Standing in grace

A simple verse and prayer for you today:

“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.” (Romans 5:1-2)

Dear Lord Jesus,
Thank you that I’ve been justified – made right – with you. And not because of the things I’ve done. Our relationship was restored through a simple act of little-girl faith, many years ago.
And since I’ve been justified, I have peace with you, through Jesus. Life-reviving, mind-altering peace…
And it’s you Jesus, who also offers grace.
Thank you that I can stand in this grace, as your Word says. Again, it’s unearned favour. Blessing that comes to me not because of who I am, but because of who you are.
Grace to wash away my darkest sins… Grace to get me through the day and all it brings… Grace to pass on to the angry and hurting.
May my feet stay firmly planted in grace.
In Jesus’ name,
Amen

Sorry to bother you, God…

I was talking with some friends recently about the way we approach God. Some described how, at times, they have felt the need to apologise to God for bothering him – as if he was too busy to possibly handle the requests and demands of all his children.

I guess this is one of the mysteries about God. How exactly can he can love the whole world, individually, all at once, in the way that he does?…

But the Bible does reassure us that God is a God of intimacy – one who draws close to us despite our sin and his incredible holiness. He even takes up residence within us – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, changing us from the inside out.

When we feel distance from God it really is our own doing. We walk away. We choose other gods. We feel shame. We don’t feel like drawing close to him.

Psalm 139 is a rich, beautiful passage which describes how God surrounds us, protects us, knows us – even though we don’t claim to know him. It describes how we try and run from the light that is our Creator God:

“If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

I tried to hide from God once – I mean, really hide. But his light found me. This passage reminds me that darkness is no barrier for God. His mighty light will certainly penetrate it, no matter how black and dirty and shameful it is. He sent his son Jesus to wash it away after all.

And Jesus knows the temptations we struggle with. He had them too. Hebrews 4:15 says:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.”

In sending Jesus, God showed that he is not remote from suffering, sin, and darkness. He entered in as a perfect man, paved the way back to the Father, and paid the price our sins deserve.

Verse 16 continues:

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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God is sitting on his throne – yes. He is powerful, majestic, holy – the King of the whole world. He will not be mocked. But he’s also a God who enters into our lives and hearts – intimately. Ultimately he’s a God who invites us to approach him – not hesitantly, but confidently. We can know – without a doubt – that grace will be found in the seat of that throne. Grace to help us – grace to heal. And a love that will outlast every other.

Hope has two beautiful daughters…

What do you get angry about? What fires you up?

Sometimes I wish I was more angry, to be honest. I see people passionate about a cause – whether it’s the refugee crisis, or the loss of life through war, or the mistreatment of animals – and I envy their fighting spirit.

Apathy can grow on you – especially if others around you accept the status quo too. But I also think some people emotionally manipulate others to the point that they’re barracking for a cause they don’t actually believe in. Not deep down.

Where’s the balance?

I heard this quote which made me think about turning our frustrations into action:

“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” (Augustine of Hippo)

We all hope for something. Whether it’s on a grand (perhaps unrealistic) scale like ‘world peace’ – or more ‘everyday’, like the hope that our baby will sleep through the night.

Hope is often turned to Anger when it’s not satisfied.

Perhaps you see the opposite of peace, and your baby simply won’t sleep through the night…

Then we turn to the daughter named Courage…

This is when our Anger turns into action.

Some things of course, we need to simply accept. But most things require a response. An action. A plan.

For so many starving children in war-torn countries, their only hope is that one of us in the West would provide their next meal. For women in domestic violence situations, their only hope might be that they last an entire day without a beating.

What makes us angry? What fires us up?

Let’s ask God to whisper in our ears the needs around us. Sometimes all we need to do is open our eyes, and our hearts start beating for the lost – the downtrodden – the hurting and abused.

Anger can overwhelm, or it can turn into passionate, active hope for those that need it so desperately.

And hope will always begin, for me, with the resurrected life of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is where I start and finish. My beginning and my end. My only chance of turning conviction into action; empathy into real-life plans to help.

I’ll leave you with Romans 15:13, which says:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

hope_screenshop

Seeking a ‘God’s-eye view’

Today I received a card from a beautiful friend I met many years ago. We reconnected recently through Facebook and I shared with her about our son’s Autism diagnosis.

She too knows the sufferings a parent can experience. To conclude her message she wrote:

“Our second daughter was born at 24 weeks gestation and spent four months in the NICU there. She was given a 60 per cent chance of survival. It was a harrowing and confronting time. In our whole time there, I was too exhausted to pray, go to church, read my Bible. Only once did I hear God speak to me and it was this:

‘Have hope and wisdom to see this situation from my perspective.’”

I sighed as I put down her card. Yes, Lord… I need hope – desperately. And I need you to fill me with wisdom to see things – all things – from your perspective. That may not mean I understand it all perfectly. That may not mean things will get ‘better’ in my human understanding of things. But I can know the ‘God’s-eye view’ is different to mine. And only you can help me see it. Only you will help me deal with the inexplicable.

