Category Archives: Faith and Anxiety

Nuggets of Hope 27 – Are you listening?

PSSST … 

Hey you. I have some things to tell you. Secrets. Things that can help you.  Are you listening? This is really important.

God. 

This is a time of many opinions, much commentary, many unknowns and uncertainties, many claims and counter-claims, much fear and anxiety, much suspicion and accusation, much unrest and contention.

In the storm of words, it is a great gift to be able to quiet one’s thoughts by giving our attention to the Holy One.

Before I was born again, I could not do this. I was a young United Church pastor – attempting to be a shepherd to others although I did not yet really know the Good Shepherd. I was driven and anxious much of the time. I wanted peace – wanted it desperately – but I could not think my way into it.

I found that the way to peace was through surrender of my will to Jesus Christ and baptism with the Holy Spirit. Right away my life became much simpler as I no longer felt compelled to solve every problem or come up with a solution for every situation. There was such freedom in not being responsible for everything.

I am very grateful for those who trained me, early on in my walk with Christ, in learning to listen to the quiet whisper of Holy Spirit speaking to my spirit.

Nowadays, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am finding that to stay healthy I need to practice a few simple disciplines.  Physical exercise, prayer, Scripture, work, rest.

One of the most important is to pay more attention to the voice of the Lord than to the voice of man.

From the time I was a young child I always wanted to know what was true and what was false. I also have a strong sense of justice and hate to see lies and wrongs prevail. These are good qualities but I have found that in order to stay in God’s peace – which is the place of order and productivity and fruitfulness and life and hope – I need to discipline myself to listen to His voice in preference to all the other voices. When I forget this, even for a short time, I pay a price. When I remember it, peace returns and I am able to see clearly again because I have heard the voice of the One who is True.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Jesus, John 10:10

My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways …
as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
God, Isaiah 55:8-9

The Lord knows the thoughts of man,
That they are a mere breath.
Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O Lord,
And whom You teach out of Your law;
That You may grant him relief from the days of adversity,
Until a pit is dug for the wicked.
Psalm 94:11-13

The Holy Spirit is such a blessing to me. In an instant He can cut through the confusion of human voices and give me His perspective. He doesn’t answer all my questions but He directs my attention to the one thing that I need to pay attention to in that moment. This brings rest to my thoughts and keeps me stable, focussed and productive.

One of my favourite Psalms speaks of the secret counsel of the Lord which is available only to those who fear Him. It is like the counsel that one gives to a trusted friend. I need that secret counsel on a daily basis, to guide my life, to show me His ways and keep me from trouble.

I daresay you need that daily counsel of the Lord as much as I do.

Are you listening?

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Nuggets of Hope 22 – How to Stay Safe

Stay safe.

It’s become one of the dominant messages in the COVID-19 era.

But how, exactly, do we stay safe? How do we protect ourselves?

Before we can really answer that question, we need to ask another question. From what enemy are we trying to protect ourselves?

If you’re trying to protect yourself from getting COVID-19, there are recommended precautions. But what if you have a sneaking suspicion that COVID-19 isn’t your biggest enemy?

Yes, COVID-19 is an enemy. But it can be a useful enemy. Like any crisis, any situation that we can’t control, the pandemic raises important questions for us. Where is my real hope? What am I living for? What do I really want? What is my life really about?

Many people are experiencing heightened anxiety during these times. But their anxiety is not only because of COVID-19.  That’s just the current threat. The reality is that we are all vulnerable to many possible harms. Death is a prospect that none of us can escape in this age.

Disciples of Jesus have a Master who has conquered death on our behalf, and set us free from the power of darkness. If we really believe that, we should be the happiest of people. But we also have an enemy who hates us and desires to rule our thoughts. He does this by planting thoughts which we can choose to accept or reject. But to recognize them and reject them, you need a good spiritual immune system. The contagion that I really want to avoid is that sneaky tendency to focus on myself, and the immune system I need is the good, old-fashioned blood of Jesus that washes me clean from sin, His Word that is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path, and His powerful Spirit who guides me in the ways of love and self-control.

Recently I studied the First Letter of John with a small group of friends. John is identified as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Of course Jesus loved all his disciples but he apparently had an especially close relationship with John. By the time he wrote this letter, John was an old man who had seen most of the companions of his youth put to death for their faith in Jesus.

