The baby that would have been born this month. Tracing the rainbow of God’s promises through the storm of miscarriage

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I knew I was pregnant.

That familiar nausea and the aching tiredness meant I was pretty sure the test would be positive, and it was. We were expecting our third child and we were thrilled. We really wanted this baby, we had no idea how we’d manage the carnage of life as a unit of five, but we really wanted this baby.

Almost straight away we started excitedly speculating about names. The old favorites came out as well as a few curve balls that made us giggle. Again and again I thanked God for his kindness. I couldn’t get over how blessed we were, we had two healthy kids and now here we were anticipating the fifth member of our family. This was the one I hoped would complete our home. I’d always dreamt of three. He or she was already with us, we were already a family of five. God had placed a tiny life inside me and we thanked him for such a precious gift.

Then I started bleeding.

A little bit of spotting can be normal right? I told myself it would likely stop, and we prayed it would, we really prayed it would. Yet at the back of my mind I was afraid. For a couple of days the bleeding was intermittent. We were worried, but not without hope. Then, a mere few days after we’d had a positive pregnancy test, I knew I was having a miscarriage. Now there was no mistaking it, we’d lost our baby.

We cried together. For a few days it felt as though the house would surely flood with tears. We cried on one another and on close friends.

We’d had a miscarriage, we’d lost a baby, our third child. In sharing this I want to make clear that many who suffer a miscarriage have it a lot harder than we did. Ours happened very early. We only knew for sure I was pregnant for a few days before the bleeding began. Many go several weeks or even months into a pregnancy before a miscarriage occurs. As well as it happening early, we had the enormous comfort of two healthy kids, children we could hold and kiss, and they have never been more precious than they were then. But we were still sad, and we were grieving our child and the life we would have had with them.

We’re 9 months on from that week now, we would have been due to meet our child any day. Due to see them, hold them and feed them. We won’t get to drink in that incredible new born smell this month, to see our third child yawn for the first time, to hear them sneeze or feel their little fingers cling onto ours like only a newborn can. How are we to process this?

There were certain truths we clung to whilst processing the loss of our littlest one, and I share them now in hope that they may bring comfort to some. Miscarriage is so prevalent, one in four pregnancies end this way. But conversations in the aftermath of a miscarriage are often too hard or private to be shared with many, so there remains an unhelpful stigma attached to this very particular experience of loss. We can often feel unsure of how to speak about it. This is simply our small contribution to the conversation, a small step in raising awareness about what is so often an unspoken loss.

God sustained us by assuring our hearts that the following was true:

Our baby was real

As a Christian I believe life begins at conception, we believe that’s what the Bible teaches. I had never considered this truth as one which brought comfort before our miscarriage, conviction yes, but comfort? That was new to me. To know, however, that our baby had truly been alive made all the difference. However small they had been, they were real, a full member of our family, a brother or sister. Yes they were unknown to us in so many ways, but they had still been fully alive. When you consider the way that miscarriage is often spoken of in our society, and even by the best intentioned medical professionals, it can be easy to tell yourself that – they were so small – they weren’t really real.

Language such as ‘an unviable pregnancy’, however biologically true, does not do justice to the life that had existed within me. Perhaps some find comfort in reducing early life to mere medical terms. I can imagine how one might. To have told myself, ‘it’ wasn’t really alive, ‘it’ wasn’t fully real yet, may have made it easier. Perhaps it would have lessened the grief?

Believing that our child had been a fully alive, however, meant we had experienced a full loss.

I don’t mean to be glib. I’m not comparing our miscarriage to the pain of those who experience infant loss such as a still birth or sudden infant death syndrome. But believing our child, however small, had been real and fully alive, meant I was allowed to grieve him or her fully. It made it both harder, and easier. Our baby had been real.

Our baby’s days were lovingly numbered

Our miscarriage wasn’t a mistake. It wasn’t a blind stroke of fate or an oversight of the Almighty. So many words from Psalm 139 whispered comfort to us, but none more so than verse 16.

‘All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be’.

We believe that God ordains every single one of the days we live. Not a single one is unintentional, and they are numbered perfectly, even when they are very few. Each day of our baby’s life was ordained by our heavenly Father. Each moment of their existence was penned before time began, meticulously planned for God’s glory and our good. Not a single day that our child was meant to live had been robbed from them or us. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t heartbreaking to loose them, but the promise that our days have been wisely planned from eternity brought us great peace.