Lord, I’m sorry for letting my ‘earthly’ understanding of things take precedence. Help me to rest, and listen for your voice – your explanation of things. I trust that you’ve created each person and each situation for a purpose I don’t see right now. Weave me, and my family, into your wondrous tapestry. Use our broken but beautiful story for your glory.

Amen.

Credit: 'Mother and child' by William Gilmore Simms (captainjamesdavis.net)

Credit: ‘Mother and child’ by William Gilmore Simms (captainjamesdavis.net)

Listen without judgment

It’s so easy to judge people.

So often we stand at a distance and make decisions and conclusions which may or may not be ‘true’ about their lives.

We can do this with complete strangers, and with those closest to us.

We might analyze and speculate and ruminate. We allow assumptions to take up residence, and sometimes respond in far-from-loving ways to those who most need care.

We judge without even asking; listening; hearing… Sometimes we’re so solutions orientated that people get hurt – really hurt.

The intention to help can lead to massive wounds, and that’s the last thing we wanted…

What about you?

Ever wished someone would just stand beside you – or look you in the eyes – and listen? I mean, truly listen?

Sometimes just repeating back what your friend is saying is all that’s needed.

Responding with things like, “That really hurts, doesn’t it?”

You might think you’re not helping, but you are.

Listening-ear

And don’t worry – the solutions will come for them.

Sometimes we just need to be heard first. Where we’re at.

And this non-judging ‘ear’ might just give them the strength to start believing they can make decisions – healthy decisions – for a better future.

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” – Scott Peck.

Does altruism really exist?

I’m intrigued by the word ‘altruism’. It carries so much weight.

AboutPsychology.com says altruism involves unselfish concern for other people. It’s about “doing things simply out of a desire to help – not because you feel obligated to out of duty, loyalty, or religious reasons,” the site reads.

That statement brings up lots of questions for me. What truly motivates a person to help others? Is complete altruism possible? That is, can any of us truly help someone without any sense of duty, desire for praise, guilt, or selfish ambition?

Every day we have the power to choose small altruistic actions, from opening the door for a friend to helping an elderly woman with her trolley.

altru

More heroic acts of altruism might involve diving into the ocean to save a drowning child or giving a charity a large sum of money.

Psychologists call it ‘prosocial behavior’. This refers to any action that benefits other people, no matter what the motive or how the giver benefits from the action.

So does motive matter? Someone might begrudgingly help a lady across the street, without her noticing the spirit behind it. Does this undo the intrinsic ‘goodness’ of the act?

It’s been proven that altruism activates reward centres in the brain. Neurobiologists have found that when engaged in an altruistic act, the pleasure centres of the brain become active. So, even if we start off feeling resentful of a kind act, we might find it turns into enjoyment – thus making it an almost addictive behaviour.

Sometimes people who experience great tragedy make the difficult decision to keep engaging with their community and the needs of others during their grief. Selfless acts, no matter what season of life we’re in, won’t solve our problems – but might just keep us going emotionally.

No-one will ever know if ‘true altruism’ exists, but we do know that unselfish acts can bring a deep joy that superficial ‘solutions’ fail to provide. And in loving others, we reflect the love of Jesus – the one whose motives are always pure, right, and just.

May we keep learning to love like he loves.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 NLT)

Be brave, dear one

We enter the world expecting others to be there for us.

We take it for granted that someone will feed us, hold us, clean us.

I remember how vulnerable I felt after the birth of my first son. I suffered from a drawn-out, traumatic labour which lasted through the night and well into the next day. I was physically spent. Once it was over the nurse handed Jonathan to me and said to feed him. I could hardly lift my head. But if I didn’t, who would?

Like many new parents, the sleep-deprived nights took their toll on us. Many of the challenges brought tears of frustration. Part of me wanted to be mothered too. But I summoned up enough strength to keep going. I wanted to – for my son.

Children need us – or at least one capable caregiver – to be strong for them. It’s their right.

But for some of us, we never grow out of that childhood state of dependency. We might continually expect to be ‘mothered’ – to have people doing things for us. No one has ever taken the time to teach us independence – so we stay stuck in a rather disempowered cycle.

But if we don’t grow up – how will we be strong for the ‘young’ in our care? If we’re always pre-occupied with our obsessive need to be nurtured, how will we do what needs to be done for others in our sphere of influence?

We must grow up eventually.

We must be brave for others rather than wishing others would be brave for us. They may, but they might not.

We can’t help everyone but we can help some – so we must keep asking. Who can I help? Who needs nurturing? Not of the unhealthy, co-dependent kind. Some just need to be pulled to their feet with a few kind words… Or taught independence so they can teach others the same.

We can only teach strength by modelling it. And we can only model it by learning it first.

May you find the wisdom you need to be a courageous leader in your family, school, workplace, or community. Love as you’ve been loved.

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

brave

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