Friday, 18 December 2015

At Just The Right Time

Dear Friends,
At Just The Right Time

There are certain phrases in the Bible which draw my attention.  They speak into the depths of my being, bringing encouragement, reassurance, comfort and hope.  These are the words I want to focus on this morning: "at just the right time".

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Romans 5:6 (NLT)

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  Galatians 4:4 (NLT)

I used to consider myself a great time keeper - I was rarely late for appointments, preferring to actually be early rather than late.  However, that was before I had children.  When you have two children (not to mention one husband) and yourself to get ready it takes much longer than expected.

The Bible teaches us that God always moves and acts at just the right time.  He is never late, never too early and neither does he only just make it by the skin of his teeth.

The Jewish people had been waiting a long time for their prophesied Messiah - hundreds of years.  It must have felt at times that he was never going to come.  There must have been times when they believed, surely now is the time for him to come.  Yet God always knew when the proper time was for him to send his Son, to be born of a virgin.  God cannot, and will not be hurried.  His gift to us - Christ - came at just the right time, not too early and not late.  He is Lord of time. Nothing thwarted God's plan for when he would act.

There are so many examples in the Bible of God acting at just the right time.  They are there to give us encouragement and reassurance for today.

It's hard to wait on God for him to act.  Sometimes he expects us to wait for what seems a long time.  There are a few things that I'm waiting for God to bring to fulfilment.  I confess I thought that they would happen more quickly.  To me, the time has seemed right.  But when it doesn't happen I can easily become impatient and frustrated.  At times it's felt as though God will never act.  I worry that if he doesn't act now, then the time will have passed, that it will just be too late.  At times I've also lost heart and been tempted to give up.

Yet I know, deep down, that if God hasn't acted yet, then the time is not right, because God always, always, always answers at the right time.

How about you?  Are you in a period of waiting for God to act?  Perhaps you've been praying for years for a loved one to know him as their Saviour.  Maybe you've been praying for a new job opportunity to open up.  Or to be able to move home.  Or for your rebellious teen.  Or for something else.  Will you take heart from God and the examples of how he always acts at just the right time.  Will you trust him, who is unchanging, to do the same in your situation?

I know that I need examples from the Bible and verses such as those mentioned above, as a reminder that God does make things happen at just the right time.  In fact, I need that reminder right now.  The Christmas story helps me to focus on the truth that God does fulfil his word at the proper time.  So, this Christmas season I'm going to write out one of these verses on card and place it where I will be able to look on it often.  So that when I become discouraged or impatient or frustrated, God's truth will soothe my soul and will strengthen me and encourage me to keep trusting and waiting.

Whilst you and I wait and trust, God is working behind the scenes, and at just the right time, at the proper time, in due time, in the fullness of time, we will see God's answer.

To Think About:
What are you waiting for?

What encourages you in your time of waiting?

Spend some time over advent thanking God for the gift of Jesus, who he sent to earth, at just the right time.


Friday, 11 December 2015

A Blessing in Disguise

Dear Friends,

I have found that sometimes God gives us a blessing which is packaged as something entirely different.  Let me explain what I mean.

From a human point of view, living with a long-term illness is no blessing, in fact, it appears to be quite the opposite.  To be honest with you, being in the middle of a rough patch right now it seems like anything but a blessing!  Yet I do know it to be a blessing in disguise.   You see, God's ways are not our ways, and God's thoughts are not our thoughts.  It has been God's gift to blessing to me in that God has taken me into a deeper relationship with him and he has taught me things and transformed me in ways that I might never have known or experienced any other way.

Perhaps you too have experienced a particular blessing from God which has been packaged in an unexpected way.  I hesitate to refer to anything specific, but if you have, you will know what that is.

Paul certainly saw his thorn as a gift and a blessing from God. In 2 Corinthians 12 writes "Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need.  My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift." (MSG)

There are more examples from the Bible of blessings disguised as other than what they seem, but, as it's drawing closer to the Christmas season, I'd like to focus on Mary, the mother of Jesus.

In Luke 1:28-30 we read "Gabriel appeared to her and said, 'Greetings, favoured woman! The Lord is with you!'  29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 'Don’t be afraid, Mary,' the angel told her, 'for you have found favour with God!'" (NLT).

Then look at the greeting Mary receives as she visits Elizabeth:
"Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed." Luke 1:42 (NLT).

Mary was blessed by God in a way that no one else has ever or will ever experience.  God chose her to be the mother of the Messiah, his own dear Son.  What a blessing and an honour for her to know God in this way.  She must have enjoyed a very special relationship with him.

Yet, I think there must have been times for her when it seemed like anything else but a blessing.  Consider if you will, what life must have been like for this ordinary village girl.  She knew the Jewish law, she knew that for a pregnant, unwed girl, living in her parent's home, the punishment was stoning.  She knew Joseph was within his rights to divorce her.  You can also imagine what kinds of things were said to her and about her by the people in her village - the judgement, criticism, harsh words, people turning their backs to her, wanting nothing to do with her.  She had some idea of the cost involved in such a blessing.

How blessed was she to have to travel for miles on a donkey, whilst heavily pregnant, to Bethlehem?  How blessed was she to have no home, no family, no midwife around her as she went through the pains of childbirth alone?   How blessed was she to then only have at hand a feeding trough for the Son of God's cradle?  She must have wanted so much more for him.

How blessed was she to see the misunderstanding, the judgement, the hatred of the religious leaders towards her dear son as he ministered to his people for three years?

