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Faltering Steps of Faith

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Feeling the Lack

Perhaps that seems like an odd title, so I’ll try and explain! For the last six months or so, with all the Covid restrictions and changes that have happened in my life, I have really felt the lack of, I don’t know, general stability, purpose and Christian fellowship in my life. I find that this sense of a lack of whatever it may be drives me back to the Lord. It reminds me that I need Him and that without a relationship with Him there is nothing to fill the void.

This isn’t always a smooth process where once I’ve felt and understood the sense of a lack, I turn immediately to the Lord. Sometimes it takes time to work out exactly what it is that I feel that I’m lacking. Perhaps there is a general sense of unease or joylessness. Where is that coming from? What is the source? This pandemic has stripped away those things that were giving me focus and purpose. Most of these things could be described as “good” things, but when they are taken away, it exposes what is left behind. If that is a sense of inadequacy, does that mean that I was finding my purpose in these activities rather than in the Lord Himself?

Over the course of the pandemic restrictions I decided to leave my home church, where I had been going for almost 40 years since my early childhood. It wasn’t something that only occurred to me then, it was something that I’d thought about on and off for years. My children who are aged 16 and 20 had both stopped coming to church and my husband found attending church hard. I felt that perhaps if I went to a believing church of a different denomination it might be easier for at least one member of my family to come along. Of course, joining a new church in a pandemic is not easy, and it has taken a lot of prayer and perhaps courage to step into a new setting where I barely know anyone.

At my old church, people (well, some people!) knew who I was and I was trusted to do certain things, such as leading a small group of ladies in a Bible study. Where I have gone I am an unknown quantity, and apart from meeting with the minister a couple of times and having brief chats with a few people, that remains the case. I look forward to the autumn when more opportunities will be open to me for getting to know others.

Over the many months of the pandemic restrictions it has dawned on me that although I have done this and taken a step of faith into a new church setting, it may change nothing at home. I will probably still be the only practising Christian in my home unless God does step in and perform a miracle. Of course this is a real possibility, but I am powerless to make it happen. That made me feel quite downhearted, and I felt the complete lack of ability to do anything about that. Where could I go with these feelings? Maybe the fact that I thought I could change things myself shows that I wasn’t trusting God in the first place. I have to accept that I have done all that I can now, and other than continuing to pray for my loved ones and using opportunities wisely, it is out of my hands. It was hard to come to terms with those feelings, but I know that God is ultimately in control, and that thought comforts me.

I have had the benefit of attending an online BSF class, so I enjoyed some months of fellowship and Bible study through that provision. I have also enjoyed reading a couple of books and going through them with a Christian friend via the internet. We read firstly “None Like Him” by Jen Wilkin about the attributes of God that He alone has. I found it good to take my mind off self and the problems of this life and to focus on these attributes of God, including His omnipotence and sovereignty.

Secondly, we have been going through “Deeper Still” by Linda Allcock about the practise of Biblical meditation and how it can contribute to our growth as Christians and to our mental stability. I like that she is very real about the problems we can encounter in our lives, but encourages us to hide God’s word away in our hearts for the very purpose of helping us through those tough times and pointing us to Him.

I also read a book myself that I found very helpful, called “If Only…” by Jennie Pollock. The author is a single lady who had always wanted to marry and have a family, yet has found herself remaining single thus far, beyond the years when having a family would be possible. She writes honestly and movingly about her own feelings and also the situations of other people whose lives have turned out to be very different than they would have hoped. Some people find themselves floored by ill health and simply unable to do all that they hoped they would do in life. Some couples are unable to have much longed-for children and have to come to terms with that. Yet other couples have children but later find that they will have life-long needs and need to cope with that. Really, many of us could say that our lives have not turned out as we would have hoped. Where do we go with all of this? Do we allow ourselves to grow bitter and jealous of others who do have what we long for? Or do we look to the unfailing God who promises to be with us and never leave us? These are hard things to accept and come to terms with, yet the Bible is realistic about our struggles. It doesn’t say anywhere that if we follow Him all our problems will go away and life will be plain sailing. In fact, Jesus says,

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!” John 16:33

That seems to me to be the only solution to life’s “lacks”. Look to the Overcomer Himself, who gave up so much in order to give us that new life which not even the worst circumstances can take away. His love for us is an everlasting love, and we can never plough its depths or understand its breadth, but we can praise and thank Him for His sacrifice and all that this means for us.

