“But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph. He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive. At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight.” (Acts 7v17-20)
Two months ago I worked in a responsible fast-moving job managing complex workloads, wining and dining clients and hitting optimistic targets. My salary afforded me dinners in nice restaurants (as often as I so pleased), nice clothes in abundance and a well stocked fridge of avocados and cheese. I could save, I could fly, I could give and, in my ‘humble’ opinion, managed quite well.
Fast forward a few weeks and I’m in a new country, almost penniless, clutching a student card and trying to decide whether I can still justify buying smoked salmon on a weekly basis. It might not sound like I’m living the dream, but the Lord has called me to a new place, and right now I’m more privileged than ever to be learning about the God of the delay.
Jesus says: “Therefore, do not be anxious about your life…seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6v25&33)
If this is a command from the Lord, how marvellous it is to know that whilst my fridge is a little bare, and I’ve not yet been to Dublin’s ‘Ivy Cafe’, I can have peace amidst the uncertainty. I hesitate to even call it uncertainty, because, really, it depends on how you look at it.
Throughout my walk with Jesus I’ve been encouraged, and sometimes forced, to build my house on the rock (Matthew 7:24-27). I’ve realised that whilst the world around me is usually rather up and down, that is never the way with God. I can testify that in the 8 years I’ve known the Lord, he has never let me down or left me on my own, even when I don’t understand his ways, or comprehend his thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).
I’ve been pondering recently the story of Lazarus’ death in John 11. Oh how glorious is our God of the delay!
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “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.”
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.
When Jesus heard that his friend was ill, instead of rushing in to help, he stayed where he was, for two whole days. I wonder if I heard that a friend was struggling, would I wait two days to call her? I wonder if my friend asked me for help, would I put her on hold to finish what I was doing?
I love how in this passage it says that because Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus, he stayed where he was. He didn’t delay because he couldn’t be bothered, or because he was still trying to forgive them for something, or even because he was just a bit busy. He stayed where he was purposefully because he loved them. Jesus was entrusting to them a wonderful and powerful lesson. We can always, always, always, trust in the living God who loves us and has compassion on us, even when he seems to do the opposite to what we want or expect.
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.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” John 11:27
As the story moves on, we see that Jesus did, indeed, come. I realise as I wait for provision and ask Jesus to come and help me, I can be sure that he will come. It’s not for me to know times or seasons for this, but I can be assured that he will come. If this is the case, I can rest and obey his command not to be anxious. If the God who made the universe, and who called me out of obscurity to do his will, is looking after me, and I am sure, then what cause have I for worry?
Still, it’s often easier said than done in particularly sticky circumstances, and Martha here clearly didn’t understand why Jesus hadn’t saved her brother from dying. Amidst her grief and sorrow, she addresses Jesus straight up: “Lord, If you had been here my brother would not have died.” Oh the times I’ve told Jesus he missed the boat! Lord, if only you had done it my way, we wouldn’t be in this mess! What I love about Martha is her honesty, yet her complete and utter faith in her friend Jesus. The fact her brother had died, didn’t cause her to doubt that Jesus was good, and God, she knew he could have saved Lazarus. No doubt! It was clear that she knew, if Jesus had come earlier, no matter how sick Lazarus was, he would have been made well. Fair play Martha.
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 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.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” John 11:28-37
Mary also shared her sisters faith in the Lord, and falls at Jesus’ feet in tears. I know I’ve certainly fallen at Jesus’ feet in tears on so many occasions, asking why he would let me go through such grief and pain. Mary, no doubt exhausted from crying, echoes her sister’s sentiment, if you had only been here…
But oh we see the Lord’s goodness in his delay. His sovereign kindness. Oh Lord, how you have been so good to me to lead me through the delays, to teach me your kindness in the ‘impossible’ valleys. How those days after Lazarus’ death must have felt for Martha and Mary. A lifetime of sorrow, an absence so great, and a longing so deep. And the love of Jesus? He is so moved that he weeps with Mary. He weeps. He loves this family like his own, and that’s how he sees me. That’s how he sees you.
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.” John 11:38-44
What’s incredible here, is that throughout this whole episode, Jesus is completely in control, and has a perfect plan. As he had uttered to his disciples days before: “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.” his plan was to bless, and to encourage, and to save, and ultimately glorify God and bring his friends into closer communion with him. There’s no rush, there’s just a Jesus who knows what he is doing, and who has such a deep unfathomable compassion, that amidst suffering he is working for our good.
Oh the manifold wisdom of God! What a God, what a friend!