Our baby is safe with Christ

How can you grieve someone you’ve never known? What do you do with feelings of love for a child you’ve never held? To whom do you entrust one so precious that you would give your own life for their safety?

We had experienced the loss of our baby, but our baby was not lost. We knew where they were, and this is the promise that made all the difference. The Bible doesn’t speak in huge detail about what happens to unborn children who die. There are mysteries here. But we found ourselves echoing the hope of David in 2 Samuel 12 that one day we will join our child in heaven.

We know our God loves little children deeply. They are eternally precious to him, so much so that he entrusts his kingdom to such as them. Our firm hope is that one day we will meet, know and love our third child in heaven and we will get to spend the whole of eternity praising Jesus alongside them. But for now, for our days left on earth, I know that our child is eternally safe with Jesus. They are loved by him and secure with him. They are not lost. Above all things it was this hope of heaven which arched like a rainbow through the aftermath of a stormy sky.

Rainbows are a physical reminder of God’s faithfulness and sovereign rule over our world. They come in the wake of a downpour, speaking to us of the one whose voice still holds the power to speak peace, even through the fiercest of storms.

Our baby was real, our baby’s days were lovingly numbered and, just like us, our baby is eternally safe with Christ.

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Decluttering in dependence. Why the Marie Kondo method has captured our inbuilt love of bringing order from chaos

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Marie Kondo is a Netflix sensation. The recent launch of her series ‘Tidying up with Marie Kondo’ sees the Japanese consultant explain her method of decluttering your home in a way which ‘sparks joy’. Reactions to it have flooded social media and her methods have captured the imagination of many. She advocates that through ‘tidying your space’ you can ‘transform your life’ and teaches the importance of gratitude as we organise our things by category.

I really enjoyed watching the Netflix series, and let me tell you my folded scarf drawer really does spark joy for me now. But as we try to implement many of Marie’s fantastically useful tips and scour the shops for mini boxes, let’s take a moment to consider why it is that Marie’s methods have captivated so many of us. Why is it that we’re so attracted to a cupboard that’s clean and categorised? What is it about us that sends us running to the Ikea storage section now we’ve been given the tactics we need to bring order to our homes?

Bringing order from chaos was God’s idea and we’re made in his image.

As I watched the first episode of the Netflix series and heard Marie advocate the importance of organisation by category I couldn’t help but be reminded of the repetition we find in Genesis 1 as God brings order from chaos while he fashions the world. Before God sets to work the world is ‘without form and void’, but then he starts creating.

First he brings form to what was formless: light and darkness, sea and sky, water and land. Then he fills each form according to what fits within it: plants and trees, sun and moon, fish and birds. As God fills his world, consider how organised he is, everything is created and grouped ‘according to its kind’.

‘And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.’

You see, organisation by category, the grouping and ordering of things that are alike, was God’s idea first. Putting things together ‘according to its kind’ chimes with us so deeply because it reflects the God who ordered our world like this in the first place. Considering the fact that God makes us in his image, is it any wonder that Marie’s methods of organising our things by category captivates us so? We’re made in the image of a God who delights in bringing order from chaos and who categorised his creation right from the start.

And did you notice what God does when he’s done with bringing creative order to each section of his world? He pauses, looks at his work and delights in it. ‘And God saw that it was good’. His creative work, his ordering and filling, brings him joy. Again it shouldn’t surprise us that we, creatures crafted in his image, can experience so much joy when we work hard to bring order to the chaos of our closets. The Marie Kondo method captivates us so deeply because it taps into something of what it means to be made in God’s image and to delight in order by category.

At the end of each episode of ‘Tidying up with Marie Kondo’ we see those who have gone through the process enjoying the fruits of their efforts. The joy and relief on their faces is obvious, they’ve worked hard at bringing order from chaos and we see many of them finally able to enjoy meaningful rest in their homes. This echoes something else we see in Genesis: meaningful rest is facilitated by order. At the end of his creative work God rests. He looks at his work, is satisfied with it and rests as a result of a job well done. It’s no wonder that order enables rest, it has always been so.

