Living Life with the Psalms

When I am sad, the Psalms teach me how to cry out to God. When I am anxious, the Psalms remind me that God will never leave me. When I am afraid, the Psalms teach me that God’s power is stronger than my fear. When the sin in the world gets me down, the Psalms show me that it’s always been this way, and God is still God. When I hate, the Psalms teach me to pray.

When I am confident in my own strength, the Psalms teach me that it is probably misplaced. When I am happy, the Psalms show me how to return thanks to God. When I am content, the Psalms teach me to hope beyond contentment in this life. When I am fixated on this or that thing before me, the Psalms lift my vision to see a bigger picture of God’s glory. When I believe I am deserving, the Psalms teach me that everything I have is a gift from the God who loves me.

I try to read a Psalm every day. I fail. But this is my method: I take the date – 16/7 – and use it to pick a Psalm. Two days ago (14/7) I read Psalm 147. Today was a but trickier. First I read Psalm 67, and then 61 (16 reversed). I’m not great at reading from 1-150 (I stop and then feel like I have to start again, but this method is freeing, and lets me read a variety of Psalms.

Why not give it a go?

The Train Wreck

I’ve lived through a couple of train wrecks. Both to do with my family. Both unexpected – at least from where I was standing at the time. The scars won’t ever fully go away. It’s part of who I am, and in lots of ways I like this person, and I know that God has used such horrible events to grow in me virtues like compassion, empathy, and a spirit willing to listen. These are things I like about myself. Still, the process was pretty unpleasant.

I see another one coming. Thankfully, this time not in my family, but in the family of some people I know. Don’t get me started on how hideous I feel because I am thankful it’s not coming towards my family. Because of a torrent of water already under the bridge, I am powerless to stop it. I cannot say anything. I cannot do anything. I can only watch. I don’t know when it’s going to happen. I don’t know how. I don’t know who else will be affected. I watch, and think back to my own personal train wrecks, hoping beyond hope that my experience will not be replicated in this family.

I sit. I watch. I pray.

Prayer is the only thing I can do for this family. I’m constantly tempted to think that it’s *just* prayer. It’s not. Prayer is pleading with the one person who is able to stop the train wreck. I am tempted to think that prayer is *just* words. It’s not. Prayer is conversation with the God who made the world and sustains it by His word. And His word is powerful. I am tempted to think that action is more powerful than prayer. And let’s be honest: if I look around, that seems true. It’s not. Though the battle sometimes appears lost, though sin seems to win, though train wreck after train wreck hits the people we know, God is still good. And I have to trust that nothing is out of his hands. It’s pretty hard for me to say that – like I said I’ve had a few personal train wrecks, and mostly I cried out to God saying ‘what are you doing? I think you’ve made a mistake here’.

The gift of hindsight is extremely precious. I can see now how God was shaping me into this person I am today. Not fun. Not pleasant. Not easy. At many points, not even good. But the outcome, this is good.

a prayer for the broken

The sound of my voice rings in my head:
‘Here are the things you could have said’.
Weary but restless my body cries out,
‘Leave me alone, stop persisting in doubt’.
Tonight the voices have won,
I turn on the light so I won’t feel alone.
The sting of tears fills my eyes,
An ever present reminder of the mess in our lives.
I cry out to God:
‘Where are you now?
How can I go on?
I feel so alone’.
I listen, but silence mocks me,
Where is this God of love and peace?
When will He come and make things right?
When will I no longer fear the night?
When will the pain and tears cease?
When will I meet my long-lost niece?
When will death meet it’s final end?
When will the days be fully spent?
When will I have the guts to say
The thoughts that occupy my night and day?
Lord, I don’t want to live this life,
I need your grace to fight the fight,
To stand and walk, step by step,
To pray and trust and take a breath.
I cannot do this on my own,
Lord have mercy, until my time is come.