If we are at a time where no words can really express all that we are feeling, the Bible says that “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). That is also such an encouragement, to know that the Helper is with us, doing just that. I really don’t know how many people will make it to the end of this article, but thank you for reading and I pray that you would know God’s blessing in your life however you are feeling right now, whether the way ahead looks clear or is hidden from you. We can trust Him more than we will ever know.

Glorious News from a Graveyard

A few days ago I wrote about the darkest day, as the Son of Man hung upon a cross, torn and beaten and deserted by His friends. Now I write about a risen Saviour who did not stay in the grave, but was raised back to life in power and victory.

We all need hope, don’t we? Without it, we struggle to keep going. We become despondent and despairing, feeling the darkness closing in. At the time of Jesus’ death and burial, His friends had lost hope. They had heard Him say that He would be tortured and killed, AND that He would be raised to life again. According to Luke’s gospel this was now the third time that He had told His disciples what was going to happen:

“And taking the twelve, He said to them, “See, we are going to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spat upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.“” Luke 18:31 – 33

However they just didn’t get what was being said to them:

“But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” Luke 18:34

It is no wonder then that we find the disciples hiding away after the crucifixion, and it is the women who loved Jesus and followed Him closely who go to the grave and discover what has happened. They went to anoint His body with spices and ensure that all was dealt with well. When they reached the grave, they were shocked to find that the body of Jesus was missing. Angels appeared to them and one of them spoke, saying “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5b).

If we go to tend to a loved one’s grave, we are not expecting to find an empty grave. We can try to imagine the women’s feelings at this point. They had not grasped Jesus’ words to them about His own resurrection, so the angel reminded them. Then they did recall His words and it must have started falling into place for them. They went and told the disciples, who didn’t believe it at all. Only Peter, the one who had denied ever knowing Jesus, went to inspect the grave for himself (Luke 24:12) and “went home marvelling at what had happened”.

You might think, well that was all very well for the people back then in His own time, but what does this mean for me today in the 21st century? Why does Jesus’ resurrection from the dead mean hope for me today? What it means is that Jesus was and is who He claimed to be. He did die a cruel death and rise on the third day, just as had been spoken earlier. His body has never been found to this day. Anyone who wanted to show that Christianity is a myth would only have to produce the body of Jesus to put a stop to it, yet none has ever been found. I’m sure the Romans wanted to put an end to it, the way that they persecuted the early church, yet Christianity spread and grew and continues to spread to this day. The Bible records many accounts of eye witnesses to His bodily resurrection (see the gospel accounts and 1 Cor 15:5 – 8). Paul even writes that if the resurrection did not happen,

“..then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins….If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied”. 1 Cor 15:14, 17, 19

If Jesus is now risen and ascended, that means that His words about life after death can be trusted, and that there is an eternal home for those who will believe in Him. There is forgiveness for sin and hope beyond this life. Some things here will never be right and may always be challenging, but in the age to come all things will be made right and we will rejoice with Him who made an end of all our sin and of its consequences.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.” John 14:1 – 3

The Darkest Day

For some of us there have been some very dark days over the last year. Whether that has been as a result of losing a loved one, or the delay of a much needed operation, or the loss of regular patterns of life, it has been a dark year for many.

Today we consider the darkness that Jesus Christ willingly went through in order to bring salvation for many. He was falsely accused, whipped and beaten, rejected by those to whom He had come and suffered the pain and isolation of separation from His Father. He died a cruel and painful death upon the cross. This was truly the darkest day for Jesus and it revealed the darkness at the heart of humanity, who willingly put to death the Light of the world.