The direction of our gratitude 

Gratitude is one of the hallmarks of the Marie Kondo method, and it’s a wonderful emphasis. We should be thankful for what we have. However, Marie directs gratitude towards each material thing, teaching us that we should thank each item when we decide to get rid of it, displaying gratitude for what it’s brought to our lives.

Although its good to rightly value what we own, I don’t want to be grateful to a thing, but to the one who gave it to me. If my child unwrapped a gift on Christmas morning and promptly thanked the gift for what it would bring to their life, rather than me as the giver, we would think something wasn’t quite right. Gratitude should be directed to the giver, not the gift. The Bible tells us that all things come from God and ultimately belong to him. As a Christian I want to attribute what I have to the God who gave it to me and thank him for his good gifts. As I part with things I no longer need I want to direct any gratitude I feel towards the good God who gave me what I have in the first place.

Decluttering in Dependence

I’m someone who loves a project, and the first thing I did having watched an episode of ‘Tidying with Marie Kondo’ was head to the kitchen and start pulling everything out of drawers with a sense of frenzied purpose. It feels great to be productive, and personally I love the satisfaction that comes from a good clear out. The problem is, the process of decluttering is actually pretty stressful. As you work out where everything should live, everything becomes temporarily homeless. Stuff gets scattered as you work out what to keep and what to chuck. Midway through last week as my efforts to tidy intensified, I suddenly found myself feeling utterly miserable and overwhelmed whilst sitting in a pile of half-folded towels. Why was this so hard, I wondered? I’d had such a sense of purpose when I started, but it seemed that all my efforts were yielding nothing but stress. The house was in a state of unmitigated chaos and our linen cupboard seemed to perfectly mirror the disarray of my mind.

Whilst scrolling Facebook in a moment of attempted escapism I landed on a Christian article that quoted Psalm 127.

‘Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.’

Up until that moment my efforts to declutter our home had been just that, my efforts. With a sense of hyper self-sufficiency I had launched myself into this latest project determined to subdue my home through my own manic will power. This house was my kingdom and I was going to bring these unruly cupboards into submission! I was going from drawer to drawer, room to room, toiling with manic energy, but rather than experience satisfaction and joy I was becoming increasingly anxious. Psalm 127 nailed my self-sufficiency in one fell swoop. It is the Lord who builds the house.

My labour was in vain, it wasn’t yielding fruit or joy because I’d failed to do it in dependence on the one who takes our efforts and makes them fruitful. I had taken a good work, that of bringing order from chaos, and twisted it instead into anxious toil. Anxious toil, that phrase seemed to perfectly sum up my foolish attempts to bring my home under my own will in my own strength.

It wasn’t that the work in itself was bad. It was that I’d tried to do it without thought to the One who is the builder of all things. As a result, my labour was in vain. I turned in repentance and instead of striving on in self-dependence, I sought instead to begin decluttering in dependence on God. I stopped trying to be sovereign over my things and instead acknowledged that this home isn’t my kingdom, it’s a tiny part of God’s kingdom and he’s given it to me to steward and subdue only in dependence on him.

Physically speaking not much has changed. There’s still piles of clothes and half-sorted drawers around. The difference now is that while I tackle the tidying I can experience the relief that comes from acknowledging that any work I start can only be accomplished in his strength. As one made in his image I can now enjoy bringing order from chaos as I declutter in dependence.

Striving with God for sovereignty. When the control freak learns she’s a creature

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I’m one of those people that like to be organised. I’m an anticipator, a planner who prizes efficiency and finds peace in predictability. I’m the one who googles everything, carries a spare, and has a mental contingency plan for most eventualities. If I do X, Y and Z then we’ll be alright. I like to think that if I plan well I’ll achieve my subconscious goal of a world which bends to my will. Such a world promises me safety and calm, if only I can create it.

What I really crave is sovereignty. I want to know what’s coming and have the power to control it.

I sometimes feel I’ve achieved this control over the tiny details of life: a well-researched route, a recipe followed, a child on reins. The problems come when my world rudely abandons my plans and veers off instead into the darkness of uncharted territory. A bone broken, a shattered dream, a life changing loss.

When the curve balls come my well laid plans turn out to be no more secure than a tower of Jenga with its pivotal pieces removed. That’s when the fear really sets in, when collapse threatens. I strive and struggle with God for sovereignty, continually tugging at control, but despite my best efforts, it’s always beyond my grasp.

