“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.
I’ve been part of the church for a little while now; five years, 3 months and one day to be exact. From those first exciting days to now, I’ve been on an amazing journey. It’s not been plain sailing in the Caribbean though, more like rowing a boat off the coast of Somalia. Well, maybe not that thrilling… Still, I’ve got a life jacket that’s industry standard and a good Bugsy Malone style foam gun full of the, err, foamy stuff.
When I met the Lord, many of my friends thought I was a bit, how do I put it, ‘doolally’. That was cool, though, I probably would have thought so too. I’d gone from typically wayward university student to proclaimer of Jesus in the space of about 2 weeks (and one memorable day). I’d have probably thought something was slightly a miss had the shoe been on the other foot. However, I was wearing the Jesus sandal in this instance, so I had to face the music.
Some friends found it a bit too much and said their goodbyes completely, some friends closed off, most asked questions, and a few turned back to their faith. Dealing with faltering friendships was probably my first tough challenge as a Christian. I wasn’t the same, my life had been transformed and with that, people didn’t like the new me. But I did, so I guess we just couldn’t see eye to eye anymore.
Then came the decision to move my life from Liverpool to London and work for my new-found church, for free. For a year. Obviously, this had not been my parents plan for my life. They were ultimately supportive of my decision though, which was a huge blessing and massive testament to them. I knew they probably would have rathered I set up paid camp in a reputable journalistic outlet – the sector I had just spent 3 years training to work in!
A year went by and I found myself unemployed. Great.
My faith still strong, and relatively unweathered, I ask God’s Spirit to guide me. Some might have deemed that a bad idea when I ended up in a bright red jacket on the wintry streets of London asking people to give to charity. Yep, I was the annoying person interrupting your shopping on a Wednesday afternoon, with a spiel too quick and convincing for you to say no. However, people did say no. And actually, I learned how many different ways of saying no there are. Most of which I purposed to forget.
Still, nothing is wasted in the Kingdom, and I most certainly was humbled. I think a little slice of my naivety was eaten up during those two and a half weeks, and my arrogance of never being a quitter…
What came next was slightly more attuned to my idea of an answer to prayer. I got a job at Sky Sports working on the rugby. Dream job? Well, yes in the fact that I’d prayed non-stop about it for the best part of year. And no, in that it didn’t sort my life out and I didn’t live out the Hollywood fairytale with it all being happily ever after. This, of course, was my exact anticipation. There goes another slice of my naivety!
Reading this you might be inclined to ask: what went wrong? The answer: nothing really. Four years in, I love my job, it has provided tonnes of opportunity and I’m always learning. What it didn’t provide though, was an end to my aspiration and desire in life. I think sometimes we can fall into the trap of the ‘if I only get this, then all will be dandy forever’ mentality. Well, that’s just not how life works, and I’ve experienced that particular realisation in some of the greatest things I’ve ever received! How ironic hey? Something else I’ve jotted down in the ‘must remember’ folder of my brain.
Well there you have it, a (very) brief overview of my short journey so far. If I tried to list all the other challenges of the last five years, frankly, I would most probably bore you. It’s also not as light-hearted reading for a Saturday afternoon if I detail, for example, intestinal parasites picked up in Thailand, or an operation to remove metal from my jaw, is it? I could conversely list all the amazing things that have happened in my life during the last five years, but maybe I’ll save that for another post.
Anyway, who helps me when parasites strike? The God of all comfort that’s who. It might sound jovial, and obviously, sometimes it is, but from the very first day I realised God was God and that he was worthy to be praised, he’s been my reliable friend. He is the funniest guy I know (seriously, if you didn’t think I was doolally at the start, you have permission to now), he helps me to laugh at myself, he gives me all I need and do you know what? If I was really in a rowboat off the coast of Somalia, I’m confident he’d be in it with me, clutching a boom box, bashing out the tunes!
In the famous, fictional tale of the Wizard of Oz there are many wild and wonderful characters, including a lion. Now lions, to me, are characterised by strength, agility, fearlessness and a whole host of other traits leaning towards the psychopathic. However, this little lion feels rather one of the more wild than wonderful in the Land of Oz, due to his quite unusual cowardice and fear. “Not the sort of trait usually boasted of by the ‘King of the Beasts'” I hear you cry! Well, yes and no. The poor lion believes his fear makes him inadequate, whilst not realising that courage actually means acting in the face of fear, not the absence of fear itself.