Jesus had spoken to His disciples about the suffering He would endure, but they didn’t get it. They all fled when He was arrested and put to death. For the disciples it seemed that all hope was gone. We can feel like that too at dark times in our lives. It certainly looked like Jesus had lost and that He wasn’t the Messiah who the disciples were expecting Him to be.

Jesus had said earlier in His ministry that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). He Himself was that Seed, the One who would crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15) and through this death bring many others to glory. “..for the joy that was set before Him” of saving sinful people like us like us He “endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Heb 12:2). It didn’t seem that way at this point in time, but the cross meant that Satan was now a defeated enemy.

What does this mean for us in our lives today? Jesus has died and suffered the consequences of our sin. He, the sinless Lamb of God, has taken upon Himself the suffering that we deserve. All of us know that we are not perfect, that we have at times wounded other people with the words of our mouths and our thoughtless actions. Jesus’ death on the cross means that if we repent and ask God’s forgiveness, we will be heard and the new life of this Seed will be formed within us. We will no longer have to live in fear of being “found out”. We will instead have the assurance of Jesus’ love and forgiveness, His presence with us at all times, and be able to look forward to the new life of the world to come.

This was the darkest day, but praise God that this wasn’t the end of the story.

Deep Frustration!

I don’t know how you are feeling, but I am feeling a deep sense of frustration at not being able to live normally and move on in my life. In many ways things are much easier for me than they will be for others, but still I am finding it difficult. I can only begin to imagine how hard things are for some at this difficult time of lockdown and uncertainty.

I went for a walk to try and feel that at least I had done something today and to try and ease the pressure I was feeling inside. I’m talking about the type of pressure that comes from trying to get a six foot 15 year old son to get up off his bed and do something! Deep frustration ensued! Anyway, while I was on my walk I was thinking about what the Bible has to say about these things, times when all you can identify is a strong feeling of unease or annoyance, but it’s hard to get out all the things that are causing it. In my mind I settled on Romans 8:25 –

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

That’s how I have felt today, really. A lot of groanings inside, but difficult to identify all of it except that it feels like a big ball of frustration! It comforted me to know that even if I can’t get it all out, the Spirit knows and is interceding for me. We are living in an imperfect world where for the time being we will experience frustration to different degrees.

A few verses before the one above, Paul had been describing the current condition of all creation as it groans as if in childbirth waiting for the new creation. Paul includes us in that sentiment, saying that “we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (v23). Perhaps most encouragingly back in verse 18 he states:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.”

This life is not what it was created to be. We will always experience frustration in one way or another, Covid or no Covid, but even if we don’t feel like it at present, we can praise God that our Christian hope is real and certain and that even in the depths of our hearts He hears us and is attentive to our innermost groanings.

No-One Can “Cancel” Christmas

I’m sure we can all agree that 2020 has been a year of difficulty and pain for many people. It isn’t one that most of us will look back on with fondness, and perhaps it’s one that we are looking forward to seeing the back of.

Many people in the UK were looking forward to having a few days at Christmas with family or loved ones, but as the days have gone on stricter restrictions have been placed on our gatherings. At first, it was that up to three households could meet together for five days over Christmas, running from the 23rd to the 28th. Then there were statements issued that we must have a “merry little Christmas”, with “little” being the main point. Then yesterday large parts of the south east were placed into tighter Tier 4 restrictions, meaning that no-one from those areas is meant to leave their homes to travel and see family in other parts of the country. For those of us who can still move around a bit, family gatherings have been restricted to one day only, Christmas day itself.

The media have taken to saying that the government has “cancelled” Christmas. It may be that for many of us, Christmas will not be what it usually is, and there will be sadness about that. But the government can never take away the true meaning of Christmas. Whatever our circumstances, whether we find ourselves in want and need at this time, or in plenty; whether we are suffering ill health, or are well, the true Light of Christmas will never be extinguished.