I have a firm belief in God’s sovereignty, but despite this knowledge, I still feel my heart long after control it can’t attain. My mind’s eye wanders to the ‘what ifs’ of my future and I find myself fearful at my lack authority over what’s ahead.

Thankfully though, God’s not surprised by my cravings for control, and through David he penned Psalm 131 which speaks wisdom to a creature like me who foolishly covets the traits of her Creator.

‘O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore.’

Perhaps we’re used to the Psalms encouraging us to fix our gaze high, to look to the hills and behold the Lord lifted on his throne. At first glance this Psalm seems to be encouraging something different. Speaking to the Lord, David says that he’s purposefully not setting his heart on things above him, and he’s resolutely preventing his gaze from wandering too high (v1). So what’s going on?

A measured perspective

Calvin said that knowledge of self begins with knowledge of God, and this is what we see in Psalm 131. David’s grasped the most fundamental fact of who we are in relation to God.

We’re creatures, he is Creator.

Seeing this, David begins the Psalm by acknowledging before his Creator that there are limits to his own capacity and understanding. Comprehending the vast gulf between himself and his God re-orientates David’s perspective and enables him to recognise his limitations. His capacity and his knowledge have boundaries, boundaries established by God’s good design. God has ordained that there are things his heart is not meant to go after, things his eyes are not meant to see (v1). David says these things are ‘too great and too marvellous’ for him. He understands that some things belong only to God.

Deuteronomy 29:29 says The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law’.

There are secret things, things only God can hold together and only God can handle. Our job is to be wise in how we respond to what’s been revealed. It’s good to plan well, but we’re to acknowledge that God alone is sovereign, he alone is all knowing.

David submits to the fact that there are things far beyond him. But did you notice, this realisation doesn’t result in fear, instead it seems to bring contentment. So how exactly does that work? What’s happened in David’s heart to enable him to stand before God peaceful, in comparison to the manically googling mess I often see in the mirror?

Consider again v1-2. Firstly David speaks to his God, this is the key to all that follows. We need to talk to the Lord. David acknowledges before God the things that are beyond him, naming them and speaking to the Lord about them. In doing this he remembers who his God is and thus remembers who he is as a creature. With his limitations in mind he consciously sets his gaze in proportion to his capacity. He then entrusts what is too great and too marvellous for him into God’s hands.

But, how exactly? Because this is where I often get unstuck. I can talk to God about my desires for sovereignty and seek his forgiveness for my foolishness, but so often my fears still linger.

Seeking contentment in childlike faith

I know I need to stop striving with God for sovereignty, so is this where I’m supposed to just ‘let go and let God’?

Wonderfully no, because once again the Lord knows me far too well to call me to just let go. He knows that if I have nothing to hold onto my hands will all too quickly grasp after some other vain lie that promises me peace. If I’m to stop struggling with God for sovereignty I need to redirect my grip and instead of reaching after an attribute of my God, I need to cling to my God himself.

‘O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.’

David sets his hope in the Lord. It is in the Lord that he finds contentment. He brings to mind the image of a contented child with its mother (v2). A child who knows and trusts the kind provision of a devoted parent. David trusts his heavenly Father, and thus he exercises a humble childlike faith in response. He’s able to surrender what he cannot grasp into God’s care and take hold instead of the Lord  who’s proved to be eternally faithful.

A mature faith is a childlike faith, one which recognises our limitations and sets its hope firmly on God. This the secret of a calm and quiet soul. We creatures, we’re not in control, but we trust the Creator who is.

We’re brothers and sisters first. Relating as men and women in the local church

Back in February I wrote a plea to pastors seeking to draw attention to the discrepancy between complementarian doctrine and practice in the way we value the teaching gifts of women in our churches. The post sprung from questions I’d long held about how best to train up women in the local church, and the barriers faced by those with a passion for teaching the bible.

The big question I got in response to the post was ‘What does this look like in practice?’,  ‘What can we do to equally value the gifts of women and be intentional about training them up?’ It’s really tempting to respond to these questions by producing a list of resources and courses which would be of great value, but I wonder if before we get to this it may be helpful to ask a more fundamental question first: ‘how are we really doing at relating to one another as men and women within the local church?’

Do we really know how to be with one another well as men and women? If we’re not clear about how to genuinely relate to one another meaningfully as men and women in God’s church, then any attempts we make to train up women to minister to the wider body will flounder. We need to get the cornerstones in place before we can build the walls.

