Wednesday, 29 February 2012


My natural instinct when in a difficult situation. It’s better than facing the consequences. Or so I tell myself.

My natural instinct when faced with a Holy God and my sin is before me. It’s better than facing Him. Or so I tell myself.

Dislocated from my position in Christ (or so I think) my Loving Heavenly Father becomes my Judge, His law burns and scalds me, the purity of His people shames me.

RUN! Not so fast now….
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your Presence?” (Psalm 139:7).

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” (Psalm 73:25).

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

RUN! But it’s not me running….
“When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; HE RAN TO HIS SON, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:17-20).

“I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” (Psalm 119:32).

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

Friday, 10 February 2012

Hope - the Final Word!

William Cowper by Lemuel Francis Abbott

William Cowper’s (1731-1800) hymns are sung in our church, but I hadn’t given the man behind these hymns much thought until a short while ago when I was introduced to this article posted by my friend Teresa. My heart ached for this man as I read about his life, his depressions and despairs, and how God provided encouragement so beautifully for him through his friendship with John Newton. Having suffered periods of crippling despair in my own life as I battle with my faith, I can relate to Cowper at some level; likewise I witness it in others I know. It is so strange that hearing of other saints struggling with despair can be an encouragement. As Piper remarked after giving a lecture on Cowper to his congregation, "This bleak life was felt by many as hope-giving". For me, the encouragement in this man's life is that in spite of the despair, in spite of the fact that Cowper gave up on himself, God never gave up on him and instead faithfully provided him glimpses of hope, for example through Newton - and a glimpse of hope, however faint it may be at times, is enough.

The beauty of Cowper’s poetry that springs from such a broken heart has made me go hunting out more of his hymns. I discovered Red Mountain Music recorded a version of his hymn “Decide this Doubt for me” from the Olney hymns printed in 1779, a collaboration between John Newton and Cowper. I was struck by the sleeve notes for their album  “Help my Unbelief” from which this song is taken:

“Many of the texts in these particular songs carry themes of doubt and longing. We believe that the Christian life is a complexity of emotions, a marriage of sorrow and joy. Valleys and mountaintops. Light and darkness. The hymn writers of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries seem to have captured these tensions with more honesty and depth than many contemporary writers. Because these writers have given us glimpses of their own doubt and unbelief, working through their hymns has given us much hope. Hope that we are not alone. Hope that sorrow, pain and hardship are not exclusive to our small, believing community here in Birmingham, AL. Rather, that Christians from different parts of the world, hundreds of years ago struggled with the same things. This is one reason why we sing hymns, to remember that the Church is bigger than just us at this moment. We hope you will join us in confessing, "Lord I believe; help my unbelief." Believing that in our doubts and fears Jesus will meet us with patience and grace. This collection of hymns is for God’s prodigals and sojourners as they wait patiently for the Kingdom to come.”

“Believing that in our doubts and fears Jesus will meet us with patience and grace”. The doubts and fears are expressed by Cowper so honestly and so deeply in this hymn:

Decide this Doubt for Me

The Lord will happiness divine
On contrite hearts bestow;
Then tell me, gracious God, is mine
A contrite heart or no?
I hear, but seem to hear in vain,
Insensible as steel;
If aught is felt, ’tis only pain,
To find I cannot feel.

I sometimes think myself inclined
To love Thee if I could;
But often feel another mind,
Averse to all that’s good.
My best desires are faint and few,
I fain would strive for more;
But when I cry, “My strength renew!”
Seem weaker than before.

Thy saints are comforted, I know,
And love Thy house of prayer;
I therefore go where others go,
But find no comfort there.
Oh make this heart rejoice, or ache;
Decide this doubt for me;
And if it be not broken, break,
And heal it, if it be.

But this is not the final word. This can not be the final word!. John Piper says in the article referenced above "Let us now, while we have the light, cultivate distrust of the certainties of despair." However much he insisted that he was damned and beyond hope, Cowper had friends such as Newton who held out hope repeatedly to him. And it is hope that has the last word. And it is hope that is expressed in the hymn Sometimes a Light Surprises, also from the Olney hymns.

Sometime a Light Surprises

Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises with healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new.
Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing but He will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe His people, too;
Beneath the spreading heavens, no creature but is fed;
And He Who feeds the ravens will give His children bread.

Though vine nor fig tree neither their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the field should wither, nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding, His praise shall tune my voice,
For while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
(Romans 5:5)

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Refreshing the hearts of the saints

I don't know if it's just me, but there seems to be a heaviness abroad at present. Whether it's the falling away within the church which seems to increase apace, or whether it's uprisings in the Middle East, persecution of brothers and sisters worldwide, or whether it's simply events closer to home within family, or whether it is the sin in my own heart, I feel a heaviness. 

One thing I do know. The encouragement of my sisters in the Lord has been a prized pearl of late.

Knowing we have been bought by the precious blood of the Lamb and brought into His family through no merit of our own but purely for the purposes of His own Good Pleasure and for His Glory's sake sets these friendships in a class of their own. Knowing these friends set their hearts on pleasing Him and want to walk worthily of the calling they have received makes me want to emulate their example. But it's knowing that we're holding out our hands for one another, reaching together for His hands, that gives these friendships the power that they have - even though in some cases they are an ocean away.

In Jeremiah 31:25 God says "I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint". More often than not, it seems to me He fulfils this through His people. In the words of Paul to Philemon: "Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints." (Philemon 1:7).

To all the Philemon's I have been blessed with, I love you.