There are many stories of people who were scared in the Bible – Elijah was being chased by Ahab and Jezebel but he turned to God for some calm. God wasn’t in the loud, showy places; he was a quiet whisper that encouraged Elijah. Jesus took himself off for some peaceful prayer in the garden of Gethsemane to give him some much-needed calm to face the next events.
The calm that God offers is reinforced by Philippians 4:4-7. It reminds us that when tensions build up, prayer is a release. So too is rejoicing; whilst dancing in the streets isn’t appropriate just now, smiling at others (or even just to ourselves) is a sure way to spread some joy. There is a Chinese proverb that says, “Use your smile to change the world; don’t let the world change your smile.” Mother Teresa took this further when she said, “Peace begins with a smile.” That’s peace for us as much as spreading joy to others. When all around us seems to be out of our control, we can at least smile.
Our rejoicing helps us choose to place our confidence in God. With God as our central focal point, our personal stress can be reduced. This is our choice to make.
This coming week, let’s choose to be calmer through three practical ways:
1. Pray to God to give us calm.
2. Focus our thoughts on God. Try having some silence after your prayer - He will become bigger and our problems become smaller.
3. Rejoice by smiling a bit more.
We aren’t alone in this stressful time; God and Jesus are here with us to help us through.
At the start of 2010 I found myself at the beginning of a new adventure. After some months of deliberating we moved house from suburban Kenilworth in Warwickshire to the small town of Wigtown in south west Scotland. We felt privileged and well blessed coming to such a beautiful area where the views from the front of our house looked east across the bay to the Galloway hills.
My husband was keen to secure the garage and workshop as his space – a man cave – a place he could call his own, and so a small shed was erected at the top of the garden where I might have my own space, room to sow seeds , pot up plants and store my gardening tools. I was delighted to have this and spent many happy hours up there in the spring preparing seedlings for the flower and vegetable garden. My uncle had trained at Kew, my mother was in the land army during the war and my sister also had a career in horticulture, so I guess gardening runs through my veins.
Working in the garden one fine, breezy day I went to the shed to fetch a pair of secateurs; they were hanging on a nail on the shed wall. I opened the door and stepped inside, looked up and saw just what I was looking for. As I stretched up for them the breeze blew the door shut behind me and I found myself standing in deep gloom with just a tiny window shedding enough light to help me grope for the secateurs I needed. With them securely in my hand I reached for the door handle. Missed. I reached again. Missed again. I began to feel my way around the door area and within a few moments broke into a cold sweat as it dawned on me that there was no door handle! My clever husband had put a handle on the outside of the door, but not on the inside!. I was stuck, imprisoned, at the top of the garden where no-one would hear me, and I just hate being confined in small spaces!
I’m pleased to say I wasn’t there for long. With the help of the very tool I had picked up earlier I was able to grasp the rod where the missing handle should have been attached and, after several attempts, I managed to rotate it enough to activate the mechanism and the door opened. Phew! Never had I been more relieved to feel the air fresh on my face, and see the brightness of the sunlight.
Have you ever found yourself to be a prisoner? There are so many ways in which you might find yourself to be a captive. Perhaps, like me in the shed, you’ve been stuck in a place you didn’t want to be, or found yourself in circumstances which you would like to change but can’t. Maybe you’ve been in an abusive relationship and didn’t know how to end it; or lived under a corrupt government where your freedom of speech and movement were restricted, and your life threatened if you dared to stand against corruption. Physical and mental illness can leave people feeling imprisoned within their own bodies. Slavery is another type of imprisonment which has been a disgraceful and despicable use and misuse of human labour for centuries but accepted as the norm in many parts of the world.
It is true of course that, being human, we may make bad decisions in our own lives and are obliged to live with the consequences of those decisions, leaving us trapped and unhappy; a type of imprisonment brought upon ourselves. We have to accept responsibility for our actions and make the best of a situation which is not perhaps what we dreamed of. That’s not the same as being forced into captivity by another power, although it might just leave us feeling as though it were, and not knowing how to move on.
Currently, as the pandemic continues to take its toll, both close to home and far afield, I would suggest that we are all imprisoned to some degree, and each person handles that situation in a different way. Some are able to get out for daily exercise and appreciate the good things around them whilst others are shielding at home, perhaps depressed or fearful. Some praise the good work done by volunteers and carers, helping those in need, whilst others criticise those who have perhaps made a mistake by breaking a rule. Some reach out to others with caring calls and messages, while others turn in on themselves and think only of themselves. Staying positive somehow seems to lessen the impact of the restrictions we are all undergoing. With the administering of a vaccine now underway we at least have hope of things improving in the not too distant future.
Hope. This is something we all need to keep us feeling positive
Isaiah 40 ends by saying:
Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not grow faint.
What a lovely picture is conjured up in those words – renewed strength, freedom of movement, no more fainting or tiredness.
Matthew 12 also quotes Isaiah in verses 18 and 21 and speaking of Jesus says
Here is my servant whom I have chosen —
In his name the nations will put their hope.