Jesus Christ was not born into wealth or privilege. He wasn’t born into plenty, he was born into poverty. The political situation at the time was not good. Rome was occupying Israel; things were pretty bleak. Into this barren landscape the Saviour of the world was born. He didn’t come to a palace, he came to a lowly stable, being laid in a manger by his young teenage mother, Mary.

Jesus’ birth brought joy, though, real and lasting joy. We read in Luke 2 of the angels who visited the shepherds that night. It was probably just a normal night for them, watching over the sheep, and then “an angel of the Lord appeared to them”. They were terrified, yet the angel told them not to fear.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (v10, 11)

This was not an exclusive message that was only for a few chosen people, this was inclusive, for everyone. After the angel had shared this message a great throng of angels filled the sky praising God, saying:

"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those 
with whom He is pleased!"

God was pleased to send His Son into our broken and needy world so that people like us might experience the hope and joy of sins forgiven even in the midst of pain and suffering. This present world and all its struggles are not the end of the story. There is so much more!

In John 1, the writer introduces Jesus to us as the true Light.

“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (v5)

“The true Light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (v9)

This is the true Light of Jesus Christ which the shepherds witnessed that night as they went to see Him for themselves. They were so overjoyed to have found the Light that they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20).

So, in these days, as the media tells us that Christmas has been “cancelled”, and we feel the darkness of the pandemic, look to the Lord Himself who loved us so much that He entered our world as a tiny, helpless baby. He brings lasting joy, and gives us a peace that no circumstances can destroy. He is our Light in the darkness which no darkness can extinguish.

With every blessing to you and your families, whatever your circumstances this day. May you know the Light of His presence at this Christmas time and into the future.

“Fear Not”

This year has been a difficult time for many people around the world. For those of us who live in the Western nations, the shock of the Covid and all the attendant restrictions on our lives and businesses has been tough to take. We generally live in peaceful societies with functioning governments and have not been used to difficulties on this scale in many years. There is also the sense that worse is to come in terms of the growth in unemployment and all the problems that go along with that.

Two weeks ago on a Bible course I’m doing we were given Isaiah 41:10 to memorize:

Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, 
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

I have needed that these past few weeks! Where I live, Covid restrictions are soon to be tightened. Who knows how long that will go on for or what it will mean for the local economy. Hospitals are said to be seeing an increase in patients. Infection rates are growing. Where am I to look in times like this? This verse points me to God Himself, through Jesus Christ my Lord and Saviour. When we put our trust in Jesus, He never leaves us and He is always with us, both within and by our side.

'...He has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."  So we can confidently say,
"The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
What can man do to me?"'

Hebrews 13:5b, 6 

Last week a friend sent me a text saying he was fed up of the current restrictions and he just wanted things to go back to normal. He asked me when I thought they would get better. Of course I had to tell him that I have no idea, but I was able to point him to the Lord, the One who does indeed know all things. I shared the memory verse with him.

During this past week my mother-in-law was taken ill and sadly died. It was all very quick. This time last week my husband and daughter had gone to visit her and sit in her garden. Everything seemed as normal; she appeared to be well and her usual self. The next day my brother-in-law went to her house after lunch and saw that the curtains were all closed and realised she hadn’t got up that day. He called my husband and they both went there together, going in and finding her on the floor of her bedroom. She had been sick overnight and was too weak to get back into bed. They waited four hours for an ambulance to come, and when she got to hospital they thought she just had an infection. Antibiotics were given, but her body failed to respond. Two days later she died.

While she was in the hospital, I passed on the memory verse to my husband and he was able to share it with his Mum. I do not know if she knew the Lord as her own Friend and Saviour, but many prayers were said for her over the years and I prayed that this verse would even then prompt her to turn to the Lord.

The next day I sent a message to a friend whose own mother is very ill and only has a short time left here. Once again the memory verse came in useful, and I was able to share it with her.