You see, complementarians are great at drawing attention to our differences as men and women. We’re so good in fact, that I’m beginning to wonder if we’ve over-emphasised our differences to the extent that we’re in danger of believing the lie that we’re too different to be friends. Perhaps we even find ourselves fearful of what meaningful friendships with the opposite sex could lead to. Now don’t hear me wrong: purity is vital, but refusing to build friendships is not the key to purity.

Let me ask you a couple of questions: do you have good, meaningful friendships with those of the opposite sex in your local church? Are all your close friends of your own gender? What runs through your mind if you accidently find yourself in a room at church alone with someone of the opposite sex? How would you feel if you were asked to give a lift to someone of the opposite gender who wasn’t your spouse?

I don’t know how you’d answer the questions above, but from my limited observations I wonder if in this area complementarian culture has over reacted to the hyper sexualised climate of the world around us and led us to a place where we don’t really know how to do meaningful relationships with fellow Christians of the opposite sex? We’re so afraid of being unhelpful or misunderstood that we’ve slipped into subconsciously avoiding one another out of fear.

So, what does wisdom look like in this area? Is it possible to chart a path to friendship that upholds both purity and meaningful relationship?

As always, our example should come from scripture, and the New Testament gives us the most wonderful model for how we should relate to one another as male and female in God’s church: before we’re anything else, we’re brothers and sisters first.

The Bible uses familial language when it talks of how we should relate to one another. To quote Sister Sledge ‘We are FAMILY’. It’s that simple. That profound. This is the framework within which our thinking about one another should exist – before anything else – we’re brothers and sisters first.

1 Thessalonians 4 helps us see just how foundational to a healthy church this principle is.

‘As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.’ 

Then, continuing in v9

‘9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more’.

We’re to relate to one another as brothers and sisters. Surely it’s no coincidence that in a passage that teaches the value of purity, of growth in holiness and love for one another Paul speaks to the Thessalonians in familial language.

So from this passage we learn that relating to one another as brothers and sisters is essential for two key things: purity and sanctification.

Purity

So often the fear of being inappropriate prevents godly friendships between men and women in the church. But did you notice Paul’s line of argument? First, he addresses the Thessalonians as brothers and sisters and then he tells them that they should be pure. One is essential for the other. Relating to one another as brothers and sisters is the key to purity. Thinking of one another first and foremost as a brother or a sister in Christ will guard us against sexual sin better than any other frame of thinking.

Relating to one another as brothers and sisters is God’s intention for us in the local church. Before we can become anything else, husband or wife, mother or father, we’re called to be brothers and sisters first. Knowing and loving one another as siblings is the strongest way to guard our hearts from sin and it’s the foundation to relating to one another in love.

Sanctification

What is God’s will for us according to Paul? Our sanctification (v3). Again, we must notice that it is in the framework of relating to one another as brother and sister that we’re called to be sanctified. We cannot be sanctified as God intends if we only have friends of our own gender.

Men and women in the church need to be more than just acquaintances because as brothers and sisters in Jesus, we need one another for our holiness. This is astoundingly important as we reflect on our relationships in the local church.

It is not God’s intention that I should grow in grace simply by relating to my husband and other women in my church family. I need my brothers in Christ as well. And, even in my weakness, they need me. We need one another if we’re to mature and grow as God intends. Yes, we employ wisdom but we don’t avoid one another because, according to Paul, our sanctification is at stake.

Relating to one another as brother and sister first is the cornerstone of complementarian relationships. If we can get this in place, we’ll grow church cultures where the gifts of both genders are equally valued and where, as siblings together in Christ, we mature in holiness as God intends.

Good words for the overwhelmed: ‘there’s enough manna for today’

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There are some days when I feel my energy is fully spent by 8 am, days when the tasks presented to me feel far too great for the strength I have in reserve. On days like this, I’m slowly learning to repeat to myself this little phrase: ‘there’s enough manna for today’.

Ed Welch is one of many who’ve drawn a wonderful parallel between God’s gift of manna to the people of Israel and his provision of daily grace for us as believers in Christ. Grace for each new day is the New Testament equivalent of manna for God’s people.

