Monday, 14 December 2015

The Scarlet Season

"For those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair." (Isaiah 61:3)

The sky is a dull slate. This morning the low slung cloud mass is neither soft nor friendly. It is silent and austere, without the refreshment of rain or the hope of the sun breaking through. Even the verdant growth seems a bit weighed down. Horses, great ghostly shapes in the mist, graze noisily and bury their soft noses in patches of sweet grass among the weeds. 

The scene outside my window reminds me that even during the hay days of summer abundance and festive holiday excitement, there is pain. Islands of blessings soften the trials and realities of living in a broken world. But the hurt still hurts. Pain may even serve to enhance that which is gentle and beautiful, and does not need to be denied for us to be awake to beauty. Memories of sweet as well as bitter times often float to the surface during this season when the world celebrates, even if it seems uncertain of what exactly the purpose of the party is.

Earlier today, as I shook out my muddy mop into the crisp air, I noticed a movement in the wattle trees behind our home. Three rather large birds were faintly outlined in the mist. At first I mistook them for the trio of crows which have noisily taken up residence on Inesi. But then one took flight. The flash of scarlet was like a defiance of the grey canvas surrounding it. A shy forest bird, with wingtips dipped in crimson. Leaving a flash of colour behind in my mind's eye. The colour of joy, love and the very source of life itself.

This time of year is like a drug to some. A time when sorrow is drowned in overspending, eating, drinking and escaping to holiday haunts. Locking the doors to a year of stress and worry and putting distance between yourself and the cares, worries and mundane reality of daily life. But for some the pain does not back down so easily, like a fanged being who will not let itself be caged or abandoned. For some, there is the prospect of Christmas without a loved one, whether through death, distance, divorce or estrangement. Being surrounded by families - with children in rainbows of exuberance. A picture of a contented wholeness, but to some a cutting reminder of their own single state, of a barren womb, echoing passages of an empty house, a stalking sickness or a rejected love. Each heart carries a burden and each home has dark corners, which those who live there wish to avoid.

This time of year does not need to smack of that desperate need to get away from it all. The sucrose coating over a bitter pill does not alter its core. Oblivion is tempting, but temporary. And it always comes at a price.

But there was that red cord that dangled from a city wall, about to come crashing down. There were those doorposts painted with the blood of a spotless lamb, where the angel of death passed by on a grim night of reaping. The flash of red in a mist enshrouded wattle tree behind my kitchen window. Reminders of lasting hope. Free of cost.

For the price has been paid. With crimson drops of blood that dripped from a crown of thorns, onto the brow of a Man who embraced the pain, captivity and sinful state of all mankind. Which flows through all time and history to bring Life and hope where the world has failed to do so.

We can choose to turn to that hope when our own days become tinged with a sense of dread, regardless of the season to be jolly. Or to impart it to someone who is feeling overwhelmed, tired, fearful, hurting, longing, lonely, heartbroken. Jesus is the gift which will never loose its lustre. A gift we are all free to receive and give.

His is a heart which never stops giving, never stops loving, never needs to escape the pain of mankind. We can choose to have Jesus' heart, particularly in this time when sorrow is either the reason to flee or the reason to cling to the red cord of His saving grace, even when all else comes crashing down. 

Morning dawns new for those who refuse to let go, who draw others to safety at the only true source of strength and eternal joy.

And what a joyful dawn it will be - whether you awake in a hospital bed or a luxury beach cabana. The same Son shines on us all. But we need to walk out into His presence. Think of a solar panel which soaks up even the smallest ray of sunshine, stores it up and when night falls, is able to draw on what it has absorbed and reflects it regardless of the dark.

The dazzling star of Bethlehem was witness to His birth. The fire-hearted sun ceased to shine at the moment of His death. The blinding glory of God burst from the grave as he shook off the death shroud and received the robe of victory from the Father. The eternal light of His love burns through the iciest chambers of a hardened heart.

We are His lanterns. True sources of light. He shines even when we fail to. Embrace the freedom of knowing - it does not depend on you. Even our most worthy efforts fall sadly short of God's glory. Let Jesus be the One to fill your lamp with the oil of gladness at this time. Let it light the Way, the footsteps of Him who goes before us, wherever we may go at this time.

For - "It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life..." (Phil 2:15)

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Look and Listen

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.
(Rev 3:20) NLT

Summer abundance. Gratifying days of planting, watching things grow. Little hands learn to press a new seedling down gently as it is seated in the soil. Letting my own hands sink deeply into a warm, fragrant pile of compost (and ignoring the tell-tale ache at the small of a "repaired" back). New winged visitors find their way into our garden, and we listen wide-eyed to their calls and conversations. And then just as sudden as the summer heat, another misty day arrives. Bringing respite and rest from hard work.

Indoor days are meant to be gentle, and for most times they are. But there are "those" days... Like when I find myself outside a bedroom door, the sound of it's slamming still ringing in my ears. Deep breath. A little hurt at being "shut out" so easily. Too soon there may be more than just a door between us. But for now, a gentle coaxing (or a not so subtle threat at times), still gives me access, and I am allowed to hold all that precious softness once more.

My message today is an impromptu one, and I hope to keep it short and unedited. As we are nearing a season of heightened busyness and hype, it is once again so easy to shut Christ out of Christmas time.

It is not the distant story of baby Jesus that we celebrate. It is the reality of the living Christ, who was born into humanity in the most humble manner. As helpless babe. God came near in flesh and form of a man, but always remained God.

Peter said it best. "We were eyewitnesses of His majesty". His Majesty. The emperor of Juda. The soaring eagle of eternity. The noble Admiral of the Kingdom. All the splendour of heaven revealed in human body. For a period ever so brief, the doors to the throne room were opened and God came near. His Majesty was seen. Heaven touched earth and as a result earth can know heaven.

Those who missed His Majesty's arrival that night, missed it not because of evil or malice; they missed it because they simply weren't looking and listening. And maybe because they were too busy?