I can barely begin to imagine how it must have been for her as she watched the unjust trial Jesus was put through, as she saw him abused, mistreated, beaten, and then watched him suffer the most degrading, painful death imaginable.  Death on a cross.

These must have been times which were almost unbearable for Mary.  Difficult times.  Painful times. Times when it felt as though her heart was breaking in two.  As Jesus' mother she suffered much.

If we look at her life from this perspective, using only our human eyes, it's hard to see how she was blessed. Sometimes it's hard to look at our own situation (whatever that may be for you) and see the blessing God intends for us.

Yet, let's not forget that Mary truly was blessed by God.  Out of all the women he could have chosen to bear his son, he chose Mary.  The gift he gave her has also become a gift that is now available to each one of us - the gift of having the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives, of having a relationship with him.  God blessed Mary with his presence, his strength, his joy, and his peace. Every day of her life, he was with her, revealing precious truths about himself, showing her his love and care.  Every day she must have grown closer to God and depended on him in a way that she could not depend on anyone else. Surely it was the blessing of his presence and strength which enabled her to endure all that she did.  She is an example of incredible faith in God.

I believe God longs for us to see things the way he does.  To trust in him who only gives good gifts and blesses us in ways we don't always understand.

My hope for you is that whatever you are going through right now, that you will be able to see beyond the packaging, to what the gift from God really is, that it truly is a blessing in disguise.

To Think About:
Spend some time thanking God that through his blessing on Mary's life, we too are a people who are blessed with the presence of Jesus in our life.

What is happening in your life at the moment? Is it easy to see it as a blessing or does it seem like something entirely different?

What could help you to see it from God's perspective?


Saturday, 5 December 2015

Unforced Rhythms of Grace

Dear Friends,
I often find that when God wants me to pay attention to what he is saying, he will reinforce it several times.  It was certainly so a few weeks ago. 

I had already decided to write about resting in God, based on my meditations on Psalm 23:2-3 “He makes me to lie down in green pastures…He restores my soul;” (NKJV). 

The verses that also came to mind were from Matthew 11:28-30 ‘Then Jesus 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.  For my yoke is easy to bear and the burden I give you is light.”’

It was these verses that God kept bringing to my attention through a variety of means.  So I’m writing this as much for myself as I am for you, dear friends.

The Message paraphrases it as “The words of Jesus: ‘Are you tired?  Worn out?  Burned out on religion?  Come to me.  Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.  I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.’”

In the past I lived a life which was too busy, although I didn’t realise it at the time. This way of living was one of my own choosing. I focused on doing things for God, but neglected my relationship with him.  It was through experiencing some specific difficulties that God taught me to value and appreciate rest.  He showed me that my work for him was to flow from my relationship with him.  To this day, I still continue to learn from him “the unforced rhythms of grace”.

I find it’s all too easy to step back in to old habits and my old way of doing things.  I think that’s why God has to remind me that there's a better way to live.

There are so many advantages to the rest that Jesus gives us:

·        Our relationship with him deepens and grows as we spend time with him.  We get to know him better.  The more we know him, the more we learn to love him, and the more we know and love him, the more like him we become.   This will only happen as we rest in his presence and make him a priority in our life.

·        Relaxation and restoration - we can relax in God’s presence, comfortable in being who we are, knowing we are loved and forgiven by God.  When we are in the company of others it can sometimes be hard to be ourselves.  We can so easily feel we have to be something other than ourselves so that we fit in and are accepted.  This can be very tiring.  But with God we are free to be ourselves, there’s no need for pretence and we can rest in his compete acceptance of us. As we relax in God’s presence he brings restoration to our body, mind and soul. He restores my soul” Psalm 23:3 (NKJV).

·        Refreshment and renewal – the Holy Spirit reenergises us and transformation happens as we spend quality time with him.  God refreshes us as we spend time feeding on his Word.  As we read his Word, the Holy Spirit reveals God’s truth to us.  Times of rest with God allows him time to show us areas where and we need to change and how this change can happen.  It is then that we are renewed from the inside out.

·        Rest gives us time to review and reflect on what is happening in our life.  It gives us the opportunity to reflect on things such as our attitude, our actions, our words.  We can be so busy in life that we have no room for reflection.  We move from one activity to the next without stopping to pause and consider what we are doing and why we are doing it.  So, when we have a rest time with God we make space for reflection.  Reflection helps us to see what we may be doing well, what could be done differently or what needs to be removed from our schedule.  Reflection has the best outcome when it’s done with the aid of the Holy Spirit.

·        Rest realigns us with God’s will for our lives.  We understand more about God’s plan and purpose for us.  We receive direction and guidance on how to live day by day.  We gain perspective on our situation and what we have to face.  We become more in tune with God and recognise his voice more.  We start to care more about the things that he cares about.  Our focus returns to God and what his will is, rather than focusing on our circumstances and our own needs or desires.  Rest enables us to then live our lives from God’s perspective, not from our own limited perspective.

We all need times of rest and when we build these times in to our day we will be blessed and benefit from them.  Rest times with God bring us in to a deeper relationship with God.  Rest times also offer us much needed relaxation, restoration, refreshment and renewal. Rest times provide us with room to review and reflect and finally, rest times realign us with God’s will for us.  And so, rest times help us to “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

To Think About:

Do you make time in your busy life to enjoy the kind of rest Jesus promises us?  If not, what changes could you make?

How can you make the most of your rest times?

From the list above, what would you like to experience more of and why?