The more I think through this picture, the more I find it’s enriching my appreciation of how God’s daily provision of grace for us works. Consider for a moment the position of God’s people when they first received manna.

In Exodus 16 having just been set free from slavery in Egypt, the people of Israel find themselves in the wilderness. They’ve seen God do astounding things to achieve their freedom. They’ve watched as their pursuing enemies were swallowed by the Red Sea and now they stand as a liberated nation, able at last to experience freedom after 400 years of tyranny. But on the brink of the journey to their promised home, their immediate attention becomes consumed by the needs of the day ahead.

They’re exhausted. They’ve just fled for their lives taking with them only what they can carry. So now with aching backs and bloodshot eyes they survey their new surroundings. They’re in a wilderness, it’s barren. How on earth will they survive here?

With rumbling bellies they grumble to Moses about their circumstances.

“Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:3)

Forgetting all that God had recently accomplished for them, their attention is focused entirely on the needs of the day before them. ‘We’ve got nothing to eat’, they say, ‘where’s God’s goodness now?’  

In undeserved grace God responds to his peoples moaning with these words to Moses;

 “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.” (Exodus 16:4)

You may be familiar with the story. For each new day that dawns in the wilderness, with the exception only of the Sabbath – every day – for 40 long years, God gives his people manna in the morning.

This is God enacting a prelude to AmazonFresh. Fresh bread, on the doorstep, every single morning. Imagine what it must have been like to slowly get used to this daily provision. The absence of any other source of food would certainly have made me anxious. The cupboards are empty and a whole nation needs feeding. As each new day dawns the people wake, and the same anxious questions rise in their hearts: ‘what if God forgets us this morning? Will there be enough for everyone? We’ve moved on since yesterday, what if God isn’t tracking us?’

How many mornings of opening the tent flap with an anxious heart do you think it would have taken you and me before we trusted in God’s faithfulness to give us the manna we needed?

This story paints vivid pictures for us of the way God fosters his children’s faith.

As we consider the parallel between God’s gift of manna and New Testament grace, there are three hallmarks of manna that have really fed my appreciation of God’s provision for us as believers in Christ.

1) God gives us manna exactly where we are

The Israelites weren’t stationary, they wandered the wilderness for 40 years, and yet every day, God knew the exact location of his people and gave them manna right there. He gave them precisely enough to meet the needs for the day ahead. This is a tailored provision. God knows where you are today, he knows the season you’re in, the circumstances you’re facing. He knows what you need, and he gives grace generously to those who ask.

2) God gives us manna exactly when we need it

Did you notice how the Israelites aren’t given an enormous pile of manna upfront to see them through the hardships of their 40 years of wandering? God doesn’t give it in advance because he knows that if he did, we’d forget our need of him. Instead, he provides for us in a way which gradually grows our faith. Knowing our fickle hearts, God chooses to give his people exactly what they need for that day. It’s an exercise in daily dependence, a provision which builds our trust and helps us walk in his ways. He gives us what we need for what we’re currently facing and, on the basis of his good character and past faithfulness, asks us to trust him for all we need for tomorrow.  

3) God gives us manna until we reach the promised land

Every single day of their journey God provided the Israelites with all the manna they needed for the tasks they faced. Only when they reached the promised land, only then did the manna stop, and this temporary means of grace was replaced by full-fledged feasting as God’s people rested in God’s place. We don’t know the span of our lives, we’re not meant to. God has designed us to live as dependent creatures, creatures who live their lives with their eyes fixed on their journey’s end. One day our faith will be turned to sight and famished hearts will know the fullness of living with him face to face.

So, what about today? How exactly do we get this manna for the day ahead? Jesus tells us explicitly in John 6.

 “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life”.

It’s Christ who is our manna now, he’s the source of grace and life we need for today.

So as the demands of the day press in, hear Christ say to you: ‘it’s me you need’.

Come to him, speak to him, ask for his help and strength. He won’t prove insufficient, he’s given us his very self and he lacks nothing. So whatever the day brings, if Christ lives within us we can confidently say, ‘there’s enough manna for today’.

When it feels like God’s unkind

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Some days, what we know to be true simply doesn’t feel true. Normally, if you asked me ‘Is God kind?’ I’d tell you a myriad of truths any Bible believing Christian could about the kindness of God. But if you’re anything like me you have some days when you really struggle to plant your heart in the truth that our God really is kind.