It is easy to get caught up in all this busyness. Even if you live on a hill in the mountains. The keen young man who helps me in the garden looked at me yesterday, uncharacteristically lugging rocks and directing various projects like a conductor leading the orchestra to a climatic finale. "You making it nice for Christmas?" he asked. "No Joseph", I answered, "it is for every day of looking after this special place." But he did get me thinking.

Jesus not only longs to make Himself known to those who do not know Him, He longs to be known by those who do. He knocks and listens, hears the clatter of pots and pans, the tingling of money being spent, the sound of suitcases being packed and shut for holidays. The sound of busyness.

The busyness in itself is not "wrong". It is when it overcomes us and takes first priority that it veers towards a place where awareness of His Majesty is lost.

How our Lord Jesus' heart will sing if the door is opened and He is invited to share this time with us! God still draws near, is always near, but we can only experience His embrace and live His presence if we stop and acknowledge it.

Invite Him into the stress of getting everything done on time. Invite him into the planning and anticipation for everything to fall into place just so. Invite Him into every moment. But most of all, let's invite Him into the celebration, as the center, the motivation and the reason why we are free to celebrate.

It will be the best Christmas ever.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

A Change of Mind

"Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts..." (Hebrews 3:15)

Another misty morning dawns. Time is obscured along with the vegetation around our cabin. A day for planting, copious cups of cocoa, reading, learning and writing. Plans for brush-cutting and work on the newly dug garden pond, are put on hold. Minute droplets float gently, consistently - refreshing all that breathes and grows.

This piece of mountain land that we live on, was a wattle forest when we bought it. The first time we set foot on it, we “bundu-bashed” our way through dense forest and bramble, with a kind neighbour and a flustered, huffing estate agent.

Many years later, we are still taming the wilderness. And at times, just letting it be. It is not a garden to show off. But it is home. A place where children can play freely, with no finicky flower beds or high walls. It has critters and crawlies and secret hide-outs to delight curious boys’ minds and senses.

But not only have our children experienced freedom here. Apart from freedom from the demands of an affluent society and the pressures and expectations attached to it, there is another freedom that is growing gracious roots in our hearts.

After the last blog that I wrote, I felt that there were some aspects concerning how we are truly set free from sin, which I needed to clarify . And how we come to have free access to the loving, just Trinity of God. While it is true that Jesus loves all sinners, regardless of the sin or the condition of the individual - it is not true that He accepts all sinners to come before His throne without the sinner's acknowledgement of their sinful state.

This remains impossible as long as the sinner considers him- or herself "acceptable" in a way of living which is unacceptable to God. With no regret or deep sorrow for sins of the past and the sins of each day. Which continue to block our access to God and are a hindrance to our prayers being answered. Please note: sorrow and regret - not guilt.

Isaiah 30:15 reads: "This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it."

And: Acts 3:19: "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord."

There are two Hebrew words used for repent/repentance in the Old Testament:

1. נחם - naw-kham' The Hebrew word is used 108 times in the OT and is translated, “comfort” 57 times, “repent” 41 (plus 2 more including the noun), “comforter” 9, and “ease” 1. It can mean “regret,” “be moved to pity,” “have compassion” and similar.

2. שׁוּב - shoob A common word in the OT, used over 1,000 times and is usually translated “turn,” “turn back,” “return” or similar.

In the New Testament forms of the word “repent” or “repentance” are used 66 times in 60 verses. The majority of the time it is translated from the Greek words μετάνοια (met-an'-oy-ah), noun, and μετανοέω (met-an-o-eh'-o), verb. It simply means “a change of mind". The object of the change of mind must be determined by the context.

The way I understand this and is made clear in Scripture, is that even though God calls all sinners to Himself through Jesus, we cannot be set free from sin and "turn" to a new joyful life with Him, without repentance towards each other and before God.

This is a hard teaching of Christ. It is unrelenting and direct in its objective; but – as are all things with Christ – it is rooted in unconditional love. The word that Christ would have used to say “repent” is the word “Metanoia”. While the concept of repentance has been distorted into meaning to simply stop sinning, the word that Christ used is a word that means “to think differently”. God’s heart is not focused solely on our actions, but rather, on our motivations. Therefore, His charge to those that follow Him is not only to resist the urge to act negatively. It is to use the opportunity (with His strength) to act positively, according to His will.

In Luke 13:3 Jesus says: "...unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

A group of people came to Jesus and told him about how Pilate had murdered some worshiping Galileans and taken their blood and mixed it with the blood of their sacrifices—their sheep and pigeons and doves. It was a dreadful thing that took place.
Jesus hears it in their voices—these slain Galileans must have really offended God that He allowed something so horrible to happen to them. In other words extraordinary tragedy must signify extraordinary guilt.

But Jesus answers simply, "No, I tell you, BUT unless you repent you will all likewise perish."

These are words that have become hurtful to people's ears. Words like: sin, repentance, judgement.

Scripture says, "Your iniquities have made a separation  between you and your God and your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear." (Isaiah 59:2). Even our prayers will not reach God's ears, we are left without spiritual authority.

Revelation 1:5,6 teaches that Jesus "loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father". 

And therefore, as the Old Testament shows us, coming before God as a priest, means having clean garments and clean hands each time one enters the sanctuary for prayer.

Without cleansing (repentance), we cannot come before God's throne; without cleansing, we lack authority. This does not mean that we are made righteous through our repentance alone. It is still only with and through Jesus that this is made possible. A close relationship with Him, will move us to repentance, as those who love Him, and want to live in right standing with Him.

"The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears toward their cry" (Psalm 34:15). This is why only the entirely righteous One, who lived on this earth could say: "I knew that you always hear me..." (John 11:42)

God longs for us to be priests who will step into the breach, repenting first for ourselves (for judgement always begins with the household of God - 1 Peter 4:17), and then for others. But sadly, often our ears are deaf, because our hearts, in love with this world, have grown hard and insensitive to God's judgements. How can a nation be roused from its apathy if the priests of God (the Christians) do not wake up first?