“It is easy to forget to pause and take stock”

On the 25th of December, I took a minute out of the day to listen to the Queen of England deliver her Annual Christmas Message to the Commonwealth. This one sentence has plastered itself to the walls of my brain:

“We all need to get the balance right between action and reflection. With so many distractions, it is easy to forget to pause and take stock.”

Was she thinking of me when she spoke thus? So often I count action as the more pressing need, with reflection paling into a distant second. Too often I find myself stealing moments of time from one event to reflect on another.

She is the Queen, and I am a loyal subject, so I find myself taking heed of her advice to “pause and take stock”.

Much has happened in the last 12 months. A future leader, Prince George, was born. A new Pope was chosen. The European Union bailed out another country in crisis. Someone bombed the Boston marathon. Morsi was ousted in Egypt. The Syrian civil war raged. The Philippines were devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. An iconic world leader, Nelson Mandela, passed away.

If you close your eyes does it almost feel like nothing’s changed at all? If you close your eyes does it almost feel like you’ve been here before? When I look to 2014, how am I going to be an optimist about the future? Where do we begin to rebuild the world from the broken mess that it has become?

Closer to home there was the debacle of the Australian federal election. The crisis of asylum seekers. The devastating bush fires in and around Sydney. In my own suburb there were prominent strikes at the neighbouring university.

Why does it feel like the new Cabinet in Government is an undoing of 40 years of fighting for equality between women and men? Are we losing the battle against racism and settling for comfort over compassion? Am I courageous enough to speak out against what is not God-honouring? Will I do more than sit on the couch with a glass of wine and whinge about bad government policy?

Even closer to home, I lost January to a virus that saw me confined to the couch while I worked my way through the whole series of Alias. I lost the last week of my academic year to the flu. I finished a degree. I freaked out about the future. I travelled. A lot.

Why is it easy to complain to God when my life doesn’t proceed according to my plan and so hard to return thanks to Him for the moments of pure delight? Why is God thwarting my plan to be a missionary? Why is he closing every door except the one that I’m afraid to walk through? If Christianity is all about trusting God, then why it is so hard?

Why? Why? Why?

I’m afraid to admit that mostly I have only questions. Not many answers here. Will I have a similar reflection at the end of next year? Probably. It almost seems like the world keeps turning and events keep happening as they have since the beginning of the world. Is not every year the same with joys and sadnesses in a constant stream? Now that I take a moment to reflect, I see that my focus has narrowed too much. I see only the trauma and grief, or the joy and happiness. What of the bigger picture? I realise I have become like the scoffers in 2 Peter 3:4,

They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

It’s easy to think thus. After all, I see what appears to be a world on repeat. It’s not that I deliberately ignored the fact of God’s creative activity, it’s just that I focused on action and forgot reflection. If I had remembered to reflect, perhaps my attention would have been more evenly divided between the crises of the world, and the reality that,

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Pet 3:9).

Perhaps that would have given me a little perspective. Perhaps it would have stopped me falling into disillusionment at major world conflicts. Perhaps it would have tempered the effect that others have on my mood. Perhaps it would have helped me see the bigger picture. What it won’t do is stop me being devastated at civil wars, delighted at beautiful sunsets and new life, and committed to using the voice that God has given me to speak a word of truth and love.

Having regained a little perspective, I once again I make my New Years resolution: looking forward to the return of Jesus, I will, God-willing, work for the good of all people and the glory of God. I pray He will give me an ever more thankful heart, and a spirit ready and willing to trust him.

Thanks be to God for the Queen, and her reminder to “pause and take stock”. God certainly does work in unusual ways sometimes.

Lost

lost /lɒst/
adjective
1. unable to find one’s way; not knowing one’s whereabouts.

I am not a planner. In fact, I might be the antithesis of a planner. It has been said by certain members of my family that I ‘tend to just fall into things’, and I have often declared that I am on the ‘no plan’ plan. I am not the proud owner of a 5-year plan, have no idea where I’ll be living or working next year. It’ll work itself out. I like the flexibility of having no plan. I like the mystery. I love the surprise. I love the adventure. It’s how I roll.