For John, the issues were clear. He ended his message to his flock with these sobering but hope-filled and powerful words.

We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them. We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and he is eternal life. Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.

1 John 5:18-21

The safest place to be is close to Jesus. That’s where I want to stay. That’s where I’m placing my hope.

 

 

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Nuggets of Hope 19 – At All Times

Do you praise the Lord at all times?

That’s what David vowed to do after God rescued him from the crafty Abimilech.

I will bless [praise] the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make its boast in the Lord ;
The humble shall hear of it and be glad.
Psalm 34:1-2

Twenty-eight years ago today my daughter Bethany was born. It was a day of great rejoicing. Marion and I had not planned on a fourth child but God saw fit to intervene. We had also not expected to have a daughter. I remember the Holy Spirit speaking to me and telling me that He was giving me what I had desired but had not asked for. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and praised the Lord.

Five years ago today my daughter-in-law Carmen lost almost all of her small bowel. I will never forget the phone call from my son Joe telling me that she was about to have surgery and might not survive. I left my desk, went for a long walk and prayed as I have seldom prayed before. I knew that Carmen’s life was ultimately in the hands of the Lord.  That was a hard day, but God has shown himself faithful. I don’t say this only because she survived – although I am very thankful that she not only survived but is now thriving. Even if she had been taken from us, God would have shown himself faithful. He is always faithful to His good, eternal purposes. That is who He is.

We don’t praise the Lord only or primarily to get things from Him, although praise does release God’s blessings into our lives in a powerful way. We praise Him because He is worthy of our attention, worthy of being the primary focus of our lives. There is no-one else more worthy of our loving, appreciative, thankful attention. But we also praise and worship God because we need to.  It’s good for us. Praising and worshipping God has a wonderful way of putting things into perspective for us. As we lay down our concerns and forget ourselves in praising and worshipping Him, everything else takes its place.

Not many months after surrendering my life to the Lord and going through my first series of severe tests after coming to faith, I remember being at a Christian family camp where Harold Harding was ministering in teaching and personal prophecy. I do remember some of what he said – in fact his personal prophetic word to me had a profound impact on me – but what had the greatest impact was his habit of pacing up and down the platform, praying over and over again “Thank you Lord” as he waited for prophetic words to come. I saw in him qualities of perseverance, constancy and steadiness that had developed over a lifetime of both blessings and trials. He looked for the hand of God in both, and so his life remained stable and fruitful until the day he passed into the presence of Jesus.

There’s something very stabilizing about praise. At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is shaking the nations, and we can all feel its impact in multiple ways, one of the best things we can do is to turn our attention to God and praise Him. When we turn our attention away from ourselves and our concerns, and away from the opinions, judgments, mistakes, achievements and social media pronouncements of others, and fix our attention on the Maker of the Universe, we soon begin to realize how very small people are and how very big God is.

Paul wrote to the young church in Corinth during a time when they needed a dose of encouragement due to a crisis in their life together. He reminded them of their foundations.

Now it is God who makes both us and you
stand firm in Christ. He anointed us,
set his seal of ownership on us,
and put his Spirit in our hearts
as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
2 Corinthians 1:21-22

When we turn our attention to Him and surrender to His good work in our lives, God puts a firm foundation under our feet, and He anoints us and seals us with His Spirit – the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and empowered Him for his ministry. None of this is from us. It’s all from God. He redeems us from the pit and gives us stability and hope, He gives us the power to live a new life, and He gives us the promise that His good work in us will be completed and that we will get to share in His eternal inheritance if we remain faithful.

It’s good for us, sometimes, to be reminded of the losses that others have suffered. It was good for me today to be reminded of the pain that Carmen has been through and the grief, sorrow and travail that so many of us experienced as we were waiting anxiously for news about her first and second surgeries during that horrible period of testing five years ago. It’s also good to remember our joys, as Marion and I take delight in remembering Bethany’s birth twenty-eight years ago today. But it’s even better, having revisited both past joys and past sorrows, and having taken stock of present challenges like the current pandemic, to turn our faces and our hearts to the God of the universe who alone is worthy to be worshipped and praised.

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Nuggets of Hope 4 – God’s Spirit in us

His Spirit lives in us.