Perhaps this ‘cowardly’ lion possesses more neurotic traits, enjoys a bit of knitting or smells the flowers instead of trampling them, but it doesn’t disqualify him from what he was made to be (which is pretty obvious) – a courageous lion! As it turns out, this lion acts courageously despite his fear, which, proves his self-given character definition as false.
I think sometimes I feel a bit of a cowardly lion. I know I’m able to act through fear, but tend to disqualify myself because the challenge seems too large and overwhelming. Or, I just ignore things and hope they will go away! But inevitably they don’t, so the only option is to pick up your tools (whatever they may be) and get on with it!
That might be true in a physical sense – acting upon the things presented visibly in front of you – but I can be fearful in other ways too. I often find myself scared to pray for things on my heart. Is it easier not to pray in order to avoid disappointment? If I don’t pray for that – and then it doesn’t come to pass – it’s alright because I didn’t ask for it anyway. Right? Even when God speaks to me about something, I can attempt to work out how His prophecy to me might be realised, see all the mountains to climb, and therefore put it to the back of my mind. Was it really from God? And there it is, I disqualify it.
Something I was struck by recently when reading my Bible was David’s courage to pray. I’m sure we can gain courage from many passages in the bible and God’s promises, but this has shown me something new. David was given a prophecy by Nathan about a house that God was to build for him. A kingdom and a name that was to be established forever.
“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.” 2 Samuel 7:12-17
Now, if I’m reading this correctly, God is talking about Jesus. He is proclaiming that Jesus will be descended from David and therefore even when David’s ‘days are fulfilled’ his family line will continue and (not only that) reign forever. The only thing is, David didn’t know that at the time. I think if I was given that kind of prophecy before the whole Jesus thing exploded I’d be a little perplexed as to how it would all work out. But, what David did upon receiving this mighty revelation from God through Nathan is an inspiration – he prayed.
Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God! … And now, O Lord God, confirm forever the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, and do as you have spoken. And your name will be magnified forever, saying, ‘The Lord of hosts is God over Israel,’ and the house of your servant David will be established before you. For you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house.’ Therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. Now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.” 2 Samuel 7:18-19 & 25-29
First of all, David thanked God for speaking to him; he praised God for being great. Then, (as highlighted in bold) David said that because God had revealed this thing to him, he ‘found courage to pray’ into it. His prayer shows that he took God at His word, believed what had been spoken to him, and claimed it in faith. I imagine David in this passage, arms wide, praising God, and submitting himself to God’s purposes. He prayed faithfully into what had been promised.
Now I know it’s important to test prophecy and to stand firm in sound teaching (Eph 4:14, 1 John 4:1, 2 Thes 2:15) but using this example in relation to fear, it’s a great encouragement to pray. Whether it be a promise already made such as in Jeremiah 29:11 that God has good plans for us, or one brought specifically through prophecy, we can find courage to act in the form of prayer because God is good, his words are true and he has promised good things to his servants.
Now, when the Lion in Oz finally met the Wizard, he was given a questionable potion to drink in order to find courage. This so-called bottle of courage proved successful for a while before the effect wore off. Although some things might give us courage for a while, I believe we have been given lasting courage, through God’s Word, in which we can find the promises He has made through His son Jesus Christ, the courageous Lion of the tribe of Judah, a descendant of David.
After church this morning I chatted away a few hours with a good friend. We discussed the highlights and lowlights of recent happenings and what God might have in store for us soon, among other things, of course. It all felt rather pleasant in the sunshine, though I didn’t feel quite as bright as the weather. I’d felt strange at church, my worship was lacklustre and I didn’t connect with the word.
Later in the evening I realised I had a whole 5 hours to myself. With both flatmates absent, I began to plan (my natural tendency in all situations) my very free evening. One might think to plan in these situations is absurd. A Sunday evening doesn’t need a plan, it is simply Sunday evening and is therefore void of a schedule. Anyway, I decided a long bath and a bit of bible would do the trick, “I always feel chilled after a Bath”, I thought. Ironic considering the warm water.
My plan of inaction suitably slowed my frequency and I enjoyed a little reading. Though I’d asked Jesus if we could chat, and he certainly did some talking. As they say of l’imparfait – I’ll set the scene:
John 1v 35-39
“The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.”
Now I’ve read this passage many a time, and it’s been a somewhat average read. Yes, two guys hear about Jesus and tag along with him for a bit. Nothing abnormal about that. Jesus had & still has followers, indeed of which I am one. But tonight I read it differently. Jesus’ question hit me: “What are you seeking?” and their answer even more: “where are you staying?”