I concede that it is near impossible to make no plans at all. But I’ll tell you this: the bigger the plan, the greater potential to be disappointed.

I made a plan. It didn’t come through. And now I feel lost. A little like I’m floating in a little wooden boat in the middle of the ocean. Directionless. Confused. Disappointed. Lost. It’s easy to think that I shouldn’t have tried to plan. I don’t know how to do it properly. It’s not the way I’ve lived the last 10 years. Why would I alter the ‘no plan’ plan?

I’m lost. Lost in the sea of my own mind. Lost in a world of possibility. Lost in a world of changing relationships, changing homes, and changing environments. Lost in the land of confusion. I cannot see a way out. I don’t know what to do, where to go, or how to even begin the process of thinking about it.

What happens now? Do I trust God and keep putting one foot in front of the other? Well. I think so. It’s much easier said than done, especially when I have no idea where my feet are taking me. It’s hard because I have no plan, not even an idea that I fully understand. I don’t have a clear picture of the future. But even in this fog, God is still trustworthy. Trusting Him is hard right now. But I think that’s the nature of trust. If it was easy, or there was some kind of guarantee, then it wouldn’t be trust.

Would it?

3 tips for voting wisely on September 7

Australian politics both repulses and fascinates me. The depths to which human pride and desire can sink baffle me. I am disillusioned.

I am so confused about who to vote for. It seems like no matter if I look left, right, or right down the middle I see policies that anger and then sadden me, and people that frustrate me. I am persuaded of the good of democracy, even though it’s so far from perfect. I am used to using my vote to say ‘I choose you to represent me’. I hate that there’s no one that I want to choose in this election.

I’ve never been one of those people who always votes for the same party. Barring subconscious influences, I’ve never voted for a political party or member simply because that’s what my parents did. Independent thought was always encouraged in my house. After all, I never saw the appeal of blind loyalty to anything. Everything needs to be open to interrogation (thoughtfully of course).

I wonder whether you feel equally perplexed. If so, here are my 3 top tips for choosing who to vote for on September 7.

  1. Get informed. There are any number of policy comparisons out there. Try here, or here, or here. You won’t know what or who you like (or don’t) if you don’t do even a little bit of reading. These guides distill a lot of information into digestible chunks.
  2. Decide what you’re going to be passionate about. It’s difficult to be passionate about refugees and asylum seekers and bioethics and ageing and the economy and education and disability and climate change and foreign aid and industrial relations and health and defence. But you can choose one of these issues and care deeply about that. If you are a Christian, you can think about how knowing God changes your approach to the issue.
  3. Choose who you would NOT like to be in power for the next four years. When you get into the polling booth, put them last and then work backwards. If under normal circumstances you would start with number 1, try reversing the process this time.

This pains me. I want to look at the political options out there and see one that I like. But I don’t. So this year I’m going to use my vote to exclude the parties that I desperately DO NOT want to be in power. Instead of saying ‘yes’ to a particular party, this time I am planning on saying ‘no’ to one.

Even though I care deeply about responsible voting, I cannot envisage a good outcome from the election. It seems like no matter what happens I am going to be unhappy. This is why I’m even more glad for this wisdom from the Apostle Paul:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Tim 2:1-2).

So I will be informed. I will choose what issues I care about. I will vote against people and parties. And I will pray.

Sometimes I don’t feel like reading the Bible

It’s true. Sometimes I don’t feel like reading the Bible. Am I alone? I don’t know. Perhaps.

I’m nervous about saying this, partly because I fear what other people think about me, but mostly because to long to hear God’s voice seems to be a common measure of what it means to be a Christian. I worry that I’m not really a Christian because I don’t always have the same longing to read the Scriptures as I see in others around me.

As it stands, I see two problems with this.

