Monday, 25 March 2013

A Joyful Noise

"See, God has come to save me; I will trust in Him and not be afraid: for the Lord God is my strength and my SONG, He has given me victory" (Isaiah 12:2) NLT

The heat has once again silenced all birdsong. There is an almost imperceptible hiss that radiates off the hot soil, thirsting and dry. It presses down on my brow, pushes at the edge of patience, and my shoulders slope downwards under the weight of it. Then I hear a voice whisper: "...the trees of the forest will sing for joy..." Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" starts as a hum and soon the life of the music begins to flow through my veins like a cool tonic.  I have always loved to sing. We grew up with music in our home, and my mom sang often and beautifully. I would marvel at the way she could pick up a harmony to just about any melody, something I have not yet mastered... Sunday mornings would dawn with the sound of choir music floating down the passage - praises from all nations into our hearts.

How I loved to be reminded that the Lord God is my "strength and my song". We do not have to "soldier on in the face of adversity". We can have joy, we can sing, we can dance. Our voices need not be stilled by the brokenness and cruelty of the world. Last week I shared one of the most beautiful hymns ever written with you. Written at a time when the composer had lost almost all that was dear and precious to Him. Except His Saviour. We sing; for see, God has come to save us, through His Son Jesus. And what I am to inherit as a result, cannot be marred. My spiritual barometer can be:

(I have told you this) so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.(John 15:11)

What was this?  Jesus said this to His disciples after He told them: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love".

Jesus loved and loves us with the Father's love. The (joyful) meaning of this is that Jesus remained in the Father's love by being obedient to Him, giving His perfect life for us - stained, unworthy, but loved. His heart fills with joy as we turn our faces to Him. There is wonderful mystery in how each fibre of our being contains a love song for His glory. Our joyful voices are swept up by a heavenly wind to His ears. The more we "remain" in His love - the more complete our joy becomes. And we remain in His love, by being repentant, forgiving, obedient - then following, waiting, surrendering.

The world will say - you create your own destiny. Be assertive, lead the way, stand up for who you are. You deserve to be happy. Demand justice. You've earned what you really want from life, etc. That is why the way of Christ is "folly" to the world. Does it matter? Are we willing to be "fools" for His love? If Jesus is truly precious to us and our eyes are set on eternity, He will be our reward.

As my joy is made complete in Him, I will sing a new song each day. Even if the words of our love songs sound strange and out of place to those who do not truly know Him. Sing with confidence, make a joyful noise and imagine a choir of angels joining you. It can be life-changing.

A new week begins as I write these closing words. My view is of a gentle mist and soft rains that heal the cracks and refreshes the garden and veld. Earlier I read in Exodus the song that Moses sang after God brought them safely through the Red Sea: "I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted... The Lord is my strength and my song". How beautiful it is when God repeats a promise. He refreshes mind and spirit made parched by an often dry and barren world.

Let Him lead you through a sea of challenges, on a path made by His power through our faith. And then sing with David:

"Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy
He who goes out weeping
carrying seed to sow
will return with songs of joy
carrying sheaves with him."
                (Psalm 126:5-6)

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

A Perfect Peace

"You will keep in perfect peace, those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust you" (Isaiah 26:3)

Another one of those rare moments of actual silence, with only the roar of a forestry truck grinding its gears in the distance. It is short-lived and much cherished, before two bounding bodies burst through the door with offerings of dirt-covered apple and beaming grimy faces. How can I resist. The sweetness fills my mouth while bits of sand grind between my teeth... Black and indigo-winged butterflies visit the kitchen garden, ground hornbills call from the tree-tops and the air is fragrant and warm. A peaceful picture, not?

It truly is, yet even in such a haven, there can be turmoil in your soul. The deception is that "stress" is caused only by an upheaval of external conditions, causing inner distress - ultimately leading to an inability to cope and illness. It is often believed that if the cause of "stress" could be removed, we would be content. I have witnessed different people deal with "stresses" like death and grieving, illness, tragedy, unimaginable pressure.  There is a sense of deep loss, pain, fear, despair, weariness and at times, denial or anger. But ultimately, for those truly anchored in the Lord, there is acceptance and perfect peace, and believe it or not, joy. The storms may rage, but Jesus told the waves to be still and they "bowed down and said: excuse me Master". The sun rises again and the glory of the Son, no "stress" or worldly condition can dim. Let our minds be steadfast and our trust secure. The Lord is our Shepherd and we will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

Original script of "It is well with my soul"
Chicago lawyer, Horatio G. Spafford wrote a beautiful hymn titled "It is well with my soul". The words "When sorrows like sea billows roll... It is well with my soul" were written during a time that he suffered almost unimaginable personal tragedy. Spafford's only son was killed by scarlet fever at the age of four. A year later each one of the holdings he had invested in on the shores of Lake Michigan was wiped out by the great Chicago fire. Aware of the toll that these disasters had taken on the family, Horatio decided to take his wife and four daughters on a holiday to England. A late business development caused Horatio to delay. Since he did not want to spoil the family holiday,  his wife and daughters sailed East to Europe without him. He would follow in due course.

