Wandering in the dark and walking in the light

‘Once again Jesus addressed the people: “I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall wander in the dark; he shall have the light of life.’” (John 8.12 New English Bible).

The REB revisers changed this NEB translation to the more common ‘no follower of mine shall walk in darkness’, but I’m struck by the vividness of the NEB rendering: ‘wander in the dark’. I’ve done a lot of that wandering in the dark, trying to find the right way forward. It might be a relational issue with a friend or loved one, or a problem in my parish that I need to find a solution for, or a time when my relationship with God seems to have gone dry and barren, or my struggles with my own sins and weaknesses. I seem to spend a lot of time wandering in the dark.

Today’s psalm includes the familiar verse ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light on my path’ (Psalm 119.105 REB). What the psalmist says about the Torah, or Law of God, John’s gospel applies to Jesus: he is the Word of God, so he is the light of the world. His light shines in the dark places and shows us how to live, how to love, how to serve God, how to be a blessing. The opposite of ‘wandering in the dark’ is following Jesus. Lord Jesus, help us today to intentionally shape our lives after your teaching and example. You have shown us the way, so now help us to follow it—to follow you—so that we may have the light of life. Amen.

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A Remote Place

‘But the talk about Jesus spread ever wider, so that great crowds kept gathering to hear him and to be cured of their ailments. And from time to time he would withdraw to remote places for prayer.’ (Luke 5.15-16 REB)

There have been many times in my life when I’ve been guilty of being far too impressed with the first sentence above, and completely neglectful of the second.

I imagine Jesus going out to the remote place. No Bible, no liturgy, no retreat centre, no one else with him—just the presence of God and whatever scriptures he had memorized (including probably a lot of psalms). This was such a vital feature of his ministry, a refreshment for his spirit, a deepening of his sense of fellowship with God.

Lord, thanks for the opportunities we have to love our neighbours, and give us strength to grasp them with both hands. But also, help us not to neglect the call of the ‘remote place’. Without you we can do nothing, so help us make the time we need to draw closer to you. Amen.

Trust in Him

‘For God alone I wait silently;
my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock of deliverance,
my strong tower, so that I am unshaken.
On God my safety and my honour depend,
God who is my rock of refuge and my shelter.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts before him;
God is our shelter.’ (Psalm 62.5-8 REB)

I love the balance between silence and speaking in these verses. ‘For God alone my soul waits silently; my hope comes from him’ (v.5). ‘Trust in him at all times, you people’ pour out your hearts before him; God is our shelter’ (v.8). Pouring out our hearts to God—a torrent of words describing to God exactly how we feel—seems to be the exact opposite of waiting in silence for him. But in reality, both are essential features of a healthy prayer life.

What unites them is trust. ‘Trust in him at all times, you people.’ The psalmist has experienced God as a refuge and a rock of deliverance. Past experience leads him too continue to trust that God—‘God alone’—is his shelter.

God our refuge, help us to trust in you, to wait on you in silence, and to pour out our hearts to you. Thank you that you are our rock of refuge and our shelter. Amen.

(Today’s One Year Bible daily readings are Numbers 28:16-29:40, Luke 3:23-38, Psalm 62, and Proverbs 11:18-19)

Wisdom

‘The child (Jesus) grew big and strong and full of wisdom; and God’s favour was upon him.’ (Luke 2.36 REB)

‘As Jesus grew he advanced in wisdom and in favour with God and men.’ (Luke 2.52 REB)

As I get older, I find that wisdom is a gift I prize more and more highly. Wisdom means knowing how to live and what to do in all the situations life throws at us. Heavenly wisdom is informed and shaped by faith in God and God’s will for us. Several Old Testament texts tell us that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (fear, not in the sense of terror, but in the sense of a proper awe and reverence for God as our Creator).

Lord Jesus, as you were guided by your Father, so guide us today in the way of wisdom. Amen.

All change!