"We are challenged to confess our sins, to separate ourselves from the world and to be purified, so that we may live in the sanctuary as priests. Then, as priests, we can, with authority, place the saving and freeing name of Jesus ever anew on all the suffering people in our land and throughout the world. Judgement will be transformed into blessing, as many who do not know the Lord or even hate Him, come to a saving faith in the Redeemer. The forces of destruction will be held back. Amid all the hardships, an eternal weight of glory will be prepared for those who love the Lord, a glory incomparably greater than the sufferings of this present age." (M Basilea Schlink)

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Back to Basics

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 3:11)

The Starlings are back. With their glossy wings, unchecked curiosity and sweet melancholy calls, these birds have woven their way into my heart. The Cape Glossy Starling or Inyakrini, often sings a lengthy warbling song which may include a clever imitation of sounds they hear in their environment. They seem to seek out our company when we are out on the deck, or when I'm picking herbs outside the kitchen door. To have a "conversation" with a starling is a pleasing pastime indeed...They are "cooperative breeders", meaning that the breeding pair may be assisted by up to six helpers, who often remain with them through many breeding seasons. Wouldn't that be a most agreeable practise if it could be adopted by humans!

Scent and sound has such an important place on our mountain abode - frog songs in the mist, the smell of a damp forest, the call of a jackal buzzard, the welcoming fragrance of wattle fires, the scent of indigenous herbs in the hot sun. Our dogs return from a run along forest paths with my husband, their coats carrying the rich smell of woodland undergrowth. It is a delight to bury your nose in a warm furry neck and sense the places they've been.

These mountains have taught us an appreciation of what is right before us. To turn toward a simpler life and cast off so much of what we used to consider necessities for happiness. Even just the pursuit of happiness has become redundant. Instead, we have found deep fulfilment and peace from a commitment to, and living out of our faith.

That in itself is a very "loose" description of the purpose of my "belief". At a time when the strings of moral laws and Biblical truths are being "let out" to allow for more and more tolerance, masked in a sweet coated religious cocktail - in which all is acceptable and permissible through love - Truth is lost.

False teachings are often blatant, but increasingly often, it is so cunningly subtle that it is hard to tell "the wood for the trees".

Here is an example, which I found on a website that "answers" tough questions that young people ask about faith and religion. Read it and see how soon you are able to discern it to be a true or false teaching.

"Unlike anything else you have encountered, a relationship with God does not begin with you filling in the blank, "Accept me because..."

It starts with God saying, "I accept you." "I welcome you."

Whether you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or have questions, God is not our enemy. If you have not already begun one, God wants a relationship with you. He offers this to anyone and everyone.

In Scripture, you'll see only one group that consistently angered Jesus...the religious self-righteous.

Jesus seemed okay with everyone else, including prostitutes and criminals. However, the religious elite irritated and saddened Jesus. He saw them as judgemental, arrogant, unloving, and hypocritical.

You might see those words and immediately think of religious people who have been hurtful, rude or judgemental toward you. Does that represent Jesus' heart? No. Jesus said to love your neighbour as yourself. How would hurtful comments fit into that? Not very well.

This is Jesus' heart revealed. He said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

The above is just one example of truth interwoven with human doctrine, and a twisted adaptation and quoted out of context of Scripture. Cunningly paraphrased and altered into something which is soothing to anyone lost on the wide road to ruin, but which promises to lead to an all-accepting, loving God.

Rather than to unpack all the lies, I thought it to be a good time to go back to confirm what it is I actually believe. And to pray without ceasing and trust the Holy Spirit to bestow on me both a spirit of love and a spirit of discernment.

The notes on the following five "Solas" (only, alone) are not my own words, but a mostly verbatim copy of our most recent bible study notes. With scripture references to substantiate them.


Faith alone is the instrument of our salvation. Salvation is not by works, it is by faith, that is, trusting the Lord Jesus Christ. Even saving faith is a gift of God's grace.

Romans 5: 1-2 "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God."


This truth declares that the Bible alone is our authority for faith (what we believe) and conduct (how we live). The Bible alone is God's Word written. It is without error, it is authoritative, it is sufficient for all things pertaining to life and godliness. It must be preached and lived out.

2 Timothy 3:14-17 "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."


It is in Christ alone that we have salvation. In His perfect life and substitutionary death alone we have salvation. Through Him and Him alone, we have the forgiveness of our sins and are declared righteous before God.

Acts 4:11-12 "Jesus is 'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”


It answers the question of who does what in salvation. Many think that salvation is a "grace and..." project. If this is true then "grace is no longer grace" (Romans 11:6). The Bible is clear, salvation is all of grace and grace alone because "salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2:9).

2 Timothy 1:9 "He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time."


It is the great goal of all God's purposes in Jesus Christ. All that God does, He does for His own glory. He created all things for His glory. He sustains and rules over the world and our lives for His glory. Our salvation is all of grace through Christ for all His glory. God and God alone is worthy of all glory and praise!

Romans 11: 33-36 "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen."

and therefore: 1 Cor 10:31 "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, 

do it all for the glory of God."


Having confirmed what I believe, "I should "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you (me) to give the reason for the hope that you (I) have. But do this with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:15).

Truth sets us free. If Jesus has set you free you are free indeed. Not to do as you and I wish, but free from lies, from spiritual confusion, free to choose to live in His will, free from fear, free from doubt, free from a lust for power, wealth or status, free from guilt, free from burdens of the past, free from the curse of sin, freed from the jaws of death itself.

A caged bird sees freedom through bars and longs for it without knowing what it is longing for. It has food, shelter, a simulated environment to suit its needs and perceived instincts. So it is content. A bird that has been set free from captivity, sees the cage and stays clear of it. Having tasted true freedom, it can never return to that false environment. It soars ever higher and the cage serves only as a reminder of the sad limitations of captivity.

Be anchored in the One and True Gospel of Christ Jesus. It is not a chain or a cage, it is knowing that we in ourselves are fledgelings, with Jesus beneath our wings. He longs to gather to Himself His elect, the often scorned but steadfast. I truly long to be counted as one of the few of true faith that Christ may find when He returns. And in this time where we see the predicted spiral of sorrows leading to an unprecedented time of trouble, to be able to say with confidence: Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Thursday, 8 October 2015

To be Liked or to be Like-minded

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." - Phil 2:5

Summer... Dog days. Luminous afternoons and balmy nights. Times of abundance, of harvests and al fresco feasting. Of picnics and frolics and freedom. Of little boys playing naked and carefree in a babbling brook. Limbs and joints feel soft. Cats uncurl and lay limp and lazy in the sun.