God knows just how things are with us. He understands our frustrations more than any of our friends or family can. We can share our thoughts, fears and hopes with friends and family perhaps, but only God sees the complete picture. He alone has the keys to our personal prison, and can decide when we might be released from our sentence. It is however up to us to ask, and ask in the Lord’s name, for our freedom from whatever situation is holding us prisoner. We read in Acts 12:1-11 of Peter’s miraculous release from prison and that the whole church was praying for him. I wonder if we sometime underestimate the power of prayer.
I have chosen some of the words of Psalm 139 to round off my thoughts. They reassure us of God’s closeness to us. When we need help we only have to reach out to Him in prayer. He will answer.
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand —
when I awake, I am still with you.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
She’s not the first monarch in such a speech to draw inspiration from her faith – she declared that the teachings of Christ had served as her inner light – and to highlight the importance of light in the darkness, where that light brings hope. Although the film, The King’s Speech, which was also on TV over Christmas, focuses on that part of the life of her father, King George VI, which culminates in his speech to the nation and empire at the outbreak of the Second World War, his more famous oration arguably came in his Christmas broadcast of 1939, just a week before the onset of a new year with all its threats, challenges and potential disasters and the course of which no one could foresee accurately and what might be foreseen was pessimistic and depressing. There are certainly some parallels with where we currently find ourselves.
The King, at that time, sought to rally his peoples with a call to faith that, in his own words, “the Almighty Hand may guide and uphold us all”. He quoted from a poem entitled God Knows by a Bristol-born poet, Minnie Louise Haskins, lines from which, in closing his address, he hoped would provide a message of encouragement. The words he quoted may be known to you already:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and
put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light
and safer than a known way.”
The Hand of God would provide a more secure basis for carrying on than any light which might allow one to see imperfectly the path ahead. The poem has more lines to it than those quoted by the King, and later read out at the funeral of the Queen Mother. There are those who say that the remainder does not possess the compelling quality of the opening lines but they serve, albeit in a changed verse form, to underline the importance of faith in our lives.
So I went forth,
And finding the Hand of God,
Trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills
And the breaking of day in the lone East. So heart be still!
What need our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.
God knows. His will is best.
The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.
Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.
The words of this poem were intended as a message of assurance to a nation at war. They were words of comfort in the loss of loved ones, and words of hope for a difficult time to end. They were words of truth that our God is in control and we need not fear. Later this week one of the daily readings is taken from Psalm 27, a paraphrased version of which is found in Hymn 14, written by James Montgomery (1771-1854) with whom I share a birthplace: Irvine. One of my previous posts underlined that, even in times of great challenge, we are not alone. As we face yet another period of lockdown and further enforced isolation, we can rely on that comfort, even on the darkest nights.
God is my strong salvation,
What foe have I to fear?
In darkness and temptation
My light, my help is near:
Though hosts encamp around me,
Firm to the fight I stand!
What terror can confound me,
With God at my right hand?
Place on the Lord reliance;
My soul, with courage wait;
His truth be thine affiance
When faint and desolate.
His might thy heart shall strengthen,
His love thy joy increase:
Mercy thy days shall lengthen;
The Lord will give thee peace.
Many people may well be happy to see the back of 2020, it's been quite a year hasn't it?
We probably all have different views about how last year has impacted on us individually. For Christina and I, it’s probably been a bit less stressful than many others, we've been working the whole time, we've not had to isolate, we've no children at school or college; it has been a very strange year but not a terrible one for us. Not so for so many others though, our own members included.
One of the things we've missed the most of course is our weekly trip through to Edinburgh – now that's not easy for a Glaswegian to say!! We've missed the fellowship we have together at our Memorial Service, sharing the emblems, ecclesial meals and all the other activities we used to share.
Enough of last year though, what about 2021? What new challenges might we face? Initially it looks like nothing is going to change too much, our meetings will continue to be virtual, whether our own or with other ecclesias. Probably the biggest challenge for us is staying positive throughout these troubled times. We may well all be carrying "extra baggage" that is pulling us down. What can we do then? We need to in the words of a well known Disney song "Let it go!" You're probably thinking "that's easy to say" but..........
There are many things in our lives that we need to let go of in order to grow in our walk in Christ. Far too many people walk around carrying heavy baggage from years of mistakes, hurt, pain, bad choices etc. We might carry around anger and bitterness from past experiences which then affect current relationships but we have to let it go, we have to choose forgiveness and repentance in order to be kind and loving towards others.
To let go of an issue we must first understand what the problem is. Ephesians 4:31,32 reads,
"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
How can we identify what it is we are carrying around? Of course we can take it to the Lord in prayer and ask for help or perhaps talk to a Brother or Sister or a friend and see if there are any problems they can see.
Next step is to do something about it, let it go. As believers we need to constantly evaluate the "fruit" we are producing, if it is rotten fruit, baggage, we need to bring it into the light. To confess and ask for forgiveness or in some cases extend forgiveness to others. The process may not be simple though; it may well be a complicated process when we feel the baggage is too heavy. This is when we need to remind ourselves, with God all things are possible, we must be willing to trust the process.
Do we trust that God has a plan and purpose for us, that He will work it all together for good? Even when things might seem like they are far from good in our lives we need to realise that God will still use it for His good in our life.
If we do recognise this, then today, the 3rd day of this new year is a good day to start to let it go.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.