2020 is proving a happy year for me musically, as some of my favourite artists release albums. Matt Redman’s ‘Let There Be Wonder’ and Jeremy Camp’s ‘The Story’s Not Over’ have found their way to me this year and I’m eagerly awaiting Rend Collective’s new album ‘Choose To Worship’ next month (conveniently my birthday month!)
I’ve been cleaning this morning (never a favourite chore) and to keep me going, I’ve been listening to the new Jeremy Camp album. The last song, ‘Wilderness’, is very poignant.
‘I’ve had seasons of goodness
Overflowing with life,
But I’m no stranger to sorrow
Or a heart that wanders sometimes.
I know the darkest night cannot outrun the sun.
The burden will be light but until that day comes
I will rest,
I will rest,
Rest my heart in Your hands
‘Cause I know that I can
Put my hope in Your faithfulness.
I will rest
And trust with confidence
If You’re God in the good, in the promised land,
You’ll be God, God in the wilderness.
When I’m stuck in the silence
And my mind’s full of noise,
You’re my light in the distance
You’re my peace in the storm.
I know the longest fight cannot outlast Your love
The wrong will be made right but until that day comes
There is joy on the horizon.
I can feel it rising up.’ (‘Wilderness’, Jeremy Camp)
Whatever the season, whatever the place, we can rest in God and know His peace and light.
God is definitely speaking to us on the subject of revival. The topic has featured in several sermons recently (including Yan Hadley’s last week, and it’s always good when the same theme is underlined by someone who has no knowledge of what has been on our hearts!) It’s also a theme that we find in daily readings (see UCB’s Word for Today) and songs, including this one by Rend Collective, entitled ‘Revival Anthem.’ (click on the link on the title below to watch the video and listen to the song).
‘Spirit, fall down, start a holy riot.
Fill this place now with the tongues of fire.
Oh, break the strongholds, come and unleash heaven.
Burn within us, make us bold as lions.
This is our revival anthem.
Can you feel the darkness shaking?
Oh, we are the dry bones rising.
This will be our great awakening.
This is our revival anthem.
Fill our hearts, Lord, with a holy danger
Lead us beyond our fear of failure
We’ll fight the good fight in Your strength and power.
We’ll take back the night, victory is ours.
We will praise You when our hearts are breaking,
Praise You when our world is caving.
We will not, we will not be moved.
We will praise You ’til we see Your kingdom;
Greater things are surely coming.
You are God and You are on the move.
Oh, You are on the move.’ (‘Revival Anthem’, Rend Collective)
As Jesus frequently said, ‘Whoever has ears, let them hear.’ (Matt 11:15) May we have ears to hear the whispers of God’s Spirit and the courage and determination to praise God in all circumstances and wait for His revival to come.
Prayer is an essential part of the Christian’s life, but sometimes we can come before God with a sense of having no idea how to pray or what to pray for. I always find the Psalms helpful in this respect, since they are the recorded prayers of God’s people and are useful in guiding us as to what and how to pray.
Psalm 20 is a psalm of David that offers us useful pointers for prayer. It gives us suggestions as to what we can pray for as we lift each other and our family and friends in prayer.
Protection (‘May the name of the Lord protect you.’ Psalm 20:1) We can pray God will protect people as they travel, as they work and as they are involved in daily life, which is full of hazards and perils!
Help (‘May He send you help from the sanctuary.’ Psalm 20:2) So often we face difficult situations and don’t know what to do, but divine help is always available to us. ‘Lord, help!‘ is a vital prayer.
Support (‘May He grant you support from Zion.’ Psalm 20:2) Help and support are very similar, but sometimes we need that sense of God carrying us and giving us the lift we need in difficult circumstances.
Acceptance (‘May He remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings.’ Psalm 20:3) All of us need the assurance of acceptance and the awareness of living under God’s blessing and approval. So many of us struggle with this whole question of acceptance and our works become a way of earning God’s favour. Ultimately, we need to remember that the sacrifice of Jesus means we don’t have to earn God’s favour, nor can we do so… because we already have it! When we live in this awareness, our work and efforts take on a whole new perspective.
Success (‘May He give the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.’ Psalm 20:4) We know that God has good plans for our lives and often puts desires and yearnings in our hearts. We need to be people of vision and passion, not just drifting along but striving to do the good works God has designed for us (Eph 2:10). All of us need God’s breath on our plans for them to succeed not just for now but to last into eternity.
Victory (‘May we shout for joy over your victory!’ Psalm 20:5) We need to stand with others in their joys and sorrows (Rom 12:15) and pray for victory – especially standing with people in their spiritual struggles and rejoicing when they see God’s salvation, help and deliverance.
We had two more birthdays to celebrate last night (plus an interloper who is a little bit addicted to the birthday box…)
I have always loved writing and find it easy to put pen to paper. When I was still at school, one of the hardest tasks I had to learn was called ‘precis’, learning how to summarise longer passages of writing in relatively few words. I struggled to do this, finding that being succinct and clear was not as easy as I had imagined. At the time, I also found this a pointless exercise, but over the years I have come to see this as possibly the most valuable lesson I ever learned. It taught a verbose child the importance of constraint.
Just recently I accepted the challenge of writing a story in no more than a thousand words. I found that challenging, requiring ruthless editing and a paring skill I did not grasp easily. But I also found it exhilarating to have to construct a story within the contraint of that word count.
Freedom and constraint seem to me to be a double-sided coin. We think of freedom as licence, the go-ahead to do as we please, and in some ways it is. But true freedom means accepting – and even relishing – constraint and limitations. Freedom is not anarchy, but involves consideration of and care for others.
Many of us chafe at constraint, viewing it as a straitjacket of limitations. I prefer to view it as a corset enabling the flow of a beautifully-cut dress to enhance a woman’s figure. Choosing to live in obedience to God does not mean we are not free. Rather, we choose to live within the boundaries and find within these constraints great joy. Just as the story-writer or poet expresses deep thoughts within the constraint of those literary forms, so we too can find great freedom as we live within the boundaries of God’s vast love and care.
Yan’s sermon tonight, when talking about the Parable of the Sower, reminded me of a poem I wrote ‘about the soil.’
Gardeners’ Question Time gathers experts and amateurs,
Asking questions about growth.
It’s all about the soil, we’re told.
Centuries before, a man told a story
All about the soil.
A dusty path,
A rocky, clay-filled patch,
A thorny, weedy field,
Rich, friable, moist, manure-fortified soil.
The different soils produced different returns,
But what’s that got to do with me, living in an urban environment?
Parables about soil don’t reverberate in my soul.
The dusty path represents the hard-hearted:
Folk who simply won’t believe,
Scornful, doubtful, cynical,
Content to live a material life in a material world.
The rocky road represents the faint-hearted:
Rootless, easily knocked off course,
Superficially smiling, but quickly toppled over
By life’s adversity challenges.
The thorny ground represents the half-hearted:
Divided personalities who let worry and anxiety choke life and joy out,
Burdened by ills, myopic about life,
Seeing only the negative and never quite believing in miracles.
Ah, but this rich, fertile soil represents the whole-hearted:
People who persevere,
People who hear God and who keep that word hidden in their hearts,
People who decide to live by faith and not by sight,
People who understand that growth takes time
And who continue to garden long after
The amateurs give up.
People who weed, water and weather the storms.
What kind of soil are you?
What kind of crop are you growing?