Strange how expressions like "dog days" linger, even when the origin or meaning has long been lost. I thought it referred to those devastatingly hot days of summer when dogs lie around, panting. But it was the ancient Romans who actually "coined" that particular phrase. It refers to the dog star, Sirius, and its position in the heavens at a certain time of year. To the Greeks and Romans, the “dog days” occurred around the day when Sirius appeared to rise just before the sun, in late July. They referred to these days as the hottest time of the year, a period that could bring fever, or even catastrophe. As a result they performed various rites and rituals, burned bones etc. to keep themselves protected and in favour with their gods.

This in itself is a just a piece of trivia and I don't mean to attach deep spiritual value to it. Neither am I saying that one should refrain from using particular phrases because of their origin.

But lately I have found myself prompted to question the origin of "things" more and more. Not to the extent that it causes me sleepless nights (fortunately). On the contrary, it has often led to "freedom" from habits, beliefs, traditions and a way of talking, behaving and living that does not belong in the life of someone who belongs to Christ. When Jesus said "My yoke is easy", it was not meant as a riddle. It is true.

It is the self-imposed yoke of the world which is weighty. Self is weighty. And serving the demands of "self" in the world is most often a burden which causes damage to self and alienation from our Godly design.

In Paul's letter to the Philippians (second chapter),  there is a precious part of scripture, which has been living in me for the last few weeks. He writes:

"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ,

if any comfort from His love,

if any fellowship with the Spirit,

if any tenderness and compassion,

then make my joy complete by being like-minded,

having the same love,

being one in spirit and purpose.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking on the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance
as a man,
He humbled Himself
and became obedient to death - 
even death on a cross!

Therefore... God exalted Him
to the highest place
and gave Him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus,
every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth
and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father."

and then this sentence in verse 13:

"For it is God who works in you to will and act according to His good purpose."

The message is essentially about imitating Christ's humility and servant-hood. It is incredibly rich and one can spend years pouring over each phrase and word. This morning, these were the words that stood out for me: united, like-minded, same, likeness.

Just recently, I stepped away from Facebook. Deleted it from my life completely. This was a part of the yoke that I needed to get rid of and I must admit that I feel much lighter as a result. It was what I needed to do, for it was weighing me down. 

One of the things (among many others) which started bothering me, was my need to be "liked". The anticipation each time I  "posted" or "updated my status" on my "timeline". Waiting for the "likes" to appear and then feeling connected and appreciated when one or two people "liked" what I wrote or posted. And feeling let down when they didn't. This is not meant to be a criticism of FB as such. I'm using it as an example of one of the things that I have been led to question in my walk. It can be used positively and with discernment. It is simply what I felt convicted to do.

"Like" is a diluted and rather weak word, which we use for just about every thing that we feel positive about. When it becomes so important to let people know "what I like" and to "be liked", I tend to forget who I am in Christ, and what I reflect into the world.

(It is also strangely used as a "filler". A teenage boy recently responded to my asking him why he felt it necessary to be rude to one of our small boys by saying: "When a kid shoves something in my face, I get like really annoyed, you get it?").

But getting back to Phillipians 2...

What does it mean to me to be "like-minded" with other believers? (v2)

It starts with believing the same one and only true gospel of Christ, and having "the same love."

But how is it then that even among people who "have the same love", who accept Jesus as their Saviour and First Love, there are still such differences in opinion, disagreements, arguments etc?

As Jesus in very nature took on the "likeness of man", we take on the exalted likeness of the risen Christ. When I take my eyes off Him and opt to take on the likeness of the world, this is when the yoke gets heavy and my needs and likes and opinions are placed before those of others and ultimately before His will.

But can I truly become "like" Him? Have the same attitude as Him - the Son of God?

I cannot. Not even after a lifetime of meditation and self-searching and discipline. Not even if It is the sole purpose of my every day, spent in fervent effort to do what Jesus would do.

Through His death on the cross he has "united" us with Him. When I receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, I become "one" with Christ, and His likeness becomes imprinted over mine. In surrender to His will and purpose, it takes the place of my good intentions and ambitions.

"For it is God who works in you to will and act according to His good purpose."

It is God who works in me to surrender my wants for His will. God who works in me to love the people who "dislike" Jesus in me. God who works in me to forgive them for mocking Him whom I hold most dear. God who works in me to be "like-minded" and one in spirit and purpose with those who do share the same love of Christ. God who works in me to forgive myself when I fail. For He doesn't.

Jesus Himself, in very nature God, did not grasp (seize) the "status" of being equal with God. He became nothing, a servant, obedient to death on the cursed cross. So that I may come before God, forgiven and blameless. His is the likeness I have imprinted on my heart.

By getting to know Him through His Word, spending time at His feet and surrendering to his will, we will be conformed to His likeness.  For "he who began a good work in you (me) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil 1:6)

"God created the world out of nothing, and as long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us" - Martin Luther

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Life in the shadows, or under His Shadow?


This morning I watched a band of busy mouse-birds feeding in a holly bush to the left of the kitchen window. The air is redolent of early spring. Bees are at work in the rosemary and lavender and a heady scent of jasmine takes me back to Highveld gardens and carefree little girl days. I have difficulty remembering myself as a small child. There are freeze frames of memories and smells, or the way a certain place or experience made me feel. But not as a whole. Through my own children many of these memories have taken on a new perspective, and helped me to see myself as a small child would see his mother. I watch my boys gallop over the wide land that surrounds us and their sense of freedom gives me air to breathe also. Makes me go down on my knees and hold them close when they return, as if each time were the last.

A while ago, when I walked out on the deck to call them, there was a split second where the sun was blocked out. A large shadow moved stealthily over the ground and then dipped toward where they were playing. I knew without looking up, that the jackal buzzard was soaring overhead, as he often does. He settled on a pole not too far from where I was standing. He cocked his head a little and sat looking at me as if to gauge my purpose. A bit later I heard his call, high-pitched and eerie - like the howling of a black-backed jackal. A sound that I will probably always associate with our Inesi home.