In these uncertain times we need an anchor for our souls, something to base our lives on that is solid and immovable, which won’t let us down or fail us. I propose to you, whoever you are reading this today, that this anchor is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. None of us knows what the future holds; we aren’t guaranteed easy lives here and some of us will know mostly trouble in these earthly lives. If we look at the world around us there are only temporary fixes on offer.

Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3). He bore our griefs and our sorrows upon the cross, taking the penalty for all of our wrong thoughts, words and deeds so that we might be at peace with God Himself. There is such love there in that act, love for you and for me, all so that we might have that eternal security and be partakers of His glory. When we have trusted Him, we can know the blessing of that promise in our own lives, whatever circumstances we are facing today:

“fear not, for I am with you”.

Plans That Come to Nought

This time and season we’re living through wasn’t on the average person’s radar at the beginning of the year. Many of us will have had plans and thoughts of what we wanted to accomplish over this year, only to find that these plans have had to be delayed or abandoned permanently.

At the beginning of the year, I decided to start a computer course which I hoped would help me to get a part-time admin job. After being based at home for 20 years, I hoped that this would be the start of a new chapter of my life. However, now this seems more of a distant dream than an actual reality. With so many people looking for jobs now and in the coming months, employers will have their pick of talented people to fill their vacancies, and someone who’s stayed at home for a long time, even doing useful things, might not be at the top of their list.

A short time ago, a friend reminded me of God’s words in the book of James:

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that”.” James 4:13 – 15

The world encourages us to think that we are the masters of our own destiny, that whatever we want, we can get with the right amount of determination and effort. The world is our oyster, as the saying goes. We can become arrogant, thinking that everything we have and do is all down to us, to our own self-effort and skill. Those who haven’t done as well, we might look down on. They either had a bad start in life, or they just didn’t make the most of their talents. It doesn’t take a lot to remind us that we actually have very little control over the circumstances of life. This time, it’s a tiny, microscopic virus that has changed so much about our daily lives. Other times, it might be a freak accident that no-one could have foreseen, or a phone call that brings devastating news that we would never have expected in a million years.

The passage above makes clear that we aren’t the ones who are in the driving seat of our lives. Yes, we make plans, but whether they happen or not is in the Lord’s hand, not ours. We are subject to Him, not the other way around.

We don’t control where we are born; we don’t control who our parents are, or our genetic make-up. We don’t control when we were born, either. Sometimes when I look around I wonder if I would have been happier being born earlier on in history, but yet here I am now! Having said that, I’m glad for the advances in modern technology and hygiene that we have at this stage in world history!

In the book of Acts, the apostle Paul arrived in Athens to discover a multitude of idols which moved him to speak to the local people (Ch 17:16f). They had one altar labelled as being to “the unknown god”. Paul spoke to them of the greatness of this creator God, and described how He had “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God…and find Him”. This God is not an impersonal being, because He is “not far from each one of us”. It is “in Him” that we “live and move and have our being”.

Nothing is random about our lives. Even these world events which have changed so much for so many are woven into God’s sovereign plan. Times like this force us to look at our own mortality. At many times through history, life has been threatened by illness, war, famine and drought. In the Western world, we have been cocooned from some of these disasters and have probably become complacent as a result, thinking nothing like this could happen to us. Other people in different parts of the world face the reality of human mortality on a daily basis. Perhaps this is a time when God is speaking to us through His megaphone, as C S Lewis once put it, drawing our attention away from ourselves and towards Him. None of us can know what tomorrow will bring, but there is a God who loves us and gave Himself for us who never will change and is the Author and Sustainer of the whole of human history. Security is not to be found in our earthly riches, or our intellect, our career or even our family. Real and lasting security is only to be found in Him.

We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour's love

Priscilla J Owens

Prayer – The Spiritual Battleground

I don’t know about you, but prayer can seem to be such a battle some days. Over this lockdown period, I have had more time. More time you might think to come to God in prayer, to really engage with Him and seek His face. Yet I’ve found that it has been tough, a struggle even to begin to pray in a meaningful way.

