My eyes are ever toward the Lord…

498240281I read a verse of scripture last night and couldn’t move past it:My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.” Psalm 25v15. I stopped as I finished the verse and pondered what it meant, what the psalmist implied in those two short breaths of worship. See, I’ve been encouraged lately to bring all things to God, to look to him for comfort, for guidance, for energy, for joy, the list goes on, as I don’t always fix my eyes on Him. Instead, I do the natural thing and lower my eyes to look at the path in front of me, believing the answers will just, you know, come.

 

It’s sensible really, in the eyes of the world, to look where you’re going. In London you’re lambasted for being away with the fairies for even a second, and woe betide you don’t have your Oyster Card in hand upon approaching the barriers to the tube. It’s funny then, to imagine someone, head tilted to the sky, wandering around in total confidence. Isn’t it? Surely it’s only a matter of time before he hits a lamppost or walks out in front of a bus. Well, I imagine David, the writer, wasn’t talking entirely literally when he wrote this, but I do think the principal is the same in terms of trust.

 

According to the Oxford Dictionary, trust is a ‘firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something’. If we trust in God, it means we have a firm belief that he is reliable, honest, willing and able, and is completely and utterly everything he says he is. To have that trust is a pretty massive thing, though I think many of us say we trust God, whilst somehow doubt gets the upper hand.

 

Now I’m not talking about doubting the existence of God, moreso the goodness and faithfulness of God. I wrote a post a while ago about how I’m sometimes scared to pray into what’s on my heart for damage limitation purposes, and I think that’s a clue to how the doubt is borne: through fear.

 

Now, most of us would agree that walking around without looking in front of you is a bad idea. The reason it’s a bad idea is for fear of something bad happening to you, right? ‘I’ll fall over, I’ll bump into someone, I’ll never find my way home’ etc. Now, what if you did the same thing, but with a good friend by your side who was actually looking where he or she was going? They didn’t drag you, but you followed their voice and their instructions, because you trusted that they were your friend and wouldn’t let you come to harm. That image seems a little less scary, doesn’t it? You’re not alone, you’re safe, and you trust your friend.

 

Jesus said: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

 

Jesus is our friend, and always wants what is best for us, so why do we doubt his leading?

 

What I’ve come to realise through my walk with the Lord, is that He really is The Good Shepherd. It’s easy to doubt that truth when things don’t go my way, or when I don’t really understand where I’m heading, but if I can just keep my eyes ever toward the Lord, the distractions of this world will pale into insignificance. I won’t even notice the billboards, the adverts, the tempting images of this culture, because I’ll be away with my Lord seeking what he has for me right here, right now. I won’t be lusting after the future, the whens of tomorrow, the ifs of next week. He really is my source of life, joy, guidance, blessing and all things good, and just as the psalmist writes, and most probably sang, he will pluck my feet out of the net. I won’t be caught like a fish and eaten for dinner, I won’t be trapped and chained by the world and its fleeting pleasures, I’ll swim freely in the ocean of his grace, love and mercy, and breathe in deeply his fresh, clean, life-giving air.

 

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
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Two days longer

“Now a certain man was ill” begins John chapter 11 in the New Testament. A funny way to begin a chapter of the bible really, but to the point I guess. It sets the scene for the verses to follow which illustrate the death and resurrection of Lazarus: Jesus’ beloved friend.
Now like John 11, I believe 2016 could well have begun with the same six words. The death of David Bowie shocked and saddened the nation and beyond. He had been ill with Cancer for a while, though I’m unsure how many people knew it. Bowie of course deserved the honour and recognition he received; I for one know my university days would not have been the same without the many Saturday night boogies to ‘Suffragette City’.
It’s interesting, then, that David Bowie’s last musical release was entitled ‘Lazarus’. Does this mean he’s coming back like Martha & Mary’s brother? Probably not in the same fashion as in John 11, but perhaps Bowie had glimpsed the hope that lies through the Wardrobe.
Now, the hope we have in Jesus is unending and true, his goodness and love for us overflowing, however in light of this, we find in John 11 we come to face a pretty difficult & rather controversial situation. Plainly, Jesus allows suffering, grief, confusion and bewilderment to ensue before he responds to a cry for help. Let’s have a read:

 

“So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” …Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” John 11v3,5&6

Jesus loved Lazarus, yet allowed him to die.

