Living by the faithfulness of God

For a year now I’ve been working, and the salary from this, together with various other sources of income usually ensures we survive from month to month.  But for 6 years I didn’t have a full time job, while I studied first for a masters and then for a PhD.  When I started the PhD we had enough money for two years, but no idea how three was going to work.  Somehow it did, sometimes by grants for the studies, sometimes by one off donations from friends or family (often we knew that this meant someone else had been generous to them, and we were enjoying the cascading effects of generosity), and sometimes from completely anonymous people.  I vividly remember the time when, after spending £90 on an unexpected car bill, an envelope containing a similar sum appeared in our letterbox.  Sometimes people would say to me: “you must have lots of faith” or talk about how we were “living by faith”.  I know what they mean, but I doubt it is true.  If we lived my faith we’d be a pretty hopeless state.  Whenever our bank balance slides low my faith slides with it.  My worry levels shoot up.  I struggle to see how God will do it this time.  I don’t think we lived by my faith.  We lived and we live by God’s faithfulness.

It is this faithfulness that is the heart of the bible story I read to number 2 tonight.  I’ve loved it ever since I translated it in Hebrew class in my second year at Regent and it vividly hit me: the God I am writing about is the God who lives today.  I know this God – and this God knows me.  Here is the story – from 1 Kings 17:

8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, 9 “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” 11 And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” 13 And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” 15 And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

There are a couple of things about this story that stick out.  Firstly, it is a change for Elijah – he has been by a brook, fed by ravens, but that has dried up.  So now God sends him to a widow outside Israel, to a widow who lives close to enemy territory, close to where Jezebel comes from.  God has commanded a widow to feed Elijah, but for the widow Elijah’s request is not easy.  She is preparing the last meal for her, and her son, and after that, she says “we will die”.

Then Elijah speaks: “Do not fear” – the widow has spoken out of fear of death and out of her despair – she knows no other possibility.  But Elijah knows.  Her flour and oil supplies will not run out until the Lord sends rain on the earth.  Until the economy gets moving again her supplies will provide all she needs.  But first she must obey the word of the Lord and feed Elijah.  If she holds on to the fear she will die.  If she trusts the word of God through Elijah she will live.

I remember that speaking vividly to me.  God provides – but one step at a time.  Our part is to listen to his word and do what he says.  We can trust that God will provide all we need – even if it looks like we’ve just spent the last oil we have.  We don’t just have Elijah’s word for it.  We have Jesus’ word for it.  Seek first his kingdom – and everything else will be added to you.  The word of the Lord can be trusted.   God is faithful to his word and his promise.

Life is still hard, and things happen that don’t make sense – read the next story in 1 Kings. But God remains faithful and the word he speaks remains true.  Where do your jars look empty?  Where is it that you cannot believe God will supply what you need?  It may not be money. It might be hopes and dreams for a relationship, or a career that fulfils.  But whatever the thing is that right now will cost you all your fears and hopes for the future can be poured out, and given to his service.  He can be trusted.

The next step may not be what you want.  It may not be your dream life or career.  But it will be a step taken with a God who is good and a God who is faithful.  A God who is true.  A God who is kind.  A God who loves you more than you can dream.  A God whose design for you is that you live out the life you were designed to live by your creator – a life that will at times be hard and full of tears – and yet a life that, in the long run, will be the best for us  and for this broken hurting world. Paul’s prayer in 1 Thessalonians holds true:

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

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Who can sound the depths of sorrow?

I can’t quite remember a time when politics has depressed me quite so much.  Today I found myself searching for these words of lament over the state of our nation – 30 years old, but still ringing true today:

Who can sound the depths of sorrow
In the Father heart of God
For the children we’ve rejected
For the lives so deeply scarred?
And each light that we’ve extinguished
Has brought darkness to our land
Upon our nation, upon our nation
Have mercy, Lord

We have scorned the truth you gave us
We have bowed to other lords
We have sacrificed the children
On the altars of our gods
O let truth again shine on us
Let your holy fear descend
Upon our nation, upon our nation
Have mercy, Lord

(Men only)
Who can stand before your anger?
Who can face your piercing eyes?
For you love the weak and helpless
And you hear the victims’ cries
(AII)
Yes, you are a God of justice
And your judgement surely comes
Upon our nation, upon our nation
Have mercy, Lord

(Women only)
Who will stand against the violence?
Who will comfort those who mourn?
In an age of cruel rejection
Who will build for love a home?
(All)
Come and shake us into action
Come and melt our hearts of stone
Upon your people, upon your people
Have mercy, Lord

Who can sound the depths of mercy
In the Father heart of God?
For there is a Man of sorrows
Who for sinners shed his blood
He can heal the wounds of nations
He can wash the guilty clean
Because of Jesus, because of Jesus
Have mercy, Lord

Graham Kendrick

I thought of this weeks headlines.  In Britain the contribution of foreigners is being denigrated by our ruling political party (somewhat ironically in the name of attacking ruling elites, but we’ll leave that irony for another day).  Our business secretary wants businesses to have to disclose the number of foreigners they have working for them.  Apparently foreign experts are not welcome to advise the government on the implications of Brexit. There seems to a knee jerk nationalism creeping onto the Conservative platform in a way it hasn’t really shown itself before.  Yes, they’ve always claimed the patriotic mantle – but not usually directly attacking the contribution made by non-british born.  That leaves me sad, and not a little fearful of the direction of travel.  It’s made worse by the fact that the main opposition party is tearing itself apart, so it is left to the remainder of the Liberals to point out what is at stake.

