Sunday, 26 June 2022

I can carry you

Our responsibility is not to bear the `burden` by ourselves but to carry the person to the burden bearer – The Lord
My love for the works of JRR Tolkien began when I was 9, when our teacher Mr Dargue, used to read to us from the Hobbit every afternoon before we went home. I loved Tolkien’s ability to create a whole totally believable new world. In my teenage years I went on to read the Lord of the Rings and again get engrossed in the world Tolkien created and the all-consuming battle of good versus evil, domination, destruction and the ultimate victory by the good. Recently while watching the Lord of the Ring’s trilogy on DVD again I was struck by one line of dialogue that hit me in a way I had not seen before. The brief background is that an evil dominant Lord (Sauron) is seeking to take possession of “a ring of power” that will give him ultimate power over the whole world. A small insignificant young Hobbit called Frodo is alone tasked with the job of ring bearer to take the ring to a volcano and throw it into the lava to destroy it. As he journeys to the volcano with his trusty companion Sam, the weight of the evil power of the ring drains, discourages, and consumes him leaving him weak and fearful. As the two companions approach the entrance to the heart of the volcano, Frodo is so overwhelmed by the weight of the burden he carries that he stumbles and falls and cannot get up. His trusty companion looks at him with compassion, and with the knowledge that he cannot take the ring from him for it is Frodo`s task alone to carry and destroy the ring, says to him “Mr Frodo I can’t carry the burden but I can carry you” and picks him up and carries him towards the volcano. This line spoke to me in a way it never had before, about carrying burdens.

In many of the opening paragraphs of his letters Paul explains to the believers that he often gives thanks for them and prays for them constantly. In Galatians 6:2 (NLT) he encourages us to `share each other’s burdens`, and pray for each other continually. Ephesians 6:18 says `Stay alert and be persistent in prayer for all believers everywhere` (NLT). Jesus constantly encouraged us to pray for each other and to be persistent in prayer for each other. The parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) shows that the woman persisted in her request for justice, to the point that the unjust judge granted her request, and encourages us to persist till we get the answer. In another parable about a friend seeking bread at midnight, Jesus says `Keep on asking and you will receive, keep on seeking and you will find keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you (Luke 11:9-10 NLT) In the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10 v 30-36), Jesus says that we are not to pass by on the other side if someone is in trouble but to stop and help them.  But the problem can come when in following these directives to pray and bear each other’s burdens that’s exactly what we do, we bear each other’s burdens, literally.
When those we love, or people we care about are going through difficult situations we can often feel overwhelmed by what they are facing, and our first thought often is `what can I do to help solve this, carry the difficulty, or sometimes get consumed in the emotion of the situation. We literally carry the burden ourselves. Although this approach is full of compassion, if we just leave it there then it results in 2 people being buried under a great burden. This then has two effects, we ourselves get stressed, drained, and sometimes overwhelmed by what they are facing and start to experience the same effects as the person with the difficulty. Also, if this happens a lot it makes us unwilling to come near to help a person as we are concerned that we will be overwhelmed again. We are leaving out the vital part of the equation; God. Sometimes I find that even as I am praying about a difficult situation another person is in, I am trying to find the solution in my own head, and sometimes even go so far as to tell God my wonderful solution and expect Him to go along with my wonderful plan!

But in doing this we end up not pursuing God's purpose for that person’s life but ours. Sometimes we ourselves and other people have to go `through` some situations, and seeking to remove and solve that situation (burden) from a person prematurely would result in the perfecting work of God to be stilted. But I believe we are to carry the person. Not by ourselves using our strength, or willpower etc. but to the Lord in prayer, always laying them before His feet, always seeking His will for them, His strength for them, His purpose in their lives, His plan for their salvation, deliverance and not ours. This is sometimes not easy. We ourselves have to lay down all our agenda to help them and simply carry them into the presence of Jesus and trust Him that He will lift the burden Himself or give them the endurance to be refined by the experience they are going through.  

The Lord may well reveal to us practical ways for us to help them and we should then fulfil those to the best of our ability, but we should not forget that our responsibility is not to bear the `burden` by ourselves but to carry the person to the burden bearer – The Lord.  

The words of the old hymn ring true here.  

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer
Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.

This hymn rings true for our own lives, but also for when we are bearing each other’s burdens. What peace we often forfeit because we carry the burden and not carry the person to the Lord in prayer. 