I’m not sure about you but when Jesus asks me what I want, I don’t usually respond with: ‘What you up to?’. In reality it’s more attuned to the sound of a flash car, a pay rise or a new dress. How did I get so far off the pace? All I used to want was to know where Jesus was so I could hang with him, which is exactly what the first disciples wanted to do. Imagine if my response to God most days had ended up in scripture instead: “What are you seeking, Louisa?”
“Well, as you asked God, I really need help getting all my work done in the office today and I’d really love a few extra quid to get my hair cut. That doable?”
My eyes refocused and I saw why I’ve been so distracted of late, why my times with God have been difficult and why I’ve not been feeling satisfied. I’ve been seeking the things God gives rather than God himself, and I’ve been missing out on the joy that comes from pursuing his presence.
I’ve been a classic Martha (Luke 10v38-42). I’ve dived head first into distraction:
“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
I think just last week I asked God that very question: “Do you not care?” as I went about my busyness. But the lesson here is that just one thing is necessary; we need to simply spend time with the Lord because He is God. From that place rivers of living water flow.
So as I recall my conversation with my friend in the sunshine, I realise my raincloud ranting most likely had links to what I have now written above. If I seek what I want God to do for me, and even His blessings for what I want to do for Him (my usual source of confusion & anxiety) I’ll be out of focus. Whilst I know we can ask of God anything and he will listen (and often graciously answer), I must “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” and let Him work out the rest.
Oh how gracious and merciful is our God. How wonderful is our Holy Spirit who teaches us all things.
Sometimes scripture blows my mind.
Spending some time in prayer this morning, I closed my eyes. In this physical action of closing, the spiritual eyes of my heart were opened, and I experienced an insight into the safety, security and equipping we have in Christ Jesus.
Before plunging my surroundings into temporary darkness, I read Ephesians chapter 6v13-17
“Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”
As detailed, God not only protects our minds and bodies with armour (a breastplate, a helmet & shoes), he also gives us weapons to use in times of trouble (a shield and sword). I have read Ephesians 6 numerous times to remind myself of this truth, yet often I leave the house without it.
So how does the armour button up, and how does the belt stay fastened? How do I keep hold of that shield and wield my sword?
I guess, somewhat disappointingly, I do not know the full answer. But God does. So I look to Jesus, and his examples, to make sure the zip on that armour doesn’t get caught in the morning rush.
One thing I admire is how firmly Jesus stood. An example of his standing firm, I believe, is shown in how he prayed:
“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Matthew 26v36-46
In order to stand firm in his purposes, Jesus needed to pray. He needed to connect deeply with his father and replenish his spirit. As he says to Peter: “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”. Jesus had his priorities in order and sought strength from God to do his will on earth. Jesus was going to the cross, and in every way I’m sure he didn’t desire to feel the weight and pain of all our sin. In Luke’s account of this event, it says an Angel appeared to Jesus and strengthened him, after which Jesus in ‘anguish’ prayed more earnestly. How purposeful and firm would we stand if we sought God first in everything? And not just once, but again and again? This is how Jesus functioned, and his purposes were completely fulfilled.
However, it is clear in this passage that it’s not as easy as it sounds; the disciples fell asleep! A contrast to the purposeful Jesus, were his sleeping disciples! I’d argue that this not only highlights the need to stay awake physically, but also spiritually. Jesus rallies his troops: “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” with what I sense is a hint of desperation. He is not just calling them into action in body, but also in soul; the battle is not only a physical one (fighting those heavy eyes) but a spiritual one (praying against temptation).
With God’s armour firmly fastened through prayer, Jesus could use his shield of faith and wield the sword of the spirit. When the flaming darts threatened to penetrate his purpose, his reliance on the Spirit and eyes on the things of God, allowed him to clearly define what was of help or hindrance to him. A prime example was when he addressed the seemingly comforting words of a friend:
“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16v21-23
This type of confrontation seems harsh, his friend was trying to be nice! But Jesus knew it wasn’t what he needed to hear, so immediately stopped listening and was upfront with his friend. Jesus’ sword of the spirit here was wielded, his shield was up, and the word of God prevailed. Jesus rebuked his friend, and then explained why he had done it, his purpose didn’t change and he continued on his way.
I know I find it so easy to be led astray by others and listen to the wrong counsel, so each time I go back to my wardrobe and dig out my armour for the 100th odd time. With the examples Jesus has given me (and many more not detailed here) gradually getting dressed the right way is becoming a habit, and as I pray more I find it easier to wear the garments given freely by God.
Now where’s my helmet…