I am happy to own the first problem. My tendency to measure myself against those around me is something that I continually need to work on. However, I would like to suggest that this problem infects more people than just me. Our world is saturated with this disease of comparison. We call it ‘healthy competitiveness’. Can you not see it? Think of graded assessments and job applications as two examples. If I receive a distinction for an essay, and a friend receives a high distinction, I tend to think it is because they are smarter than I am, and therefore better. If I apply for a job and it is offered to someone else, I tend to think that it is because they were a better applicant. The problem is that it is not ‘healthy’. And I need to remember that it’s not wholly true either. God has made me to be this person, and not anyone else. I am this smart, this capable, with these particular gifts and passions because he has decided that it would be so. Part of what it means for me to stop measuring myself against others is to remember that God made me the way I am. I don’t need to be anyone else. This is harder to remember than I could ever possibly imagine.

The second problem is bigger than me. As Christians, we have a living relationship with the Creator of the universe. Pretty cool, huh? We know that any relationship requires communication – if I want to have a relationship with my brother, then it is important that I speak to him, and that he speaks to me. It has to go both ways. We speak to God in prayer, and God speaks to us in his Word, the Bible. We know God as he has revealed himself in the Scriptures. Preachers and authors insist that reading the Bible is important. That longing to know God better is an essential part of having a relationship with him. That if you don’t have this desire then maybe you need to consider whether you actually have a relationship with God – yes, I have actually sat through sermons where this has been said. I want to say yes, yes, and no. Reading the Bible is important. Longing to know God better is also part of having a relationship with him. There may even be a place to suggest that someone does not have a relationship with God, but I suspect that this is best done in a one-to-one relationship.

I want to suggest that when longing to read the Bible is made the mark of true Christianity we have wandered from the realm of truth into the realm of guilt, and this is one place where doubt begins to creep in. Jesus Christ frees his people from guilt, he doesn’t use it as a motivator. My actions need no longer be motivated by what I feel I ought to be doing, but rather out of love for Jesus, the one who has freed me from my sin (cf. Rom 6:5-11). Knowing what God has done for me in His Son inspires awe in me, and I want this surprising love to be what motivates me to want to know more of God, and not the 20 minutes of Bible reading that I think I’m supposed to be doing.

The Bible is God’s Word to his world. It is the story of his grace and kindness to the human race. It is how we know about Jesus. It is how we know God. When I sit down to read it, I am always glad that I have done so, even when I don’t understand what is going on, and actually even when I have been reticent to do it in the first place. God has a way of pointing me to passages that I need to read, like Psalm 13 this morning.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Ps 13:5-6).

Sometimes I don’t feel like reading the Bible, but it’s always good and refreshing when I do.

Visiting with the Puritans

I love the book of Puritan Prayers ‘Valley of Vision’. The Puritans were a group of English Protestant Christians in the 16th and 17th Century searching for ‘pure’ worship and doctrine. Even though there are problems with their practice, I find their extended reflections on sin and God’s grace to be very helpful in my prayers. This morning in chapel we prayed this prayer at the end. It refocuses me.

Almighty God,

As I cross the threshold of this day, I commit myself, soul, body, affairs, friends, to thy care; watch over, keep, guide, direct, sanctify and bless me. Incline my heart to your ways; mould me wholly into the image of Jesus, as a potter forms clay; let those around me see me living by your Spirit, trampling the world underfoot, unconformed to lying vanities, transformed by a renewed mind, clad in the entire armour of God, shining as a never dimmed light, showing holiness in all my doings. Let no evil this day soil my thoughts, words, or hands. May I travel miry paths with a life pure from spot or stain. In needful transactions let my affection be in heaven, and my love soar upwards in flames of fire, my gaze fixed on unseen things, my eyes open to the emptiness, fragility, mockery of earth and its vanities. May I view all things in the mirror of eternity, waiting for the coming of my Lord, listening for the last trumpet call, hastening unto the new heaven and earth. Order this day all my communications according to your wisdom, and to the gain of mutual good. Forbid that I should not be profited or made profitable. May I speak each word as if my last word, and walk each step as my final one. If my life should end today, let this be my best day.

Amen.