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

Hope in the Face of Death

At the moment the whole world is in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic. The news is full of it, the papers are full of it, the internet is full of it. There’s no escaping it. Governments have shut down much of society in a bid to stop the virus spreading. Health systems are buckling under the strain. Some men and women are losing their lives from this virus.

Perhaps what this virus has done for us, particularly in the West, is to bring people face to face with their own mortality. It’s said that in some countries, including our own, there simply aren’t enough ventilators to go around, so difficult and stark choices will have to be made about who gets these machines, and who doesn’t.

Here in Britain, we have enjoyed a long period of protection from deadly diseases. That’s not to say they aren’t out there, just that we’ve had the medicines or access to health care which mean they aren’t a problem. This means we go about our lives as if we’re going to keep on living forever. We expect that when we’re ill, there will be treatments for us, and that generally we will get better. Death is something far off in the future, when we’re very old and have lived a long and fulfilling life.

Now people are scared. Perhaps not for themselves, but for loved ones and friends who fall into more vulnerable categories. Many people will of course have the virus and get better, but we tend to focus on those figures which come out daily of the numbers of those who are infected and those who have sadly died.

When Jesus was ministering, He often healed the sick and showed compassion towards the suffering. However, Jesus’ main focus and reason for being here was not to heal people of all their physical ailments. When the angel appeared to Joseph to tell him about the baby that Mary would have, he said to him:

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matt 1:21

This indicates that Jesus’ purpose was much more than to be a miracle maker, a fine teacher and a kindly man. He came to give up His life so that sinful men and women might enjoy abundant, everlasting life. There is so much we could say about sin, what it is, where it has come from, but I think we all recognise deep in our heart of hearts that we’re not perfect and we don’t always do what we ought to do. In fact, speaking for myself (and maybe you too), I can be downright selfish. And lazy, uncaring, envious, etc. I don’t want anyone to tell me what to do, I just want to do what I want to do.

This is what the Bible calls “sin”. Appropriately enough, the word even has the letter “I” right in the middle. Why did Jesus want to save us from this? Couldn’t He just have left us to get on with it, since for the large part people are happy to ignore God? The Bible teaches that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). Facing death without Christ is surely worse than this virus.

Nowadays it doesn’t seem fashionable to mention the word “hell”. Jesus spoke often about the reality of an eternal state of darkness and suffering (eg Mark 9:43, 48; Matt 13:42; Luke 16:19 – 31; Matt 25:30). In fact, He spoke more about hell than He did about heaven. Are we to reject this teaching of Jesus and only consider the much more palatable teaching about heaven?

Without acknowledging that such a place exists, and that in fact it is the default destination of everyone apart from Christ, we can never fully appreciate why the gospel is such good news. The second part of Rom 6:23 says:

“..but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Jesus showed so much compassion when He left the glory of heaven and came into our messy and sinful world, in order to give His life on the cross to save people from an eternity without Him in utter darkness. He didn’t have to do that, but He did.

“For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom 5:7 – 8

Knowing Jesus’ forgiveness of our sins and His loving presence in our lives means that we no longer have to live in fear of death. Unless the Lord returns first, one day we will all die. For some that day will come sooner than for others, but still the outcome will be the same. Do you have faith in Jesus and have you trusted in His sacrifice for you? If you have trusted Him as your Saviour and King, you don’t have to be afraid of what this coronavirus may mean for you. I’m sure ideally none of us wants to fall victim to this virus and we pray that a vaccine will soon be developed, but to know Jesus as our loving Saviour means we will never be alone, and even as we face the final enemy of death, He will hold our hand and lead us safely home.

"No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the pow'r of Christ in me
From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand,
'Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the pow'r of Christ I'll stand"


Try the UP Look!

I don’t know what sort of a week you’ve had. In many ways I am very well and have had a week filled with the usual highs and lows you might expect – when I say “highs and lows” I don’t mean the earth-shattering types of things, more run of the mill things! I have struggled, though, with a sense of my own inadequacy which if left to fester would lead me to retreat from the world and stay here at home. When I was considering what to write about this week, a chorus came to mind that we used to sing when I was a child at church:

"When the road is rough and steep
Fix your eyes upon Jesus;
He alone has power to keep
Fix your eyes upon Him.
Jesus is a faithful Friend,
One on whom we can depend.
He will keep you 'til the end,
Fix your eyes upon Him!"

Norman John Clayton

Mostly in life, the struggles that I face are not dramatic things that hit hard and cause intense pain, but are rather dealing with the failures I see in myself and how that impacts those around me, and people and circumstances in my life. When I think of the chorus above, it encourages me to keep going and look to Jesus rather than turning my gaze inwards and becoming thoroughly miserable about what I find there.