Author: Jan Pearson

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Saturday, 18 June 2022

A Revelation of Love

Objectively in history and subjectively in experience, God has given us good grounds for believing in His love
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

How can we believe in the love of God when there appears to be so much evidence to contradict it? The apostle Paul spells out in Romans 5, two major means by which we become sure that God loves us. The first is that he “has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us” (v5). The second is that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (v8). How, then, can we doubt God’s love? To be sure, we are often profoundly perplexed by the tragedies of life. But God has both proved His love for us in the death of His Son and poured His love into us by the gift of His Spirit. Objectively in history and subjectively in experience, God has given us good grounds for believing in His love. The integration of the historical ministry of God’s Son (on the cross) with the contemporary ministry of His Spirit (in our hearts) is one of the most wholesome and satisfying features of the gospel.

What the bible does, is not to solve the problem of suffering but to give us the right perspective from which to view it. Then, whenever we are torn with anguish, we will climb the hill called Calvary and, from that unique vantage ground, survey the calamities of life.

What make suffering insufferable is not so much the pain involved as the feeling that God doesn’t care. We picture him lounging in a celestial armchair, indifferent to the sufferings of the world. It is this slanderous caricature of God that the cross smashes to smithereens. We are to see him not on a comfortable chair but on a cross. For the God who allows us to suffer, once suffered himself in Jesus Christ, and He continues to suffer with us today. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over that mark we boldly stamp another mark – the cross.

Further reading - Romans 8:28-39

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written:  

“For your sake we face death all day long;

    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Author: John Stott

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Saturday, 11 June 2022

Prayer works!

Sometimes we do not realise the power we have in being able to come before the Lord with our thanks and praise, our fears and problems, our needs and petitions
The Queen’s Jubilee, this week, has touched my heart in many different ways. Our whole cul de sac was decorated with bunting and we had a wonderful street party, which created a lovely community atmosphere. But what touched me the most were the many comments, by various people on TV, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, about the Queen’s continual faith in God and how important it was to her. In Songs of Praise, we heard how our Queen, when she was anointed with oil at the coronation, took this moment very seriously indeed and believed she had been anointed by God to serve this country throughout her life. 

When my husband and I were talking about these things and saying how faithful she had been all these years, we said that our national anthem is a prayer that the whole nation sings. ‘God save the queen’ ‘Long to reign over us’ and many other lines from the other verses. The whole anthem is a prayer for our sovereign. In this 70th year of her reign, we can have no doubt that this prayer of the nation has been answered.

Then in our devotion today Charles Spurgeon used Psalm 6 verse 9 which says: The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. Mr Spurgeon tells how his prayers have been answered and he ends his devotion with, ‘We receive Jesus and then the Lord receives us and our prayers for His son’s sake. Blessed be that dear name which franks our prayers so that they pass even within the golden gates.’

After these things I thought it appropriate to talk about praying and answered prayer in my blog today. It is a subject that I myself very much need to focus on. I often have struggles in my prayer life, not least, praying out loud in public.

When I was a child, we did not have a lot of money but I can honestly say all our needs were provided for. I never really realised how my parents struggled because we always had enough of everything we needed. It was only later that I realised that it was the prayers of my family that had sustained us, especially my mother who knelt by her bed every night. 

There are many times over the years that I have looked back and wondered how on earth I got through a certain situation. I know I could not have done it in my own strength. Every time it was the Lord and the prayers of friends and family.

Prayer works!! Sometimes we do not realise the power we have in being able to come before the Lord with our thanks and praise, our fears and problems, our needs and petitions. There are no formulas to the way we should pray. In Isaiah chapter 29, God becomes frustrated with his people’s prayers. In verse 13 it says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. God is looking for sincere hearts. So, we don’t have to worry unnecessarily about the right or wrong way to pray. There are no formulas. God isn’t testing our performance; he simply wants us to connect with Him anytime and anywhere.

Prayer is about relationships, not religious rituals. Since prayer is a relationship with God, it has to be a two-way process. We need to listen to him too. As someone put it, the Lord says, ‘Ok stop talking now and let me get a word in!’.

Sometimes our prayers don’t get answered the way we are hoping for. Sometimes we have the wrong motives and God’s answer has to be ‘No!’ In James 4:2-3 it says: You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. We can’t expect God to give us something that will turn out badly for us. He knows best.

Sometimes our prayers do have the right motives but we do not get the outcome we would like. But we have to trust the Lord that he has the bigger picture. We have to keep in mind that God works from a higher perspective than we do. What God knows is best for us doesn’t always align with we want or expect. Sometimes we have to go through struggles. So, when God’s responses to our prayers don’t reflect what we want, we have to challenge ourselves to trust God, we have to remind ourselves that God sees every situation in our lives from the perspective of the highest good. Our human perspective is so limited but God answers our prayers according to what is truly the best for us. Even when God’s answers to our prayers aren’t what we expect, prayer still works.