Last month in the space of just a few days my daughter came out in a nasty case of chicken pox, my son had a sickness bug and my husband had to sit his biggest set of exams yet while here at Oak Hill. These few days of carnage came off the back of what was the most pressurised month we’ve ever known. I know in the grand scheme of things that week will pale in insignificance, but at the time it felt, well awful. It all hit at once and to be honest it destabilised me. Amidst the sleep deprivation, vomit and pox creams I felt one particular question snap at my heart – ‘how can this be God’s kindness?’

If God is kind, really kind, then why does he ordain weeks like this? Because the thing is – I can’t just chalk it down to fate, it wasn’t just ‘one of those things’. No, the Bible teaches me very clearly that God is sovereign. He’s over all things and in all things all of the time.

This is where a truth can initially feel more like grit than gold. God is sovereign, and this means I can never say ‘it was just one of those things’ because all things are his things.

A.W. Pink puts it like this

“The Lord God omnipotent reigns…… No revolving of a world, no shining of a star, no storm, no movement of a creature, no actions of men, no errands of angels, no deeds of the Devil—nothing in all the vast universe can come to pass otherwise than God has eternally purposed….It is not blind fate, unbridled evil, man or Devil, but the Lord Almighty who is ruling the world, ruling it according to His own good pleasure and for His own eternal glory”

But if this is true, how do we get out hearts to a place where they trust in both God’s great sovereignty and in his kindness? If he ordains all things, including hard things, is he really good?

It’s an age-old question, and for most of us it’s a personal one. How can God both be kind and ordain hard times? In moments of suffering how do I navigate the minefield of my heart and find a place of rest in the uproar?

The twin truths of God’s sovereignty and his kindness are sometimes a real struggle to hold together. They raise questions and emotions in us. I can’t just swallow these feelings, nor does Scripture ask me to. There are countless examples in the Bible of individuals wrestling with this exact question. How can God be kind, and ordain hard things?

Where should I direct my heart when it flounders? Where do I go when doubts about God’s kindness creep in?

Last week Ed Welch commented in our BCUK lecture that we have a tendency to want to over interpret our sufferings, we want to understand them, we feel as though if we could understand the ‘why’ we would somehow cope better with the ‘what’. This is certainly feels true of me. I love how knowledge helps me feel orientated, so I always want to understand things, especially suffering. But so often we don’t get to. God doesn’t offer us exact explanations for individual moments of hardship. So how do we cope? Ed went on and simply said – in hard times, ‘it is enough for us to know that Christ suffered’.

Christ suffered. This is the key to my suffering. His suffering.

When all I consider is my own hardships, they can consume me. They can turn me inward in self-pity which then breeds anger at my God and my neighbour. So, when sufferings destabilise my heart I need to take my doubts about God’s kindness and journey with them to the foot of the cross, and stand there a while.

Stand still. Look up. What do you see?

At the foot of the cross I come face to face with a dying king, a king who at first glance looks like a failure, rejected and alone. And yet, as I look closer, I see that what appears to be defeat is in fact victory. I see how, through death, comes life. A sovereign hand has penned a plan of redemption that weaved even this greatest miscarriage of justice to be the high point of human history. This king is at work, even in his own death, even when the waves pound us hard, he is Lord of the storm.

Don’t stray from here, plant your feet firmer, look closer.

At the foot of the cross I find the crucified Son of Man, the one who chose to share our humanity and thus knows us perfectly in it. He knows the frailty of our flesh, the weariness of our frame. He knows the nature of my heart, how it’s quick to doubt and slow to hear when trials press in. He draws close, feels our sorrows and counts our tears. This Son of Man suffered, and by his sufferings he’s become truly acquainted with even the depths of our grief. He knows us, he understands us.

Don’t stray from here, reach out to him.

At the foot of the cross, I find a friend, a brother who gave his life for me, who stood abandoned in my place that I might never face trials alone. And this friend now reaches out a nail marked hand to lift my drooping head. He lifts my eyes, that they would fix on him once more. He is with me, even here.

Is our God kind? Yes, he is kind.

The cross, not my circumstances, is the measure of his kindness. Even in the hard times the loving kindness of the cross pursues us, chasing away our doubts. Nowhere do I see the kindness of our God clearer than at the foot of the cross.