Smoked salmon just doesn’t seem such a big deal anymore.
Ironically, and somewhat comically, I wrote this blog post last week but didn’t upload it because I didn’t think it was good enough. God certainly has a sense of humour! I laughed, and now I post…
I’ve realised that I’ve been living under an umbrella. The thing is though, the sun is shining, and I’m not the type to hold an umbrella for the purpose of shade. This said umbrella is the proverbial barrier I’ve created to stop myself from basking in the wonderful warm sunshine of my heavenly Father and his love for me.
Now, let me elaborate slightly, as I’m sure my weather analogies will only take us so far. You see, I’m a ‘could do better’ person. Excluding, probably, the first few months of my life, I’ve lived a life that has not been enough. I’m not clever enough, not funny enough, not pretty enough, not slim enough, fit enough, rich enough, witty enough, confident enough, quick enough, brave enough, tough enough, strong enough, perfect, err, enough. It’s such a tiring life. Living a life of striving for better can benefit us indeed, but when you reach what you thought would be the end of the ‘not enough’, there reappears the exasperated gap of ‘could do better’. The not enoughs demand attention, and when ignored, they grow bigger and stronger, sometimes overwhelmingly so. It’s the life of a perfectionist, the life of an ambitious individual on the path of discovery, yet I’ve realised of late that God doesn’t wake me every morning by slapping me around the face with my not enoughs. No, he gently sings in my ear that I am everything he wants, just as I am.
Hosea 2v14-15 says: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt”
The book of Hosea is marvelous. It speaks of a God who is faithful when we are unfaithful. It speaks of a God who chooses the unworthy, those scorned by society, those who mess up, those who really just aren’t what we would call ‘good enough’. It screams of a God desperate for his people to come as they are, desperate for his people to accept his kindness, to turn from their old ways of living and to enter into his covenant of light and life. It sings of a God who is willing to “Go again” (2v1) to bring back the lost sheep. It speaks of a God who “continues loving” (3v1) despite rejection and dismissal. Hosea loved Gomer when she despised him. God loved Israel in their rebellion. It speaks of the cross, it speaks of Jesus’ loving sacrifice for our sins, and his pursuit of our hearts.
Now, I am learning that our God pours out blessing and hope when we have done nothing to deserve it, so why, in my tiny microcosm of life, do I feel the need to do it all myself, to make it an achievement rather than to rest on his grace? I think my proud little heart wants to impress God. I want to be at optimum performance levels for his Kingdom exercise plan, and I want to do well. I also want to impress others with my prowess; I seek the approval of those around me, who are often far less forgiving.
But, God is pleased with me regardless.
In Matthew 3v17, God declares his love for his son, and says he is pleased with Jesus, BEFORE he starts his ministry. Jesus hadn’t done any miracles up to this point, but God was pleased with him nonetheless.
Now, God sees me reflecting upon my weeks, looking at all the ways I could have been kinder, softer, more friendly, more Godly, more confident, the list goes on. I sigh at my failures and the mountains grow taller. But God speaks to me, and he says: “Be still, and know that I am God” Psalm 46v10.
What can I do? I need to listen. I need to lift my eyes to him and stop being introspective. When I look at myself I am but a breath, I am a dusty street ready to be trampled. But, when I look to him I am a conqueror, a mighty woman of God, and wrapped in his strength, I am enough.
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 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 Corinthians 12v9-11
So I can take down my umbrella, and bask in the Lord’s love for me. I don’t disqualify myself when I say the wrong thing, I don’t need to cower for cover until I’m good enough to step into his presence. He says: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
The truth is, we have none of our own money to spend in the kingdom. But, the reality is, we have unending access to our King’s bank account. Jesus has bought it all for us, it is his free gift.
Oh the wonders of our Heavenly Father! He clothes us with the garments of salvation, he covers us with the robe of righteousness and speaks peace to our souls. We are enough in his eyes, we are his prized possession, bought with a price. All glory to God!
Death by horses. Wouldn’t that be a fabulous way to go? It would certainly provide a few laughs at the funeral, but thankfully that day, for me and my friend Tarryn, didn’t come to pass. Still, it was ‘on the cards’ for rather too many frightening minutes during what was meant to be a relaxing holiday!
Picture it. You’ve awoken after a deep and satisfying sleep and decided today is the day to get out and climb a mountain of some sort. You’ve dressed, gulped down an athletes breakfast, made a carb-heavy lunch and sourced a map from your hosts.
Hiking boots on, you embark with the usual expectations – uphill climbs, beautiful views, a nice picturesque spot for lunch, a leisurely descent and celebratory cider.