I read in a sermon that God is the surgeon. If we were left to perform an operation on ourselves, we would try not to hurt ourselves, we would not cut deep enough for fear of the pain and then the outcome would be, that the operation would be unsuccessful. But when God does the surgery, he cuts as deeply as is necessary to obtain success and thereby total healing occurs after the wound is healed. I like the way The Message Bible paraphrases this verse from Proverbs 3:5–6: Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one that will keep you on track.” If we put our trust in God and we are confident He is who He says He is, then we can pray with faith and we can know that our prayers not only work, but that God is working for our good, even when sometimes the answers look different from what we thought they would be. We have to learn to trust that when we pray, God hears and He knows what is best for us.

Ephesians 3:20-21 says: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

So, we can pray with confidence and from the heart in whatever ways work best for us. We can express any thoughts and feelings to God honestly, and listen carefully for whatever messages God wants to give us. We don’t need to worry about making mistakes in prayer or about not having the words to say. We can trust the Holy Spirit to help us. Romans 8:26 promises that: the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

I thought I would end my reflection on prayer with a few quotes from some well-known Christians:

“Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” – Max Lucado

“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” – Martin Luther

“True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is a spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.” – Charles Spurgeon

“To get nations back on their feet, we must first get down on our knees.” – Billy Graham 

“The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.” – Samuel Chadwick

“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tyre?” – Corrie Ten Boom

 “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” – John Bunyan

“All I know is that when I pray, coincidences happen; and when I don’t pray, they don’t happen.” – Dan Hayes

So, in Ephesians 4:6 it tells us: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Let’s do it! Prayer works!

Author: Thelma Cameron

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Saturday, 4 June 2022

Praise You In This Storm

We need to keep on lifting our hands high and praising God THROUGH the storm and trust that He will give us the strength we need to make it through
I was listening to the song Praise You in this storm by casting crowns recently, which I haven't heard in a while. I have always liked it, but as I listened to the lyrics, I realised that they fit so perfectly with where I am at in life at the moment. The very first verse talks about expecting God to have reached out and 'saved the day' and yet as we say amen, it's still raining!! It gives this image of a hopeless situation where you just want to cry out, well Lord, where are you? I know you see me. I know you know what I am going through. Why haven't you shown up yet?

Then it goes on to talk about if you listen really hard, you can hear God whispering through your storm "I'm with you" and that is what we need to hold on to. We have these expectations of how God should save us, how He should deal with the tough times we are going through to make our life a little bit easier. But the truth is we just need to trust that God is with us that He sees every tear we cry, that He is with us through it all. We aren't going to always have an easy ride of life but we need to keep our faith. Romans 5:3-4 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
We need to keep on lifting our hands high and praising God THROUGH the storm and trust that He will give us the strength we need to make it through. He might not always instantly solve all our problems, but He will help us to overcome them if we have enough faith. Luke 17:6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

We also need to remember to encourage one another and lift each other up. It is friendship and fellowship that will keep us going. If others are covering us in prayer, we can be assured that when we don't know how else to pray or don't feel in a place where we can, others are interceding on our behalf. Sometimes a simple act of love - a hug, a smile, a listening ear when you most need can make a big difference. It might mean nothing to us, but everything to the person who is in a difficult place.

As the song went on I was suddenly struck by one particular line, which is also a scripture, Psalm 121:1-2 I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Suddenly I was just so in awe. I thought to myself, wow! The maker of heaven and earth. The creator of ALL things, is helping me? What more can a person need? He literally made the entire world, everything in existence only exists because of Him. If He is on my side, if He is with me, surely I will be okay!

When life is going well, when it's easy, when we are happy, how simple do we find it to praise God and think He is simply amazing? But He doesn't change. He is the same through all things. He is still amazing even when things are tough, a struggle, heart-breaking and desperate. We just need to remember to praise Him in the storm, because He is who He is, no matter where we are - good or bad. We need to praise, trust and praise some more.