Why is it that shadows are often associated with an ominous presence? The time of day when shadows grow longer, cause you to draw your arms protectively around each other and stoke the fire for comfort. Evil is meant to lurk in the shadows, its face hidden. People speak of the shadow of death. C.S. Lewis refers to this planet we live on - Earth, as a type of “Shadowland”. A preparation for the reality which comes in another world. Heaven is the real reality. What is experienced before Heaven is only half real. Not exactly night, but not exactly bright day either - the shadows...

But I see evil strutting boldly in the light, while God's children are deceived into the shadows of unbelief, lacking discernment or fearful. And this, while ultimate rest and protection can be found in the Shadow of Him who has no stain or darkness. (Whoever dwells in the shelter of the most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty - Ps 91:1).

I came across a poem by D.H. Lawrence entitled -"Shadows"...

And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.

And if, as weeks go round, in the dark of the moon

my spirit darkens and goes out, and soft strange gloom
pervades my movements and my thoughts and words
then I shall know that I am walking still
with God, we are close together now the moon’s in shadow.

Even though Lawrence sadly rejected the "Christian creed" at the age of twenty two, whilst at university, he went on wrestling imaginatively and emotionally with the significance of Christ for the rest of his life. With these words he does seem to acknowledge that it is God that renews and sustains. During on-top-of-the-hill times, and in the shadows-of-the-valley times.

I do not "wrestle" or struggle with the significance of Christ in my life. I know that He is my Saviour, my Redeemer, and I am in constant need of His grace. What I do struggle with is my own inability to "become less" so that He may "become more" in me. The spotlight often feels so good and warm, that it is easy to forget how fickle it is. When the show is over and the lights go down, it is a sad and lonely place to be. The stage is dark and empty, the props are revealed for what they really are; and the revellers have left for the next show.

Over the last few days I have been drawn back into the shadow(s). In so many different ways, that it is most certainly not coincidental. I write a blog under the title: "In the Shadow of His wings", yet I find myself so often taking a bow apart from that Shadow. I sing the hymn: "To thee be the glory. To thee be the honour. All blessings and praises, to the Lamb". But then grumble about the lack of acknowledgement that a full-time mother receives.

Does serving Christ sometimes seem like a bit of a paradox? For instance:

1) I walk in victory, (In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us -Romans 8:37);

but, then I am humbled when I remember that I do in fact not bring about the victory in any way... ("The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD" - Proverbs 21:31 and ... "the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory" - Deut 20:4);

and therefore, in no way can I claim the honour for it. ("For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever" - Rom 11:36).

2) I have authority and power through Christ. ("Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you" - Luke 10:19);

but, am humbled and reminded how and why this authority has been given me (... greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son" - John 14:12-14)

3) Right now, I am seated with Christ in heavenly places and have received all spiritual blessings from Him. ("And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus" - Eph 2:6  "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." Eph 1:3).

Not so that I may walk with my head in the clouds, but because: "His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms." Eph 1:3.

 There is so much given me, promised me, poured out on me, such riches and blessings that not only permeate my days and nights, that it is often difficult to stay humble. Easy to forget that I have not brought any of it about by myself. It is hard not to be tempted to wander from under that omnipresent, omniscient Shadow of the Lord and march out into the mid-day sun. And be scorched. And, like with too much exposure to the sun, the mistake is only perceived in the cool of the day, when the fury of the sun, trapped in the tender network of nerves under the skin starts to burn.

As a child of God, sooner or later, I have to face the mirror and notice the tell-tell marks of my wanderings. Pride, egoism, and vanity, etched deeply. And hear the words that are so hard to receive, but are often the gateway to a renewed sense of being under that same grace that Paul spoke of: "For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you." Romans 12:3

What will keep me from this dumb-trodden path that has my footprints going to and fro so often that it is hard to see which way I'm going?


Obedience which flows from a sure footed, well anchored faith and hope in Christ and Christ alone. Being in a place of trust under his wings and knowing that I can and will fly with my Lord when He has deemed me ready to do so. And then in such a way that those who witness it will witness the glory of the Lord and not the skill of the bird.

"Those who hope on the Lord will soar on wings like eagles." (Is 40:31). God promises us flight - He is not an overprotective, overbearing presence, which wants to prevent His children from living an abundant life! He formed me, loves me, knows my limitations, my vulnerability and my strength.

(A short digression. The image used in Isaiah is very significant to me, having watched birds of prey in flight so often. An eagle does not flap his wings unnecessarily. He uses thermal updrafts, warm pockets of wind, enabling him to reach great heights. Soaring on an updraft requires agility to be attuned to the wind, but it does not mean flying by the eagle's own power. A thermal updraft is created when there is heat on the ground that sends a billow of air rising upwards. Now where in the scripture do we see heat and wind? Acts 2. The day the Holy Spirit fell on the newborn church, there was a sound of a violent rushing wind. The word “spirit” also means breath or wind, and has the same root as the word “wind” in verse 2. And with the wind came tongues of flame. Heat. When an eagles soars, there is heat creating wind that rises in a thermal updraft to keep eagles soaring higher than other birds, without flapping their wings, just by being in tune with the wind...)

We live in a time when the shadows, should not be places we fear. The "valleys of the shadow of death" are places where faith can increase and trust can deepen. This "Shadowland" is not our home, its light is not eternal, it threats and pleasures both shall pass. This present darkness - Satan and all the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm are real and right before our eyes. But the evil we see is in fact the violent death throes of a beast knowing that his time is short. Who knows that He has been conquered by the One who sits at the right hand of God. The veil is thin. We are called to be bold in our faith, but humble in our demeanour.

It is not a paradox, it is the beautiful mystery and Truth wrapped up in Jesus Christ. A dance of infinite grace. Of surrender. Letting go of me. And melting into Jesus. More of you, Lord. Less of me.

As we learn to imitate Him by leaning in close; becoming one with His Shadow, a world of such freedom and beauty shall open up, that it will leave us in awe. In constant wonder of the presence of God who promises to "lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. 