Perfection in a day. Right? Wrong!
Laughing, exhaling great cackles we recalled our story to our hosts a few days afterwards. “We were surrounded! Our lives flashed before our eyes!!” Others in the vicinity laughed too.
We were surprised to hear that the lady who had directed us into the Horses Den had known about the dangers all along. “Cheers!” We thought, and laughed some more, in astonishment.
So, what happened? Well, everything from the deep, satisfying sleep to the embark was as normal. Omlettes in our bellies, sandwiches prepared, map in hand we set off. Beginning the ascent we took a wrong turn and came to a dead end. There was nothing unusual about that, so we retraced our steps to find the right path. We were fifteen minutes or so in, enjoying the surrounding stillness and emerging views, when we noticed a pack of horses cantering up a path to our right. They reached our level, blocking the gate of our exit, and stared. Less than 50 metres away, we too stood still, and stared back.
Now, neither Tarryn nor I are horsey people. We’ve never felt at home in a stable and have never shovelled poo to earn favour and a free gallop. Our lives have been spent firmly on the outside of the paddock, yet somehow we found ourselves in the centre of one, without a stone or a sling.
A minute of well managed panic later, the situation intensified. The horses had friends. Another 5 or 6 horses thundered up the hill to join the already 6 strong gang. We were outnumbered, with only a few cheese and ham cobs for pacifying leverage.
“Let’s go back.” I suggested. I was not up for a duel.
“Ok.” Tarryn replied. We hoped they’d forget about us, move on.
As we turned and walked slowly back the way we came, the horses followed, and at increasing pace. We walked some more then panicked and walked off the path in a faint hope that we were really just blocking their morning running route. “Maybe they just want to get past.” I said bleakly. “Let’s just wait.”
As they approached the part of the path that we had sidestepped, they stopped, turned, looked us straight in the eyes, then advanced. Tarryn and I grabbed each other. My knees began to shake. I prayed!
Six or seven large horses snuffled our coats and nibbled our rucksacks. The others formed a barbed wire fence behind, munching the grass and exhaling violently. Tails flapped, hooves padded the ground.
“God!! Help!! Help!! I’m completely unqualified for this situation!! Help!!”
Tarryn and I must have looked a picture! Clinging to each other as if our lives depended on it (quite literally) praying whatever we could muster!
Suddenly, a small gap opened up between the heavy set horses. A pure white stallion, their leader, had either stumbled, or deliberately fallen into our nibbling friends and scattered them. Our escape route! Hearts beating and legs a-wobbling we slowly took steps past our unwanted friends.
“Left or right?” I said under my breath. Do we retreat and just get back home safely, or do we continue the walk regardless, oblivious to how many horses could be lurking in the unfamiliar Welsh hills.
“Left.” said Tarryn defiantly.
“Ok.” I said, surprised at her courage. We race-walked to the next style.
Once home and dry, with the horses safely behind the last fence, we let go of each other and bent over in relief! We laughed, but mostly were just glad to be alive!
As we sat atop the mountain, looking down to the sea, Tarryn made a suggestion. “Different route back?”
As the referendum looms this week, how do you feel? Are you fearful that catastrophe could be right around the corner? Or are you quietly confident that it will all, sort of, work out alright?
Whatever your view is of Britain’s relationship with the EU, it is important this week to remember who has the ultimate authority over the situation and to understand who is in control.
During his lifetime, Jesus was clearly subject to the state. God used the rulers and authorities to control crucial events in his lifetime which served to fulfil his purposes on earth. Even his birth place was determined by a decision of Caesar’s, whilst his crucifixion was ordered by a Roman Governor. When Jesus was tried, he revealed an insight to Pilate which helps us to grasp the authority that God has over all situations; this includes decisions made by the collective people, and by kingdom rulers.
Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
Jesus allowed Pilate and the Jews to deliver him to be crucified whilst confidently expressing that he was in control. By stating that “my kingdom is not of this world” he gives us confidence to know that even those of the highest powers on earth cannot contend with the plans of our creator God. The history-changing decision of Pontius Pilate served to advance the kingdom of heaven when from an earthly perspective it looked like it was to end. Therefore, whatever situation we face this week come Friday morning, we can be confident that God has not been absent.
Swiss Theologian, Karl Barth, famously said to a friend the day before he passed away: “Just don’t be so down in the mouth, now! Not ever! For things are ruled, not just in Moscow or in Washington or in Peking, but things are ruled – even here on earth—entirely from above, from heaven above.”