In the Bible, we see the disciples struggling to stay awake to pray for Jesus and for themselves at the darkest time of His life. Jesus and His disciples had gone to the garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:36 – 46) where Jesus would soon be betrayed by Judas and led away by soldiers to be falsely accused and condemned to death on the cross. He knew what was coming and pleaded with His heavenly Father to take this dark path away from Him, yet ultimately He would do His Father’s will (v39, 42). Peter, James and John were with Jesus and He told them just how bad He was feeling (v37). If ever He needed His earthly friends it was now! However, as He prayed in deep anguish of soul, the disciples fell asleep! This happened not just once, but three times altogether (v40, 43 & 45). Then it was too late; His hour had come (v45, 46).

When I was younger I used to read passages like this in a judgmental way; how could the disciples give in like that? Now I can’t think like that because I realise more my own weakness. When I have time on my hands, what am I more likely to do? Pray or scroll through various things on my phone? Pray or play silly games on my phone? I’m afraid that more often than not it’s doing the silly, trivial things that takes precedence over the spiritual.

No doubt the disciples at this stage were exhausted and their tiredness was overwhelming. Mostly I don’t even have that excuse! Other times I begin to pray and then my mind wanders onto other things – have I got such-and-such out of the freezer for tea? Oh, I need to put on a dark wash. It’s quite embarrassing, but all these things happen on a regular basis.

Of course, the enemy of our souls doesn’t want to see us in prayer. He knows that prayer is powerful and that the God we come to is all-powerful, yet interested in the affairs of our lives. He would have us distracted by many things, amused by the trivial instead of focused on the eternal. I feel disappointed in myself for not using this time more productively. I think it is harder to decide to sit down and pray than keeping going once I have started.

There is encouragement in God’s word for those times when we come to Him and just don’t know what to say.

“..the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26

“For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in times of need.” Hebrews 4:15, 16

We can come to Him knowing that He knows everything there is to know about us, all our motives, fears and longings. He knows the sin in our hearts, the things we’d rather push to one side. We come humbly knowing what it cost for us to be made right with Him, yet deeply thankful that He was willing to pay that price for sinners such as ourselves. We come knowing that our battle is not “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). He Himself will give us the words to say and enable us to keep going. Let’s put down our phones, switch off the TV, go to a quiet place and speak to Him in prayer. We’ll be glad that we did!

Lockdown Blues

How are you coping in this strange time of “lockown”? I know different countries have handled the coronavirus outbreak in different ways. Many have shut down some of their normal activities until the levels of infection are under control. Others, such as Sweden, have had a more relaxed approach keeping most things open and allowing their citizens to go about more or less as normal.

Here in the UK the lockdown continues, albeit we’ve been told we can go out now more than once a day for exercise. Schools are being told to prepare to open their gates again on June 1st after the half term holiday, but only for certain year groups. Many teachers, parents and teaching unions have expressed their reservations about these plans, being worried about the risks involved. On the other hand, businesses are getting desperate to open up again fearing the effects of a long lasting economic downturn. I don’t know how long the whole thing will go on. It seems like social distancing is here to stay for the forseeable future.

For me, each day is starting to feel like groundhog day. I do the same sorts of things every day, I walk around similar routes, changing it up a bit to add a little interest. My hair is starting to look a mess and I will be glad when the hairdresser can open up again!

Having more time is not always a good thing. For someone like me, it means more time to think, and thinking often leads me to dwell on difficult or dark subject matter. As a Christian, I continue to read God’s word and to pray, but perhaps there are not enough distractions throughout the day to keep my mind still. A few weeks ago my mind was like a raging torrent, and I felt like I was drowning in all the thoughts. I knew I needed some help to cope with that.

A book which my brother once bought me came to mind, by David Powlison. It’s called “Seeing With New Eyes – Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture”. I remembered that this book had proved helpful in the past, and I wasn’t disappointed this time, either. Chapter 4 is called “Peace, Be Still: Psam 131” and goes through each line of that Psalm encouraging us to trust in the Lord rather than trying to work everything out for ourselves. The Psalmist had learned to compose and quieten his soul just like a weaned child on his mother (v2).