And then I woke up this morning to the latest from the USA.  Words fail me.  This is such a wrong attitude to women – and his actions and words since give little grounds for believing his attitude to women has changed much.  This is why the song is in my head.  It was originally penned about abortion, but it applies to anything that treats people as less than what they are – people made in God’s image – loved by him.

It applies we imagine that the foreigner is automatically under suspicion, simply because of race.  It applies when we think we can treat women as objects to be used and thrown away.  It applies when think that people holding this attitude should hold power over us and that we should value such traits.

This isn’t the place for an in-depth analysis of how we have got to such a place.  But I wonder at the Christian response.  This is where I think the song is especially important and powerful.  We are to come back to the Father heart of God for his creation.  We are to see people as he sees them. If we are Christians we are Christians first and British, US, Irish, Canadian or whatever second.  Christians obey the state (Romans 13) yet profoundly threaten it because they refuse to worship it (Revelation 13).

We are strangers and exiles.  Exiles.  People in a foreign land.  The world is our home – because it is made and will be redeemed by God – and yet the world is not our home, because it is in rebellion against its creator – and yet it is this world in all its badness that is loved by God.  It is loved by God so much that he comes as the man of sorrows who for sinners shed his blood.  He doesn’t come as a bully threatening and boosting his image. He comes as a baby, grows to be a man and dies on a cross – and it is in this death, even death on a cross that he displays his greatest glory.  We are to lament the state of our world, and see God’s heart for his creation in the midst of it all.

So as Christians how do we respond when politics turns so ugly?

First – I think we repent of our part in these attitudes.  When have we been suspicious of difference?  When have we treated women, or men, as less than human, in thought, word or deed?  We search our hearts and repent.

Second we repent of putting our hope in princes – and not in the Prince of Peace.  For those times when we have thought that getting the laws right, or the judges right, or the right person in office would solve things, or advance God’s kingdom.

Third we recognise there are no perfect choices.  Standing in the ballot box we vote for who we can in good conscience support.  We take into account all the different options, and when we shudder at the different possible results we trust God that he is sovereign over the kingdoms of men.

Then we recognise that sometimes the result will look like defeat for truth and righteousness.  Sometimes Nebuchadnezzar will carry off the temple vessels to Babylon.  Sometimes elections mean that a Hitler comes to power.  If that happens we remember our calling.  We remember we are called to be faithful and obedient in our daily choices.  To live lives of justice and mercy one choice at a time.

There are no political parties or philosophies of government here and now that will bring God’s kingdom.  We signpost people to God’s kingdom one choice at a time, looking forward to the day when God will establish his reign of truth and justice.  Until that day we look to do the good we can, in whatever way we can.

Sometimes that means Christians influencing public policy and being involved in government.  Sometimes the doors to that path are shut.  And then we need to shine out all the brighter in a dark world.  It may just be that in the west that politics is about to turn really nasty – after a decade of economic depression that wouldn’t exactly be a surprise (can’t help remember European history in the 1930s here…).  It may be that freedoms we have taken as our rights are about to be taken away – probably always for the best of reasons, and with the most plausible sounding arguments.   If that dark turn happens then we keep trusting.  Keeping obeying God once choice at a time and see what he does.

And if things don’t turn out that badly.  If there is still a door open to hear the Christian perspective then it is still about right decisions one step at a time.  Each of us seeking to obey God’s call on our life – in whichever situation we are placed, to use whatever influence we can to show God’s ways and encourage justice and mercy in public life. We remember the example of biblical characters like Daniel who spoke truth to power (see Daniel 4-5 especially). We must always repent of the triumphalism that says we spread Christianity by the state, whether by violent means or by the ballot box.  Micah 6:8 is always the call:

He has told you O man what is good – and what does the LORD require of you, but that you act justly, and that you love mercy and that you walk humbly with your God.

Do not despair when politics turns dark.  Pray for Christians in places of power and influence.  Influence where you can.  Participate in politics.  But know that our hope is not in politics.  Our hope is in the King.  He is coming.  And until the day when our faith will be sight we are called to walk now in the dark places of the world showing his reign in lives of just action, merciful love and humble walking with our God.