So, when your heart whispers the lie that God is not kind, don’t stray from the cross.  

My plea to pastors – what women with teaching gifts in your church want you to hear.

women in church

As a woman with a passion for teaching the Bible to other women I’ve been repeatedly struck in recent years with what an enormous challenge it can be for women to grow a Bible teaching gift in the local church. I’m a complementarian by conviction. I think God’s design for men and women is outstanding, thoroughly beautiful. However, when it comes to exercising that conviction whilst trying to grow a teaching gift, I fear that many women regularly face an enormous barrier. Namely, there is often a big discrepancy between our doctrine and our practice in the local church.

There are of course wonderful exceptions to this for which we praise God. My church encourages the development of women’s gifts and I have no particular church in mind when I say this, but I think that, generally, the teaching gift of a woman is not practically valued as of equal worth as the teaching gift of a man.

Our doctrine says that God created us male and female. We’re not the same as one another, we have intentionally designed differences, and yet we are worth the same as one another before God. We are equal, and we are different. So how does this play out when it comes to identifying and training teachers in the church?

Due to our different roles, the identification and establishment of elders takes priority (Titus 1:5). But once this is in place, the biblical expectation is that men and women will be identified and trained to teach what is good to one another (Titus 2:1-3).

The question is then, once men have been identified as elders, are men and women being identified and trained to teach, or are the women more of an afterthought? Is the way they are identified, trained and encouraged reflective of their equality of worth? Are women being given opportunities to publicly teach the Bible to other women?

God gives gifts to his church for its edification and his great glory, and if we don’t intentionally seek out, train and fan those gifts into flame then the reality is that the witness of the church is hampered as a result, and as the church we’re not glorifying God as we should be.

This is the issue: it’s about God’s glory. It’s not about giving ‘the women their turn’ or simply trying to reflect shifts in our culture. The motivation has to be fully and only the glory of God.

With this in mind then, being complementarian, the question remains: how will a godly woman with a desire to grow a teaching gift be responded to in your church? Will what is said, or not said, communicate that her gifts are valued equally? How will she be practically trained? How will her gifts be encouraged so that the church may flourish as every member plays their part?

We have been given a great commission, and gifted as a body for this purpose. It’s not that God has inadequately gifted his church for the task. But could it be, that generally speaking we’re not fanning these gifts into flame as we could be?

I would humbly suggest that if we’re not proactively seeking out and intentionally fanning into flame the teaching gifts of women, the witness of a church is enormously hampered. Could it be that the complementarian church in the UK is trying to run on a twisted ankle?

Ephesians 4 sets a high bar for us.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

We need to consider if some of our supporting ligaments are in fact God given female teachers whose gifts need identifying and training. We want a mature church, a church growing up into Christ, discerning, loving, hardworking for his glory. I would suggest that if our practice better reflected our doctrine, if women’s gifts were equally valued and intentionally trained, it could yield a tremendous harvest of fruit for God’s glory.

I have a real burden to see this. The issue is that most of the time women with teaching gifts lack opportunity, training and feedback. We desperately want to learn, we’re hungry for our Lord, we want to grow and use our gifts for God’s glory, but we fear being met with suspicion, we fear that our attempts to grow will be heard as a desire to usurp. Please believe the best of us, we’re your sisters, please come alongside us, nurture our gifts, encourage us.

And a quick word to other women. We have a responsibility to intentionally encourage our pastors when they seek us out in this way. Let’s display a hunger for solid food, for rigorous engagement with the Scriptures. Let’s be ready and keen to step up when opportunities arise and in our hearts pursue the meeting point between humility and godly ambition in this area.

But here comes the jugular. I’m increasingly convinced that if the gap between our doctrine and practice is to disappear, the instigation of this change needs to primarily come from our male leaders. Why? Not because women can’t do it themselves but because once again our doctrine must shape our practice.

Complementarity champions male headship as the beautiful means by which God has appointed for his bride to flourish. If you’re a man in a position of leadership in your local church, your sisters need you to champion their gifts. We need men who share a vision for the whole body of Christ to be built for God’s glory, for every member ministry, to stand and encourage the gifts of women publicly so that in time the culture of our churches may gradually change and our doctrine and practice better align. There is no neutral position in this, saying nothing – says something! But oh the glory that could be ascribed to our God if our doctrine and practice were married.