Nine days later he received a telegram from his wife in Wales: "Saved Alone, what shall I do...". On November 2nd 1873, the "Ville de Havre" had collided with "The Lochearn", an English vessel. It sank in only twelve minutes, claiming the lives of 226 people. His wife Anna had stood bravely on the deck, holding on to her daughters. Her last memory was of her baby being torn from her arms by the force of the waters. Anna was saved from the fate of her daughters by a piece of debris that floated beneath her unconscious body. Her first reaction was of complete despair. Then she heard a voice speak to her, "You were spared for a purpose". She was reminded of the words of a friend, "It is easy to be grateful when you have much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God".

Spafford boarded the next ship out of New York to join his bereaved wife. During the voyage, the captain of the vessel called him to the bridge. "A careful reckoning has been made" he said, "and I believe we are now passing the place where the de Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep. Horatio took a deep breath, returned to his cabin and penned the lyrics of this great hymn. (Please read the full hymn under "Quotes, Prose and Poetry" of this Blog).

At times of stress or distress, it can be well with my soul. Have you ever had to follow a car in a maze of traffic? One cannot afford to take your eyes off the leading vehicle, regardless of who or what is beside or behind you. You memorise the registration number, the colour, model, whatever detail you need, to make sure that you do not loose sight of it. What "stress" it causes when you are distracted for a second and it disappears from your sight. What sweet relief, when you see its familiar shape waiting patiently for you next to the road.

And what fullness of joy we shall have when we get to our final destination.

Picture: Nasa - Morning Star meets moon
For our minds to be steadfast, we need to trust and surrender. To take all thoughts "captive" that are not from Him, for it is in the mind where the struggle begins. Where the enemy whispers lies and the the acid starts to leak into the soul. As we reclaim the truth through our victory in Christ, the Peace returns. Utopia lives in the heart, the shining temple of our Lord, the place where the bright Morning Star rises each new day.

When peace, like a river, 
attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, 
thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul...

"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". (Romans 8:28).

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Be realistic, expect a miracle

"Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!" (John 14:14) NLT

More shimmering heat - birds fall silent and a stripy field mouse drinks deeply from an abandoned bowl filled with rainwater, just outside our kitchen door. Driven by his thirst, he becomes bold, and I hold my breath in the moment, then he becomes aware of my presence and darts away. The dandelions are seeding and tufts of airborne seed heads are carried along on the breeze. A cracking sound can be heard from the forest, where wood is being collected for the next bake. Pale, cloudless skies are stretched overhead. The dogs are lethargic and the cat lies long and lazy on the cool floor. Days of air conditioned offices and malls seem so far away. To feel the heat, tempered by the mountain air, feels good and real. Sweet basil releases its perfume in the sun and I look longingly at the small yellow flowers on the tomato plants - soon juicy red fruit will be ripening there.

I can imagine that God also looks down at the fields of his children, longing for hearts to be quickened and ripened for his harvest. For our wills to be in-tune with his. For us to pray under an "open heaven". And to use what we receive for his glory and not our gain. God does not reward according to our function, He rewards according to our faithfulness and obedience. John Bunyan, preacher and Christian writer once said: "You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed".

What does it mean to "ask in His name"? Does it just mean that we have to remember to say "in Jesus name" before the prayer is ended off with Amen? I can recall times when I literally poured out my heart, begging, crying, beseeching God for a child to be healed, a friend or loved one's heart to be softened, for answers in the dark of night. Hearing only silence from above - not seeing the miracles that I so believed would crack open the heavens like a lightning bolt and bring a sweet rain of relief. But I have come to understand that it is in laying down our own will and desires that our prayers become truly powerful. God loves and honours it when we pray the things that are on His heart more than our own. The promises about asking, believing and receiving are not in dispute, but there is a higher calling in prayer. In His sovereign will for our lives is where we should be and want to be. Then we have the confidence, that "if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked of Him." 1 John 5:14-15. In His perfect time, not ours.

Which takes us to "Amen", which is a Hebrew word that stems from the word aman, which means "to be faithful, support, or confirm." The word "amen" actually means, "so be it," or "truly."
Therefore, when we end our prayers with "amen," we are re-affirming our dedication to God through Jesus Christ.

When we begin to intercede for things that God has clearly promised in his Word, then we start unlocking a true, unlimited power that will cause the heavens to "leak" under the weight of his glory. "Christianity is intended to be a supernatural existence from beginning to end, and the demonstration of God's power should be the norm" (Daniel Kolenda). Imagine a lumberjack starting of at dawn with much enthusiasm, felling trees with his powerful swing. Come mid-day, he takes a break, eats a balanced meal and starts chopping away again with much vigour and strength. But with no effect. Had he remembered to spend more time sharpening his axe, he would not only have been more efficient, but also fulfilled his role in a more balanced way.

The most precious time of my day is a little after dawn, when the door closes softly and I have time alone in prayer with Jesus. At first thoughts and sounds filter into the sacred space, and my heart stays hard and unyielding. Then slowly the "world grows dim" and I'm allowed into the inner sanctuary. This is the place of miracles, silent surrender, deep listening, deep growing. Without it my heart would be empty, my mind and focus adrift. And in a small or powerful way, he may choose to use me in the day to come. To usher in the presence of God into a world that so desperately needs it. Prayer not only precedes action, it is a state of being. 

When prayer without ceasing is a place we live, the Master of the house is glorified.

An invitation:

I would like to invite anyone who has any questions about the content of these blogs or any other issues relating to your faith walk to contact me at, or through this blog. I will do my best to get answers from The Bible and through prayer. You are welcome to remain anonymous and our communications will be kept in confidence.

Much love