarkable truth is that we have reasonable expectation of so much more.

Walking Around in the Light

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” 1 John 1:5-7

image 

I’m really fond of this remarkable first letter by the disciple/apostle John, and knowing who wrote it gives us such a vivid connection to him. John the (probably quite young) disciple who was such a key figure during Jesus’ ministry on earth, now years later is writing to the believers.

To my mind, you can hear the excitement still burning in John, that he personally knew the one incarnation of God the Father in the person of Jesus who met him one day while he was fishing. His awe and wonder is still there: and in all those years since he looked into that face and decided to follow Jesus, the abiding impression of what God is like, for John, is that God is light.

This often comes back to mind when I’m praying for situations. Nothing can be understood until it’s perceived, until light is shed on it in some way. We cannot know God but because he chooses to make himself knowable. God has promised to continue to reveal himself to me – and to all of us if we want that.

When I’m praying for our community, or for a situation, increasingly I find myself praying for the truth to be revealed; for our eyes to be open to what’s really going on; for discernment; for hidden wrong to be made plain. And each time we hear the painful news of a famous person having abused trust, I feel like praying, thank you God that wrong doing has been exposed. Don’t stop until it’s all out in the open.

Because while we are walking around in the dark, and wrongdoing is being tolerated, there are whole areas we are either steering round, because we know it’s too dark to understand, or we bump into it painfully know and again, but we can’t see clearly enough to know what happened.

In our community, let there be revelation.
In our understanding, let there be enlightenment.
In our relationships, let there be illumination.
In all the dark corners of our minds where we have allowed fears, and worse, to lurk, let there be light.

– because we want to get closer to the incredible life-force and wonder that is God, and in him there is no darkness at all.