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.

The cure for fear

The cure for fear

What’s the most common command God gives his people in scripture?

Do. Not. Fear.

Of all the things God wants to impress upon those who love him, this is the one he repeats most frequently. Why? Because if you’re anything like me, your heart naturally bends towards fear. We don’t have to work at it, it’s self-establishing, self-fuelling. Fear is a future focused emotion that comes instinctively to us because, if we’re honest, we’re attracted to the idea of imagining our worst futures. We play them out on the stage of our mind’s eye: all that could go wrong, everything we could lose or fail to gain. We love to paint our possible tomorrows because envisioning them gives us a tiny sense of control, of knowledge.

I recently heard Ed Welch describe fear as the prediction of a bad future. We know it’s foolishness really, if we think about it logically fearing the future doesn’t change anything. And yet there’s something so enticing to us about imagining the worst that tomorrow could bring. It’s alluring, even addictive.

So how do we stop it? What’s the Biblical cure for fear?

Well, I’m wondering if in fact the cure for fear, is fear.

Track with me a moment. Fearing the future is essentially foolishness, we know it changes nothing and does us no good. We don’t know what tomorrow will hold, nor do we have any ability to control it, and yet we allow the fear of tomorrow to consume us. Fear makes us into fools. And what’s the opposite of foolishness? Wisdom. And where does wisdom begin? With the fear of the Lord. Surely this isn’t a coincidence?  Proverbs 9:10 says:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy one is understanding.

So, there are two kinds of fear, fear that makes us fools and fear that makes us wise. When I indulge in foolish fear I’m allowing myself to envision a future where my good and wise God is largely absent, or where the true God of the Bible has been replaced with the vindictive cruel creator of my nightmares.

When my fears make me a fool I need my knowledge of the true God to fill my eyes so that I stand more in awe of him than my unknown tomorrows. This is the heart of the issue. This is the cure for my fears. Fearing God is the cure for all other fears.

So how does it work? How do I fear God more than an unknown future?

Thomas Chalmers talks about battling sin with ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’. This is essentially the idea that we need to love Christ more than we love sin. If our affection for Christ is stronger than our affection for our sins, we will choose Christ, because we do what we love. I can’t help but think that I need the expulsive power of a new fear.

When the Bible talks about fearing God it’s most often speaking of the sense of holy awe you get when confronted with the bigness of God in comparison to the smallness of you. It’s like a raindrop staring out at the vast ocean and recognising its own insignificance. It’s about orientating yourself. Looking up. Looking out. It’s about recognising who you are, and who God is by vast comparison. He is the creator, I am a creature. He’s all-knowing and stands outside of time. In comparison I am in every way limited by design.

Foolish fear makes me look down and in on myself, what do I think will happen, how will I cope, what will I do?

Wise fear makes me look up and out of myself, who is my God, what has he done, what does he say?

When I wisely fear God, I look at him, I recognise who he is, the all-knowing, unlimited God who stands enthroned outside of time. He’s in my past, my present and my future all at once. He holds it all, and he is doing good to me in it all. My fears for the future retreat when I recognise and respond to the truth of who my God is. I stand in awe of him, I love him, I trust him with my future.

A wise fear of God is the only thing powerful enough to expel foolish fear from my heart. I may have to stare at him a while in order to reach a place where wisdom defeats folly, but the truth of who my God is will always accomplish this. Gaze at him until your awe of him expels your awe of all else.

 

A dawn like no other

 

The rising of the sun is a daily phenomenon that we take entirely for granted. And yet without it our world would remain dark and cold and our days would go so differently. In Luke 1:68-79 Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist) bursts forth from a God imposed silence with a glorious prophecy about the coming Christ. Within it the incarnation is described as a sunrise.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The prophesy speaks of two births, both of which result from divine intervention. John the Baptist is born to the previously barren Elizabeth. Here his father Zechariah describes how his son will be a herald to the way of salvation brought by the coming Messiah, the Messiah whose birth is painted here as a sunrise.

Have you ever watched the moment when day breaks out of darkness? Before light dawns, the world is dark and cold, silent as death. And then, on the horizon breaks the first beam of the dawn, a piercing ray that carves a path through the dark sky. The sun breaks forth and with every passing second the night is pushed back as light and life burst out, beams of hope that cause the shadows to run for cover. The sky is filled with colour, the earth bathed in warmth. It’s no wonder the birth of Jesus is described as a sunrise, is there a more fitting image to help us envision the dawning of salvation?

Before the incarnation our world was gripped by sin’s darkness, and all of life was shrouded in death. We couldn’t escape the curse or find a path out of fear. Deliverance had been promised, but the wait had been long. Abraham and David were just two of God’s servants who pointed forwards as generation after generation fixed their eyes on the horizon, awaiting the promised dawn.

And then, finally, the Son of God steps down, fully flesh yet purest light, a baby born in the dead of night. Divine hope dawns in the birth of a boy. A baby of king David’s line, heir to the promises of old. And at his birth the cosmic shadows tremble, for the visiting of God’s mercy sets in motion the destruction of death itself. Sin’s bondage over the human heart begins to unravel as this dawn brings the birth of redemption.

On Bethlehem’s hills this sunrise from heaven is accompanied by a dawn chorus of angels heralding the birth of this long-awaited day. He has come. The tender mercy of God has visited us.

This is a dawn like no other, for this sunrise shouts salvation from the enemy of sin, it speaks forgiveness to all who turn and whispers freedom to those encased by fear. As light breaks forth from the manger night begins to flee, for this sunrise illuminates a path, a way of escape, a way to peace.

Long ago Isaiah spoke of a day when light would dawn ‘on those living in the land of deep darkness’. The incarnation is this long-awaited sunrise from heaven. This birth brings mercy into our mess and extends forgiveness and peace to those bound by sin and fear. May we join his dawn chorus and with loosened lips accompany Zechariah in blessing God for his risen Son.