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.


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.

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!

Thank You

I just wanted to write a more personal post today thanking everyone who reads this blog or who has specifically “followed” it over the past few weeks or months. I am really grateful to those of you who have read it, “liked” it and commented on it. In life it’s easy to look at those things we don’t have rather than to be thankful for what we do have. I think the devil wants us to look at the absences and gaps in our lives rather than developing a “gratitude attitude” for all those things we have been blessed with.

Starting this blog has been a bit of a learning curve for me because I’ve never been on any social media or thing like this before. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with computers because in past experience the computer has always failed me at key moments! It might have started with the time I was doing some A-level coursework on a lap top at my Mum and Dad’s house and the computer crashed and lost everything not long before it had to be handed in! Even over these last few months when I have come to write my post there have been times when it just hasn’t worked for one reason or another. It’s great when it does work, deeply frustrating when it doesn’t!

This week I have been writing a talk for my Bible course tomorrow night and it’s been about Joseph’s time in prison. I know I touched on that in a post a few weeks ago. I love the story of how God kept Joseph whilst he was in prison and used him there, developing the skills he would need when he came out and rose to be prime minister of Egypt. Of course Joseph had no idea what was happening; all he knew was that he had been wrongly accused of rape and locked up in a “pit” having been sold into slavery by his own brothers. (Read the story in Genesis 39 – 40).

What struck me reading it and thinking about it this time was that although Joseph was suffering himself, he didn’t allow that to get in the way of his care and concern for others. When the cupbearer and baker were troubled by their dreams, Joseph noticed. He wasn’t full of self-pity and completely shut off to the needs of those around him. This made me think about how we can survive the “prisons” of our own lives. One thing I thought of and also happened to read about this past week was the importance of having a “gratitude attitude”.

I read an article in this month’s Premier Christianity magazine called “Dying Well”. The article was written by a Christian intensive care doctor, and included the following quote from a book by Ruth van den Broek, a young Christian woman facing a life-threatening illness:

“When it comes to dying well, gratitude has been one of the most transformative things for me. Gratitude for my body despite its brokenness, for my medical team despite their limits, for the decay of my lungs because it makes me notice and appreciate most of my waking breaths. A while back I started praying before I took medications, the way I do before food: ‘Lord, thank you for these medications and for the people who invented, prescribed and prepared them.’ I began to see them as the blessings they are. Gratitude has changed so much for me, even though I’m still not great at it.”

I was challenged by that to think that if this lady in her situation could learn to be thankful, then how much more can I? God commands us to be thankful in His word, and even if that doesn’t come naturally to us, it pays dividends.

“..give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thess. 5:18

So to finish, thank you, all of you, for the encouragement you have brought to me. It makes it all seem worthwhile to think that even one person has been encouraged or helped by something I’ve written.

Paul’s “Thorn in the Flesh” and the Grace of God

Paul had a painful problem that he asked God to take away, not once, not twice, but three times. No one is exactly sure what this problem was, whether it was physical, mental, emotional or relational, but what we do know is that it caused Paul considerable distress. You don’t plead with God to take something away unless it’s causing a lot of pain or difficulty. Paul even goes so far as to describe this “thorn” as a “messenger of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7).

What thorns are there in your life? Perhaps it is an ongoing physical problem from which there is little relief. Maybe it is a difficult home life which causes considerable emotional distress, but because you honour the Lord you choose to stay. Could it be the pain of mental illness and the anguish that this causes? There are so many things that cause us pain in this life.

Often we don’t know why these problems have come our way. We might spend a lot of time asking “why?” only to find the silence deafening. How was Paul able to go on despite the thorn that caused him so much distress? After pleading with the Lord to take it away, He said to Paul:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

There are many Bible characters who suffered unjustly. Think of Joseph back in Genesis 39-40. Sold into slavery by his own brothers, he was then falsely accused of rape by his master’s wife and languished in a prison cell for many years. In his darker moments he must have feared that he would never get out of that prison, and imagine his distress when the cupbearer whose dream he had interpreted forgot all about him for two whole years! Yet in all that time the Lord never left Joseph. In fact He was with him and “showed him steadfast love”, giving him favour in the eyes of first Potiphar and then the prison keeper.