One of the Pharisees, called Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Council, came to Jesus by night. ‘Rabbi,’ he said, ‘we know that you are a teacher sent by God; no one could perform these signs of yours unless God were with him.’ Jesus answered, ‘In very truth I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he has been born again.’ ‘But how can someone be born when he is old?’ asked Nicodemus. ‘Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘In very truth I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born from water and spirit. Flesh can give birth only to flesh; it is spirit that gives birth to spirit. You ought not to be astonished when I say, “You must all be born again.” The wind blows where it wills; you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born from the Spirit.’ (John 3.3-8 REB)

‘New birth’ is a metaphor for transformation, or, more accurately, for the beginning of a process of transformation. Many people today equate it with ‘accepting Jesus as your personal Saviour’. I have nothing to say against accepting Jesus as your personal Saviour, but it seems clear to me that many who have done it don’t appear to be in process of transformation. Meanwhile, there are others who have a less clearly defined conversion experience but are obviously changing and becoming more like Jesus every day.

‘The wind blows where it wills’. You can’t control the Holy Spirit or tie him down. All you can do is open yourself up to his work in faith. Faith—trust in God—is the key to all this. We aren’t going to decide where this journey leads. God is the one who decides that. Faith is taking his hand and going with him on that journey, trusting that he knows best and that the end result will be blessing for all. We can’t see the end yet, so we have to take it on faith.

God, thank you for the work of the Holy Spirit who transforms us into the likeness of Jesus. It really is like being born all over again, it’s such a huge change! What’s the next step in that change process for us? Help us not to be afraid of it, but to trust you and cooperate with your Spirit, so that the work of the Kingdom may go forward in us. Amen.

Morning, Noon and Night

‘But I appeal to God,
and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noonday
I make my complaint and groan.’
(Psalm 55.16-17 REB)

The Book of Acts talks about Peter and John going to the Temple to pray ‘at the hour of prayer’. We know that set times for corporate prayer were a feature of Jewish faith, and of course this carried over into Christianity. In monasticism the Daily Offices evolved, and in Anglicanism this expressed itself in daily Morning and Evening Prayer (Matins and Evensong); other hours like Compline and Noon Prayer are also often observed.

So its tempting to make the jump from this psalm to the custom of ‘hours of prayer’, and make the case that they are a good and biblical thing. I don’t want to deny that, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. In Psalm 55 the psalmist has been expressing his sense of betrayal at the trouble he’s in, much of it caused by someone he thought was a friend. In verses 16-17 he’s using a poetic form to express the idea that he never stops praying – ‘morning, noon, and night’, as we might say today. He may well join in the regular hours of prayer, but his prayers spill over into the rest of the day as well.

I’m good at observing set times of prayer. I’ve been keeping a morning ‘quiet time’ for decades and it has been a real means of grace for me. But I’m not so good at remembering to pray at other times. This psalm reminds us that whether it’s complaining about our troubles or expressing our thanks and praise, our prayers are always welcome to God. We don’t have to wait for a set time or a holy place. Morning and noon and night we can raise our voices to God in prayer.

God, thank you for this privilege you’ve given us. Help us not to be shy about taking advantage of it. Amen.

(Today’s One Year Bible daily readings are Numbers 16:41 – 18:32, Mark 16:1-20, Psalm 55, and Proverbs 11:7)

Godforsakenness

’At three Jesus cried aloud, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”’ (Mark 15.34 REB)

All humans experience godforsakenness at some point or other in their lives. Even—and perhaps especially—people of faith experience this. Where was God in my hour of need? Why didn’t he rescue me? Why did he abandon me? In recent history an entire people—the Jews—experienced this. The Holocaust caused a revolution in Jewish thought. What did it mean to be God’s people when God so obviously refused to rescue them from the gas chambers?

Christianity teaches that in Jesus, God has come to live among us and shared our human life. No need to get into the intricacies of Trinitarian theology here; it’s enough to remember that Jesus had lived his entire human life in close relationship to the one he called ‘my Father’. But now, in his moment of greatest need, that comforting presence seems to have been withdrawn. He was abandoned, not only by his friends, but by God himself. He died alone.

Hebrews 4.15-16 says of Jesus, ‘Ours is not a high priest unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tested in every way as we are, only without sinning. Let us therefore boldly approach the throne of grace, in order that we may receive mercy and find grace to give us timely help.’ Even our experience of godforsakenness is something he has shared. He knows how it feels. So I can never say, “He’s God, so he wouldn’t understand.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

(Today’s One Year Bible readings are Numbers 15:17 – 16:40, Mark 15:1-47, Psalm 54, and Proverbs 11:5-6)