What to think of that hey? You might well regard it mean and, perhaps, a bit lazy on Jesus’ part. You might be inclined to imagine Jesus (upon hearing of his friend’s illness) reclining, arms stretched, yawning wide, using the excuse ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’. Has that ever been your response to a call for help? Can you help me unload the dishwasher? Can you help me clean the bathroom? Well, yes, you may well have done that (slapped wrist) but you’ve never sat on your laurels when someone you loved was dying, right? It’s somewhat inconceivable.

In my immediate human wisdom, I don’t understand. Here it’s clear that to trust in the Lord means to trust regardless of my own understanding. What I’ve explained is just the beginning of a miracle in which Jesus is in control and sovereign.

You see, nothing worries Jesus or stresses him out. He doesn’t need a glass of wine to unwind at the end of the day (although I’m sure he liked his Galilean Malbec) and he is ALWAYS good. So where is the treasure in this? Jesus tells us, after hearing about Lazarus’ illness, that “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” v4

There’s the carrot to keep us hopeful of a good outcome.

Jesus traveled to Judea to see Lazarus after prophesying to his disciples that Lazarus had fallen asleep (v11). It was time to go to Lazarus then because he had died, rather than going to him earlier when he was ill. A bit leftfield you might think:

“Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” John 11v17-22

It’s true what Martha says here, Lazarus would not have died had Jesus come earlier, and Martha would not have been grieving for 4 days with the Jews. However, throughout this whole devastating situation, it’s important to note that God never stopped loving that family, he never gave up on his plan and he was always in control. I know personally I’ve moaned at God with an ‘if only’. When my prayers haven’t been answered in the way I’ve wanted, I’ve moaned and groaned and told God of the opportunities he has missed. In these instances, in my view, God has missed a trick, and it has felt so obvious to me how God has failed to shoot in an open goal. Oh how I’ve been humbled when I’ve subsequently witnessed the plan B, which, really, was the plan A all along…

“Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him,” John 11v38-45 

Wow. Imagine being Martha or Mary. You’ve had over four days to process what has happened, and then suddenly your brother is alive and well. There’s no immediate mention of their reaction at the tomb, but in chapter 12 Mary pours a large bottle of perfume over Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. I’d like to think this is a complete surrender to his will and a sign of her devotion to Him, having been trained by the events of chapter 11. You see, Mary also said the same thing as Martha in verse 32: “Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” so her faith in his power was strong, although I imagine she was utterly confused about his timing and his good plan for the situation. In chapter 12, Mary has seen the purpose in God’s actions, and has humbly realised who and what is important.

I know often I don’t understand why things happen the way they do, or why I have to suffer hardships or difficulties. I am often more of a chapter 11 Mary: “Lord, If you had been here”, than the Mary of chapter 12. It’s not an easy lesson to learn, but I know that through my own trials and tribulations, confusion and pain, I’ve seen the glory of God more powerfully than when all is ripe and rosy. Someone once said to me that nobody ever learned their biggest lessons through the good times, and I wonder whether Jesus’ version of ‘good’ is rather a lot different to ours. There is still hope, even when all seems lost. There is ultimately still hope beyond the grave, but in the everyday, when your own plans don’t work out, we can trust that Jesus is still good, still sovereign, still in control, and working all things together for his good pleasure.

And finally, though rather importantly, the pain that Martha, Mary and not to mention Lazarus suffered served to bring many Jews to faith through Jesus’ miracle resurrection. If we can suffer whilst still trusting in God, if we can wait patiently in confusion, utter songs of joy through the pain, I know we will be growing and shaping into the kinds of Christians God wants us to be, and who knows who that might impact.