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Sustaining without the "self"

He makes His messengers winds, His ministers a flaming fire. 
~ Psalm 104.4

Fire. A force that can wipe out or sweep away life in an unstoppable wave of destruction. It can also purge, purify. Be a source of warmth, a sustaining element of life. There is no home in Hogsback that I know of, without at least one fireplace or wood-burning stove. Sourcing, chopping, collecting and storing of firewood forms part of every family's life on the mountain as much as eating and sleeping. Making and feeding the home-fires is part of a comforting daily routine, often not only limited to the winter months. Children learn from very young that it hurts as well as warms, and are taught to respect it and tend to it in the home in equal balance. In the chill of sunless days, our house would be a dreary place without a flicker and crackle from the flames. Fire is not a novelty, it is a necessity, and a large part of the community still rely on a wood fire to cook their daily meals, and to warm water for washing and bathing.

This morning, after an unusually balmy day, the view from my window is once again limited to a few meters of ghostly shapes among thick tendrils of swirling mist. Winter is loosening its grip on the land and blossoms defy the last snaps of it's jaws. Shoots of green are borne high on branches, grown gangly and bare during the slow season. Two sweet faces peep out from a blanket on the couch, their heads close together in concentration. My fingers on the keyboard are cold, but a comforting warmth from the fire touches the stiff places on my back. As always, there is hesitation and no small amount of uncertainty as I start writing. Our dogs send up a haunting choir of howls. I imagine the wreaths of warm breath hanging in the air for a moment, before being swallowed up by the cold air.

As a born and bred city lass, adapting to life in the mountains has been quite an education. A culture shift, a slow acceptance of a gentler life in a harsher environment. Some of the adjustments came more naturally than others, some habits and expectations were more tenacious and harder to let go of. But it happened. Like a complicated dance routine that suddenly becomes part of the memory of muscles and limbs, rather than a conscious effort. Making fire is the one of the twirls of the dance, watching it spark and catch alight and grow until the flames lick and twist in ever-changing "hues of hot".

I remember when I was first introduced to an enthusiastic group of Christians back in the city, after a bleak, dry period in my own spiritual walk. There was much talk of "being on fire for the Lord". It was a foreign concept to me. I knew about the eternal fires to which the lost are doomed. The all-consuming fire of God's jealous love for His people. His ability to set a mountain atremble when He descends on it in a blaze. But the thought of my own heart "on fire" felt out of control, frightening.

The more I tried to protect myself from being scorched, the less alive I felt. It was like lying in a tepid bath for too long while your skin starts to pucker and lethargy descends heavily on your limbs. For long periods of time I managed to justify this "state" as a resting place where God allowed me to linger, after the "heat"of emotional turmoil or personal stress.

One of the first times I came face to face with the true meaning of this "type" of Christianity, was when I stopped to think over this passage in Revelations 3:15,16: "I know your deeds, that you are neither hot nor cold, I wish you were either one or the other. But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!"

Anyone who has ever deeply loved another and not had their love reciprocated with the same depth, knows the despair it brings. The cry of anguish in those verses is that of a Lover, a Bridegroom faced with a bride with wandering eyes. Like a playful butterfly she flits and darts from one sweet place to another and turns to Him only for her own needs. She gives ear to another, who whispers half-truths and veiled promises about a comfortable faith on a wide road strewn with blessings. And then turns to her groom for comfort or when the blessings turn out to be empty and her feet are tired from all their wandering.

I did not want to be "her" anymore. I did not want to be "spat out" for want of passion. I wanted to burn. To stand in the fire with the Son of Man and feel the ashen embers of my own heart be revived. To know what it is to be part of the all-consuming fire of God's love. To be purified by it so that He would see His own image reflected in me. To feel the tongues of fire descend on me through God's Spirit and have the chambers of my heart sealed like a vault. A holy place where only the High Priest himself is allowed and the deceiver has no access.

But I had to kneel low and embrace all of the loving, fiery, merciful and just God for whom my heart longed. The Lord who saved me from a place of eternal agony. Who felt the desperation of abandonment from the Father, who averted His eyes from Him so that I may slip free from the knots and tangles of my sinful self. The Lord who will test the quality of each man's work, because it is also to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test it on the day of judgement. The Lord who also cares for me with a protective shield and confronts the devil himself on my behalf when I am weak.

But the Jesus I met as I knelt there, was so full of gentle love, that instead of a fiery ignition into a race towards perfection and glory, a wonderful warmth flowed through me. Gentle as my Saviour has ever been with me, He blew those dormant embers into a flicker, then a flame. But ever will he continue to tend to it. There will never be a tempest harsh enough to snuff it out or a fiery trial so great that it will consume me altogether. He is my board and my hearth, in Him is all I need.

In the darkest night and on each lonely path of doubt, there will always be the flickering and beckoning of life-affirming reassurance, calling: "Come home to Me, ye who are weary, come home".

Friday, 31 July 2015

Shy of S I N, short of glory

For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,
Being justified freely by His grace, 
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. - Romans 3:23,24

Light breaks through the dark of night with icicles in its wake. I woke up a few times during the night to hear the sleet pelting the tin roof with a rapping scraping rhythm. So it was no surprise to see the mountains draped in white through the parting clouds. Ice still clung in crusty patches to the deck. The window panes were partially frosted with condensation where the warmth from within met with the freeze from without. Then sun struck the treetops and split each particle of moisture into glittering reflections of light. Watching it all from an easy chair next to the fire seemed limiting, so I quietly crept out the door, feet crunching and slipping on the icy surface. A merciless breeze nipped at my skin and found a way through all the layers of clothing into the marrow. I resisted the urge to go back inside for a little longer, and stood feeling the wind burn, tossing my hair into my eyes. I feared the mountain chill when we first moved here. I did not think that a sun-lover such as myself, could ever adapt to such a seemingly harsh environment. I denied and defied it by keeping the curtains closed on grey days, hiding under ever increasing layers of clothing with stiff fingers and a rigid back. I cannot honestly say that I have since embraced the bitter cold. I have just been given the grace to see the beauty in it, the possibilities as well as the limitations.