Another chorus which came to mind earlier in the week was this one:

"When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Saviour died
My guilty soul is counted free
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me."

C Bancroft

This song reminds me to look to the finished work of Christ upon the cross rather than to the sin within. The devil wants us as believers to become so bogged down in our own sin and the problems of our lives that we lose sight of our true state before God, as forgiven by Him and made righteous through the shed blood of Christ. He wants us to lose hope and give up. At times I have felt like that myself, but the Lord has graciously brought me back to His word and the truth which is found there.

Over the years I have had the privilege of attending numerous Bible studies. One of my Bible teachers was great at pithy one-liners! One thing that she said which has stayed with me was this:


All of us need reminding of this when we are distracted by circumstances or our own struggles with sin. Jesus isn’t finished with us yet; the Bible tells us in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Choose to look up today, trusting Him and believing in His promises; He won’t let us down.

Naomi – from brokenness to blessing

We meet Naomi in the short Old Testament book of Ruth. Here is a woman who has lost everything. We read that she and her husband Elimilech and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion moved away from Bethlehem in Judah to Moab to escape the famine that was ravaging their homeland. It was a time when no-one was in charge of God’s people; the last verse of the book of Judges says,

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”

So not only was it a time of physical hardship, but spiritual darkness too.

In the course of time, her two sons married Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth. Tragedy struck, not once or twice but three times. Naomi was left a widow and both her sons died. Hearing that there was now food back in Bethlehem, she returned there with her loyal daughter-in-law, Ruth. Upon meeting the women of the town she declared,

“Do not call me Naomi [which means ‘pleasant’]; call me Mara [meaning ‘bitter’] for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty.”

Not many of us will ever know the tragedy that Naomi faced, but how many of us have felt despairing of life? How many of us have felt empty and bitter because of life’s circumstances? Perhaps we can’t understand why God has allowed these difficulties into our lives. Maybe we are angry with Him for the way things are shaping up, which are not at all how we envisaged our lives to be.

There is good news. Over the coming chapters there is a sea-change in Naomi’s circumstances and her state of mind. In Chapter 2 Ruth goes to glean in a man’s field and this happens to be a relative of Elimelech named Boaz. He proves himself to be a godly and a caring man, treating Ruth well and watching out for her. Naomi’s heart is encouraged by God’s provision through this man and she declares,

“May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!”

She sees that despite all that she has suffered, God is still kind and still cares for her. She recognises that Boaz is one of their “redeemers” who may be able to buy back her husband’s land and ensure that his line continues. Naomi becomes something of a match-maker, recognising the value of a match between Ruth and Boaz. She comes up with a plan for Ruth to show Boaz that she is interested in being redeemed by him, which Ruth carries out to the letter.

After meeting with another relative who could have redeemed both Ruth and the land before him, Boaz is free to redeem her himself. He married Ruth and she gave birth to Obed, who would be the grandfather of King David. The women who had barely recognised Naomi at the beginning when she was deep in grief now rise up and bless the Lord…

…who has not left you this day without a redeemer and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law , who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”

Naomi, having lost everything, now nurses her grandson and holds him on her lap! Could she have ever believed that God would bless her in such a way on her return to Bethlehem, bowed down with grief, calling herself Mara instead of Naomi?

What of us? Some of us are in difficult circumstances that may never change. Naomi remained a widow and continued to suffer the loss of her sons, but she found that there is always hope with the Lord. He had not forgotten her, and neither has He forgotten us. Jesus came to be our Redeemer, paying the price for the things we do wrong. The Bible repeatedly tells us that He will never leave us nor forsake us, despite how we may sometimes feel. (See Hebrews Ch 13 v 5-6)

In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, we read how Christian and his companion Hopeful are captured by Giant Despair and locked away in his dungeon. They are overcome by misery and they can only think of death as being a welcome relief compared to staying in that stinking dungeon for the rest of their days. After some time, they spend a night in prayer and it suddenly comes to Christian’s remembrance that he has a key called Promise that will open any lock in Doubting Castle. He feels foolish for forgetting this, and swiftly they use the key and are able to make their escape. When we find ourselves despairing of life and fearful of the future, we can turn to the true and faithful promises of His word. Naomi saw the fulfilment of promise in the birth of Obed, representing the continuance of the Messiah’s line. (See Matthew Ch 1)

Jesus promises that He has gone to prepare a place for us who believe.

“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 Ch 14 v3

Our eternal future is secure; we can cope with this life by His grace and through His Spirit.