When I get stuck thinking about difficult things, it can sometimes feel impossible to get onto the “dry land” of peace and quiet. I had to cry out to Jesus, just as the disciples did in the storm on the lake, and ask him to save me. Thankfully, He answered my prayer and through studying this Psalm and reading the book I was able to return to a much calmer state of mind.

I hope that you too may know His peace and calm within your souls at this uncertain time.

Oh LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and marvellous for me.
But I have calmed and quietened my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Oh Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and for evermore.

Psalm 131

The Divine Seeker

How have you been feeling at this time? I have had mixed feelings. There has been some anxiety about what’s going on and also discouragement about the perceived failure of certain projects. There is uncertainty about the future and what it will look like. On the other hand, there have been good times, with bright, sunny weather when it has felt more like a big holiday than anything else.

Today in my Bible reading I looked at Matthew 13:44 – 46. These verses describe two people both seeking after items of great value. In the first story, a man found treasure in a field, and in the second a merchant sought and found a pearl of great price. Both men sold everything they had in order to buy these items of great value.

When I was young, it was always explained to me that the “seekers” in these stories represented Christians seeking after God, and when they had found him they gave up everything they had in order to belong to His kingdom.

However, some years ago I was at a Bible study going through Matthew’s gospel. One of the questions about this passage asked us to consider that the man and the merchant were in fact the Lord Jesus Christ. At first, it seemed strange to think about it in those terms having always thought of it the other way around. I thought deeply about this, and asked myself what I had given up in my search for Jesus. Had I sold everything I had, like the two men in these stories? Had all the cost really been on my side?

I considered the Lord Jesus. What had He given up in His earthly mission to save souls, including my own? Why, He had left the glory of heaven to come down to this tear-stained world and sacrifice all that He ever had and who He was for the salvation of many. I tried to imagine what it would be like to do that – of course it’s hard for human minds to conceive of the great glory that Jesus gave up for us. In John 17, He speaks about the glory that He’d left behind:

“And now, Father, glorify me in Your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed.” (v5)

Jesus was about to be crucified on a cruel Roman cross, all to save sinners like us. He truly had given up everything for us.

What about the second part of these parables, the treasure and the pearl of great price? At first I couldn’t conceive of myself as being so valuable as these things. But God spoke to me powerfully, so much so that I sobbed and sobbed thinking of all that He had given up for me and how much He loved me.

In Deuteronomy 7, God spoke to the Israelites about their value to Him. He was leading them into the Promised Land and He had a special love for His people above all other peoples on the earth.

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (v6)

Zephaniah 3:17 speaks of the Lord’s love for and joy in His people:

"The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty One who will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness;
He will quiet you by His love;
He will exult over you with loud singing."

I grew up not really believing that the Lord loved me, even though I had recognised Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was for me. I somehow couldn’t accept that I was loved like that. These verses show the Lord’s fierce and protective love for His people. How could I not accept the validity of His love for me?

In the New Testament, Ephesians 1 describes the great love and the lavish gifts which God has given to His people. This is such a wonderful passage to think over at times of discouragement and doubt.

“..He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ..” (v4, 5)

Even before the very existence of this world, the Lord had set His love upon us. He gave up glory and all that went with it to seek out sinners like you and me. We can’t make sense of it all, but we also can’t ignore these passages about His deep love for us. This song came into my mind as I thought about this passage again and all that Jesus left behind for our sake, when He came to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

You laid aside Your majesty, gave up everything for me,
Suffered at the hands, of those You had created.
You took all my guilt and shame, when You died and rose again,
Now today You reign, in heaven and earth exalted!
I really want to worship You my Lord, 
You have won my heart and I am Yours
Forever and ever, I will love You!
You are the only One who died for me,
Gave Your life to set me free,
So I lift my voice to You in adoration!

Noel Richards