I read the other day that "pain is a magnifying glass for beauty". It rang true. Still more - it makes that of eternal value the most urgent and beautiful of all. None choose pain, but how sweet a drop of water tastes on parched lips and tongue, how much more magnificent is the sunrise after a dark night of torment. How could I ever know the overwhelming wonder of God's love and glory if not contrasted against my own black heart. I always thought that I have lead a reasonably "good" life so far. I didn't break too many rules or cause major scandals. I often felt rebellion in my heart, but never lived it beyond the extent to which it caused more than a few ripples in the lives of those who love me. Or so I thought.

Slowly I am becoming more and more aware of my own depravity. This may sound self-effacing. As if I have a need to wear a coarse cilice (hair shirt) against my skin -  but it has in fact been very "freeing". Most of us are familiar with the analogy of how stars are best seen when it is truly dark. They are still there when it is bright and light, but are not visible to the human eye. I have recently heard this metaphor used to contrast our sinful nature against the glory of God. If I were so "good", why ever would I need a redeemer, the Redeemer. While it is true that God does not see my sin when He looks at me, He sees Jesus, it does not mean that the sin is not there anymore.

The me in me still wants to scream at my children, slam a door when I'm angry, become snappy when I feel insecure. My thoughts are still often dark, my heart turned towards self-pity, my needs too often selfish ones, and laziness sets in as I justify prolonged periods of "rest". I still tend to inwardly gauge my sins against my "neighbour's", my self-worth against what I achieve each day and my spiritual growth against the time I spend reading scripture and in prayer.

This is then obviously followed with a thorough dumping in the guilt-well. Resulting in more inertia en self-searching and gloom. But as in many of the amazing accounts of people chosen by God to reveal His glory, there is the "but then" turning point in the tale of woe.

From the pit, confronted with the consequence of my own slippery slide, a loving Saviour calls. And when I look up it is not a condemning, frowning face I see. Like a little child standing before a parent, conscious of his misdoing, eyes averted and shrinking from what may follow. Then there is the moment of unbelief when the parent crushes the child to his breast and whispers: "I love you so much, now please go play and don't do that again". Over and over this is repeated, and so secure is the child in the parent's love, that the inevitable discipline that follows is met with shock, anger and even defiance. His security seems to be shattered and it is only when he finally creeps back to apologise to the parent, who seems to have turned his back on the child in anger, that the little one sees the same pure love in the face that looks at him. Feels the same warmth in the embrace. But if he cared to linger and look, he would see a glimpse of the hurt that his wrong has brought the parent, the hope that this time the remorse would be real and deep and the wish that the lesson was learnt well.

What trumps the realisation of my own hopeless state, is the place it forces me to. On my knees before God. Faced with the sin I was born into, which ever pursues me and threatens to engulf me at times, I'm drawn back to His throne. Stripped of all that I thought gave me worth and esteem. Laying it all down, holding nothing back. Ironically this is exactly the point where, at a backwards glance, I see the "but thens" in my story:

But then... empty of all she thought she was or had become, HE was able to fill her with all that HE is and always has been. And as HE reached down with a nail scarred hand, she placed her hand there, was lifted to her feet, and led with yet faltering steps onto a path where HIS footprints were etched, for her to follow. Where HIS light ever broke through the treetops to reveal yet another step for her to place her foot onto. As her tread grew lighter, she no longer needed to scan the path to find the prints of his presence. Her feet had learnt the feel of HIS way. Now she only kept her eyes on the beautiful light before her. What joy that upturned face brought HIM. She feels it, He marvelled, my beloved, my own.

A consciousness of sin hurts. It should hurt. It should remind me of the pain it caused Jesus, who without as much as a stain, was willing to take the consequence of sin, my sin, onto His bloodstained back. To be rejected by all humanity, forsaken by His Father, to descend to hell and claim the keys to the place of eternal burning, where I was destined before this sacrifice. Could the glory of Jesus' victory over death, the magnificent reality of heaven - now my undeserved destiny, ever be appreciated unless set against the weight of my own sin?

This is not intended to weigh you down. Does a man who feels living water flow down his burning throat and fill his whole being with relief and freedom from thirst, sit down in the hot sand and lament the time of drought? No, he dances, he sings - he takes draught after draught of that sweet water. Growing stronger and praising - not his limbs for their renewed vigour, but the WATER which brought it.

When Jesus compared life with Him to a never-ending, thirst-quenching spring, the image resonated with a hardworking Samaritan woman. Water got her attention, for she was thirsty. But salvation kept her attention, for she was "dirty" and longed to be clean. An awareness of thirst is good, for Jesus can quench it evermore, but an awareness of filth is crucial, for only Jesus can wash and clothe me in such a manner that I may walk in His righteousness, head held high.

"In the dry desert season of the heart, we are watered by God’s promise of sustenance and fullness of life to come." – Wendy M. Wright

Thursday, 9 July 2015

A time to serve - with heart and joy

Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. (Phil 2:17) KJV

I started writing this seven days ago as we stepped into the week. With cold feet and wet noses. After a mild wintry Sunday under pale but cloudless skies, the day was caught in an icy grip. The veld lay white beyond a heavily frosted deck. The dogs were pawing at the back door and the cat lay in a tight curl in the folds of our unmade bed. Then a week went past and I came back to three lines, trying to pick up my train of thought after a week of busyness. That's how it often is with the way I write. I steal an hour here and there, jot down a thought or two, have to pause to look at a lady-bug proffered to me on an upraised palm, or to pull a thorn from a small dirty foot, pick red ants off pant-legs and kiss a scraped arm better. Woman are supposed to be good at multi-tasking, but when it comes to trying to finish a sentence in between five other thoughts or tasks, I often loose the thread, miss the train and sit stranded on an empty platform with nothing to say. Then I stare out the window, like now, watch the mists rolling in, and with gentle nudges, like the first quickening of life in the womb, the thoughts start coming back.

This is how I know and I'd like you to know, that what I write is mostly very disjointed. Like when you walk in the mist and the shapes before you have outlines that are only vaguely recognisable until you get really close, and the image becomes clear and defined. Somehow the Spirit of God draws near, breathes on the lines and paragraphs and fills in the gaps. It reminds me that nothing I do, is from from my own strength or wisdom, but from Him who fills my cup each day.