Throughout that time God was preparing Joseph for his future role as second only to Pharaoh in all of Egypt. The Lord had trained Joseph in administration and management during his time with Potiphar and then in prison so that he had the skills to handle the distribution of food during seven years of famine. On being reunited with the brothers who had once hated him and sold him, Joseph was able to say to them;

“As for you, you meant evil against me but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Gen 50:20

Consider the persecution of the early church. Christians were raced around Roman amphitheatres on the wheels of chariots; they were set alight; they were fed to wild animals all for the entertainment of Caesar and his rich friends. What was the overall result of this terrible suffering? The Gospel spread and eventually came to people like us. Was it nice or comfortable for those Christians who experienced that suffering? Not in any imaginable way, but when they gave their lives and were martyred for their faith, they gained Heaven itself and the imminent presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

When we are seeking to follow Jesus and become more Christ-like, He may choose to put us in a difficult situation in order to develop the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Think about your life; have you learned the most in times of ease and comfort, or in difficulties and heartache?

“When we ask to be conformed to the image of Christ and to bear the fruit of the Spirit, we should not be surprised when God gives us the opportunity to exercise those Spirit-given gifts. What good is patience if we do not exercise it? What good is love if we do not, especially in the face of hatred and anger, show it to others? How are we to grow in our faith unless we are challenged, brought to an end of ourselves, and cry out to Christ for His grace? It is often the case that the trials and struggles of life are the crucible in which God conforms us to the holy image of His Son. The trials and struggles with sin are like the smelter’s fire where the Lord refines and purifies us, removing the dross of sin so that holiness and purity remain.” (J.V.Fesco, “The Fruit of the Spirit is…” p67-68)

What conclusion did Paul himself reach about his struggle with this “thorn in the flesh”?

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Cor 12:9b-11

Habakkuk’s Resolution

Do you ever feel despairing about the direction in which your nation is headed? Do you look at the moral and political situation and wonder how things got to this stage? That’s certainly where Habakkuk found himself thousands of years ago. The nation of Israel had turned away from worshiping the one true God and seemed lost to blind and mute idols. There was violence and suffering all around. Evil people seemed to prosper whilst innocent men and women suffered.

Habakkuk cried out to God hoping for an answer to this turbulent time, perhaps some peace, but instead God said He was going to raise up an even worse nation to come and fight the Israelites and bring about judgment on them! Maybe it seemed that things couldn’t get any worse, but this answer didn’t provide the hope Habakkuk was searching for.

Perhaps there are times in our lives when it seems that nothing else can go wrong – and then it does. There can be bad days, bad weeks, bad months or even bad years. We hope that something in our circumstances will change. We pray and ask God to bring deliverance or help, but we can’t see any answers to our prayers. The same difficulties just go on and on.

Where did Habakkuk go from here? After listening to God’s reasoning and proposed actions, Habakkuk remembered God’s character. He remembered the holiness of the Lord and prayed for the revival of His work in the midst of the years (Ch 3 v2). He asked the Lord to remember mercy in His wrath. Even as God prophesied judgment to come, he remembered the glory of the Lord and how the earth was filled with His praise (v3, 4).

Finally Habakkuk resolved to trust in the Lord and rejoice in His salvation whatever the outward circumstances around him were:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.” Ch 3 v17 & 18

He chose to look to the Sovereign Lord as his strength and to trust Him rather than his circumstances. Of course this isn’t an easy or natural thing for us to do. Sometimes we are consumed by the struggles that we face and looking to God is the last thing we feel like doing. It involves discipline and meditating on the character of God. There are often no answers for what we suffer here, but the character of God never changes.

We know that Jesus suffered intensely as our Lord and Saviour and sweat great drops of blood as the prospect of the cross overwhelmed Him (Luke Ch 22 v 41 – 44). He endured the agony of the cross to enable us who believe to one day live with Him in glory. He finished that work so that we know whatever we face here is only temporary and there is eternity to enjoy with Him. Remember and be encouraged by the old hymn which goes like this:

"Oh soul are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There's light for a look at the Saviour,
And life more abundant and free.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace."

Helen Howarth Lemmel (1863 - 1961)