Author: Becky Hunt

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Saturday, 28 May 2022

Spirit and Truth

If we only get what we want when we want it, we do not learn dependence on the Lord, or patience, or the ability to wait on the Lord to get his perspective on what He wants for our lives
There are many things that we depend on in life that help us to know where we are and what is going on. We depend on the sun to rise every morning, because it heralds in a new day, we depend on water flowing from the tap to fill our kettles for our morning cuppa. We depend on electricity flowing through the wires to boil that kettle etc, etc. Our days run fairly smoothly because things look and feel “normal”.  But we also know how disorganised and disoriented we feel when one thing doesn’t go to plan. For example, my mom is in a care home and is now sadly confined to bed. Recently she has been tumbling out of bed on occasion because she rolls over too much and loses perspective of where the edge of the bed is. The wonderful home has now fitted two wedge type buffers to the side of the mattress that stop this happening. The other day I found her lying flat in the bed having pulled the pillows from under her head. She was frustrated and kept saying “I’ve been trying to get me and your dad out of this bed! Please help me!!”, my dad died 8 years ago. So, I calmed her down and gently raised the bed up to a sitting position and restored the pillow to its rightful place. Explaining about my dad passing away and letting her see where she was because the safety buffers had blocked out her view of anything but the ceiling. As soon as I raised her up, she could see her room and immediately she knew where she was and felt back to normal. Her true perspective was restored and she became peaceful again. It showed me how easily it is to be disoriented and upset when we can’t see clearly where we are. 

The older I get the more I realise that nothing stays the same, life if ever changing, sometimes this is welcomed and good and sometimes the changes are unwelcomed and not as good for us as we would like. These are the times when the tap stops running and the electricity fails and we feel we can’t cope without that cup of tea, so the whole day becomes out of step and we can’t seem to find the rhythm again. The Lord understands this completely and his word is littered with people, and events that we can turn to for help, and He has been challenging me about this over the last few weeks. 

Paul tells us in Philippians 4:12-13 (NLT) the secret of dealing with change and challenge “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Sometimes its hard to just stop and accept that in every situation the strength of the Lord is so readily available to us, it is always there (just like water from the tap) we just have to let it flow. Paul learned that he could rely on the Lord to provide strength for everything he was facing. He learned that sometimes his prayers were answered and things changed, or sometimes they didn’t, but that the Lord works through everything to perfect us and help us to become the people and priesthood he wants us to be. 2 Corinthians 12:7-8 (NLT) "So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.  Each time he said ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness’” I bet this is not what Paul wanted to hear at first, after all he prayed 3 times for the situation to change, and we all know God could have taken the thorn away in a heartbeat, but there was a greater truth and work of perfection that the Lord wanted to work out in Paul’s life. To learn that in all things God's strength to endure was more valuable than instant relief. A hard lesson but a valuable one, one that gives us the tools to cope with anything. If we only get what we want when we want it, we do not learn dependence on the Lord, or patience, or the ability to wait on the Lord to get his perspective on what He wants for our lives. In other words, we skip out on a vital part of our spiritual development, ‘endurance’. As Paul says “so now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That is why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and the insults, hardships, persecutions and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT).
The other thing the Lord has been showing me is that worshipping him is not governed by circumstance, health, geography or feelings. If there is one lesson that has come out of the pandemic for me it is to worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth.  I know I have spoken about this before, but the Lord has had to bring me back again recently to the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman as they talked together at the well. We all know the account; she was arguing with Jesus about the correct place to worship. Jews say Jerusalem and Samaritans say Mount Gerizim. It had been the bone of contention between them for ages. But Jesus words to her are the same as his words to me all through the pandemic and beyond. John 4:23-24 (NLT) “The time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship Him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Just like my dear mom lost beneath the side buffers unable to see where she is and with a total loss of perspective, I often find myself `lost` in events, circumstances, geography and feeling which, I allow to affect my worship. The Lord has had to remind me so much of this again recently.  Jesus said clearly that those that worship God, must worship only in spirit and truth. What then do we need to worship God? It`s not the right music, the right environment, a good voice, or even feeling in a worshipful frame of mind. No, its focussing on who He is and connecting our spirit with His spirit and allowing the life of God to flow between us. Worship is so natural when we do this, and not necessarily anything to do with singing. It’s a deep adoration and thankfulness for who He is. Our spirit worshiping/connecting with His spirit. And as Jesus himself said this often stems from a revelation from Gods word. His word is truth. So, all we need to live in true worship is to connect to God's spirit by accessing the truth contained in His word. This very thing lifts our spiritual head up to see the place where we are fully, rather than just a view of the ceiling (like my poor mom) we gain perspective. So just like Paul we can say; “I have learned the secret of living in every situation”. Nothing can affect our worship and connection to the Lord when we worship only in spirit and in truth. There is a wonderful line in Psalm 42:7 "Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls”. I`m never too sure what was in the psalmist mind as he wrote this, but to me it says that the deepness of God spirit calls to the deepness of my spirit and the roar of the splendour of that drowns out all the barriers of life, circumstance, illness, mental impairment, and anything else you would like to put in this list. Pure connection with the immortal, invisible God. Spirit and truth! And from this position of worship, we always have a true (God's) perspective on life.  

Thank you Lord!!

Author: Jan Pearson

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