I remember I woke up a day or two after I wrote the previous blog thinking, (once again) that it was not complete. Truly it is a "Time to serve" now more than ever, and a "Time to serve, fully and truthfully". But if there is no heart and no joy in serving, it is a bland offering, lacking conviction. I enjoyed this quote that I came across recently: "To serve God means to submit to Him in a way that makes Him look amazing."

If I am to see myself as a representative of the heavenly Kingdom and Him who reigns there, would it be a true reflection if  I served with a frown or a sigh? We represent our final homeland on foreign territory. What picture do the citizens of this alien soil see of Who I represent? Is it constant? Does it depend on how I wake up, what my current circumstances are, or how I feel? Or does it rise above that and draw from the heart of my Redeemer?

Paul refers to himself as an "ambassador in bonds". The word used to describe "bonds" in this context means "chain". He was chained to the soldier who was to watch over him. He seems to speak of this chain as a badge of dignity rather than a burden. To ambassadors, indeed, it belongs to be safe from imprisonment; but it was his greater glory to wear the chain for Christ - willingly. Paul was a fallible man, but could mirror Jesus under these circumstances with His joy and strength. He was "in chains" for proclaiming the gospel of Christ - boldly. Yet, his letters are not witnesses to self-pity and bitterness, but letters of hope, encouragement and instruction.

Paul is sitting bound in jail. Things are not looking good for him. No doubt he is uncertain about his future. But yet he rejoices. His language tells us that his rejoicing was present and ongoing not in spite of his sufferings but rather in them. It would be one thing if Paul managed to rejoice at the onset of his troubles, but then gradually sank into discouragement after having been in them for some time. That makes sense to us, and all too often reflects my own experience. But instead what we see is the joy of a servant proclaiming the gospel in the midst of the sufferings associated with his ministry. He is not expecting rewards, his reward is his salvation.

I am always challenged by the way in which the early "fathers of our faith" served as a way of life - a real life offering rather than a commitment here and there to silence a guilty conscience or answer to a sense of duty. He declared himself ready; “very gladly to spend and be spent for you” and in the same breath delivered this sad testimony: “though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15).

This is often true in the life of a Christian and probably the main reason why our hearts grow weary and despondent when our attempts at bearing witness, serving or guiding are met with hostility. I have realised that the more I love with a Christ-filled heart, the more vulnerable I become. But a child of God does not love in order to be loved. It is a contradiction the world does not understand. In becoming vulnerable on account of the gospel that lives in you, Jesus is able to fill you up with His strength. "When I am weak then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:10). And in that strength is joy.

One of the church fathers is quoted saying: "nothing, the limb feels in the stocks, when the mind is in heaven". How can I regard the difficult times and opposition as a true servant of Christ? I looked at Paul again. Did his trials cause him to lose heart? Did his unrelenting difficulties and even the prospect of execution bring him down to the point of hopeless discouragement? Did he complain, question or resent what God allowed to come across his path? No. For, even as it were; being poured out as a drink offering on behalf of those to whom he ministered, he was glad and rejoiced. He had joy in the midst of extremities that would have broken many a man.

How did he do it? Since I do not have the answers to many tough questions that people ask regarding suffering as a result of your faith (and remaining hope- and joyful), I thought to look at how Paul approached his trials. 

1.His rejoicing was neither a result of irrational optimism nor comparison to others.

2. He did not play mind games with himself or others or deny reality. He underwent his trials –pain and all– with his eyes wide open.

3. In each situation, he sought Christ’s help, pouring out his heart in prayer.

4. He kept in view the truths of God’s sovereignty and greatness and His sufficiency to overrule seemingly bleak circumstances to His ultimate glory.

5. He had confidence that the grace and strength of Jesus would carry him through and above his weakness.

6. It was not mere positive thinking  It was based on a biblical view (i.e. I am weak. God is almighty and faithful, always true to His Word. That is why I appeal to Him through Christ, my all sufficient Mediator, for help).

7. Paul's abiding joy was not dependent on his circumstances and therefore not sporadic, but bound up in the God of grace who saved him.

8. Paul's joy was grounded in humility, for there can be no rejoicing in the heart of of a person who thinks he or she deserves far better than what they receive.

The joy of a faithful servant is centred in Jesus. If the Master is served, exalted, known and glorified, then the servant is more than content – he or she rejoices. If your joy is grounded in your own reputation, then it will rise and (mainly) fall with your honour in the world. An honour which will never amount to much if you are faithful to your Lord. If it is tied to your prosperity, it will be changeable as the sea and could even be snatched away entirely in an instant. If it has its roots in circumstance, it will crumble when you most need to manifest that joy for Christ’s glory.

There will be hard times, but when they come, we may turn to Christ Jesus, and make our complaints known to Him. Our sovereign God has more than enough wisdom and power to turn our most desperate needs and our direst straits into occasions for our sanctification and inner peace and joy. And - above all - Christ’s glory. Is Christ weaker now than He was in the days of the apostles? Is He less loving or less gracious?

I find it quite comforting and freeing to know that I don't always have to try and see the silver linings on the darkest clouds. We are not promised that we shall see these wonderful mysteries, but we know that it is there, even when hidden from our eyes.

I am weak, but Christ is strong and faithful to the end. I can rejoice in knowing Him and doing His will and serving Him, even when all things seem against me, driving me to despair.

His ear is open to your cry; His eye is on His beloved; His heart is entirely for us; His own hand will bring Him the victory and His children an everlasting joy. The moment I set my feet on the path to serve Him, everything I need to do this will I find along it. At exactly the right time. He will edge the path with His sweet fragrance to lift my spirit and my gaze from the thistles at my feet. What I offer to those I meet on this path will carry that fragrance, releasing hope and sweetness and an offering of love to His throne.

(Note: Much of what I wrote was inspired by an article on the "Founders" web page, called "The joy of Paul's ministry". It echoed so clearly with what I had in my heart, that I decided to share some of it with you.)