Friday, 26 November 2010

On Seeing a Lake Dancing for the Glory of God

“Let the heavens, rejoice, let the earth be glad,
Let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;
They will sing before the LORD, for he comes,
He comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
And the peoples in his truth”
(Psalm 96:11-13).

I’m not someone you could call a “tree-hugger”. However, I’ve always appreciated nature and have often been over-awed by God’s handiwork, none more so than when on the top of a mountain. Ski holidays in the Swiss Alps left me in wonder at the beauty of God revealed through the mountains. Standing atop Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK, thrilled and exhausted at having reached the top, and seeing the barren landscape around us, made my heart sing praises to God. In fact, thinking of mountain top experiences, nothing beats climbing Pen-y-Fan in South Wales, which we climbed in the mist, and as we stood at the top of the mountain, feeling that sense of achievement, the mist suddenly evaporated before our eyes and the view before us opened up. Awesome. What a mighty God we serve who created all this!

Yet, there is a difference between looking on nature and appreciating God’s handiwork in it, and actually seeing nature with eyes of faith praising its Maker. I came across this poem recently which took my breath away: “And a dewdrop quivers in His dawn with praise”. Wow. I had never given dewdrops a second thought, let alone seen them quivering in praise before their Maker. This poem reminded me much of Francis of Assisi “preaching to the birds or calling upon sun and moon and wind and stars to join him in praising the Lord” as A.W. Tozer states in ‘Man: The Dwelling Place of God’.

I determined to set out to see, with eyes of faith, nature praising the Lord. I took a walk through the woods at the back of our house, and sat down on a bench by a lake. It was a beautiful autumnal sunny day. Birds were singing, the sky was blue, there was a hint of warmth in the air. Beautiful.

And then my breath was taken away. On the lake I saw lilies reaching out their leaves as if they were lifting their hands in praise of their God. Ducks ran atop the water in delight at this gift their Maker had given them. And the lake. Well. I suppose someone else who had been there would have said the lake glistened in the sunshine. That is not what I saw. I saw light flashing from the top of ripples of water – small eruptions of brilliant light exploding in absolute joy before their Maker, starting off slowly and then building to a great crescendo of light as more and more ripples appeared – it was as if the lake was dancing for the glory of the Lord.

Honestly, I sat there, my mouth open, tears rolling down my cheeks. How have I missed seeing this all the years of my life? How have I missed the beauty around us of the trees of the forest singing with joy before the Lord? How have I missed the sea resounding in its praise? How have I missed the rivers clapping their hands? But I was so thankful to God for opening my eyes to this awesome display of wonder and praise before Him.

And whilst I may have to be content with seeing with eyes of faith for the moment, I know there is a time coming when we will see in full.

“The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God's purpose it has been so limited - yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!” – JB Phillips translation of Romans 8:19-21.

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Christian loses his burden

“So I saw in my dream, that just as CHRISTIAN came up to the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble; and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.” – John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress

This is the way I have always seen Christian living (apologies that it's a bit blurry! - if you click on the pciture I think it will enlarge so you can see it a bit better!):

My early years of the Christian walk, where the teaching focused on how our lives should be lived as a response to what God had done for us in Christ led to despair as the focus was on us most of the time. Over the last 3 years I have shifted my focus away from my response to Him and back onto Him, and I have been relieved of this despair. However, whenever I am encouraged by the Word to examine myself to test whether I am in the faith that sense of despair returns, especially when I read 1 John and see this verse: “No-one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No-one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6). People tell me this means living in persistent, deliberate, wilful sin. I then find myself trying to draw distinctions between different types of sin - is John saying that say, sleeping around is a worse sin than not giving God the love He deserves? This really doesn’t help – and I always come back to the fact that if I am continually sinning despite being saved by God, what does that say about me and my love for Him?

I am starting to consider an alternative possibility to Christian living:

“Love is the fulfilment of the law” (Romans 13:10). It just doesn’t sound when I read that whole section in Romans that Paul is saying “but by the way, there’s absolutely no way you can do this”. Is it just possible that the commandment to love is not after all an impossible target where I am condemned because my love is imperfect? Rather, as I am called to bear fruit (Romans 7:4) maybe I am not after all judged on the perfection of the fruit, but instead on whether the fruit is growing. I am starting to see this as being headed in the right direction, as opposed to meeting a pass/fail test. So I think I can start to say (albeit a bit hesitantly and not entirely 100% confidently) that yes, I DO love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength – not perfectly, but I do love Him, I want to please Him, I want my whole life to be devoted to Him, and the imperfection of that love is not a sin. After all, King David was commended by God for being “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22) – not condemned because that devotion may have been “imperfect”. Yes, I will sin, I will mess up, I will get it wrong – but not every second of every day.

A friend asked me the other day whether I believed I was pleasing to God. I was overcome by the sorrow I felt in my heart as I reflected on my inability to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. How can someone who is continually sinning be pleasing to God?

Just considering the possibility that my love for God is acceptable in His eyes fills me with a hope and assurance that I haven’t known before. I am not saying this is my work – my love for Him is only a response to the grace He has given, and is caused by His Spirit at work in me. But maybe, just maybe, my Heavenly Father does delight in the love I have for Him, which He caused in me, however weak and pitiful that may be at times. And as I think like this, it does seem as though that burden which was on Christian’s shoulders is falling off my back.

“This is love: not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins...We love because he first loved us ” (1 John 4:10; 19).

PS I would appreciate comments on this as I feel like I am writing heresy : )