In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, I am offering these brief reflections as a way of finding hope by turning our attention to God. Today I want to focus on the good news that those who have put their hope in Jesus have His Spirit living within them.

Writing to the believers in Corinth long ago, Paul penned these words – whoever is united with the Lord is one with Him in spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17 NIV). As Jesus promised, I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17 ESV).

This is powerfully good news.

If you have put your hope in Jesus, if you belong to Him, then even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the daily onslaught of bad news, the Spirit of Jesus dwells within you. Your thoughts and feelings do not have to be ruled by the latest frightening report. He is willing and able to give you wisdom, insight, comfort and direction. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

My friends, those are not just nice-sounding words. This is truth to live by. We don’t have to be paralyzed by fear. Jesus is holding us securely. Each day we can get up and set our hearts to trust Him, and direct our hearts to listen to what His Spirit wants to say to us about the affairs of the day. I have found that Holy Spirit is ready and willing to speak to me about anything that concerns me. It’s an amazing blessing that has brought me peace and perspective more times than I can count.

Not only that, the Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.  We have the hope of eternal life.  As Paul wrote to the believers in Rome long ago, if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:11 ESV). We don’t live for this life only. A million years from now, this current trouble will be only a memory, but how we respond to Him in the midst of it will have an eternal impact. He is developing our hearts, training us to trust Him, preparing us for glory. The rulers of this age quite clearly do not know what to do. They are making it up as they go along. I speak this with no disrespect. They are doing their best, and they are in need of our prayers, but they are clearly overwhelmed.

Our God, however, is far from overwhelmed. He is at work in this situation for the good of those who love Him. He is not worried or anxious. He is working in those who trust Him, preparing them for what is to come.

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.
1 Corinthians 2:9-10 NKJV

People of God, let us rise up in courage and seize the day. His Spirit lives in us.

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Goal for 2018 : Living free from anxiety

This morning I misplaced my smart phone. (The phone may be smart – its owner, not so much).  I eventually discovered that I had left it at the postal counter at our local pharmacy when picking up a package. However, until I figured this out and retrieved it, I was finding it hard to stay focussed on anything else. My plans went out the window as my thoughts kept gravitating to one thing – getting my phone back. When I had checked all the usual places in our house and didn’t find it in any of them, I became more than a little concerned.

My smart phone gets a lot of use. To make matters worse, the previous day my laptop had died, and I had not succeeded in restoring it from a system image (I did have one), so my beautifully-ordered plans for the tail end of the holiday period were in something of a shambles. I make my living as an IT consultant, and some important business information was on the laptop. I’m also quite active in several areas of ministry, and my laptop contained some sensitive documentation regarding refugees as well as prayer lists, Powerpoint presentations, words to worship songs, and so forth. I had backups, but having to rebuild everything was proving to be a major inconvenience. I had also planned to do some work from home yesterday and today, and of course that was not happening. This came on top of a similar computer failure on my wife’s laptop a couple of weeks previously, from which I was still in the process of recovering, with the very welcome help of a friend. Marion and I had planned a special day with our granddaughter for this evening and Saturday, and I didn’t want to jeopardize those plans, but I had hoped to make some progress on getting my computer systems up and running before she arrived. In the midst of all this, misplacing my phone was the icing on the cake, so to speak.

I knew, of course, that I should pray. And I did pray, while also attempting to continue to make progress on rebuilding my computer systems, and deciding what to do about the work I had missed and the documents I might be missing (the full extent of the loss of data wasn’t clear, and still isn’t). But it’s hard to focus on multiple important priorities at once.

Despite the fact that I was giving Him anything but my undivided attention, as I was attempting to work on my computer system and trying not to panic, in His kindness and wisdom Holy Spirit managed to get two messages through to me about my phone . Message #1 : “It’s not lost”.  I realized that this was a reference to a powerful dream He had given me previously – a very graphic illustration that Father never misplaces anything and always knows the solution to every problem. Message #2 : “Call the postal counter at the pharmacy”. I had rejected this thought at first, because I was quite sure I had brought the phone home, but when this thought wouldn’t go away, I decided to pay attention to it. And sure enough, the postal clerk confirmed that my phone was there. To say I was relieved would be an understatement.

I had to walk to the pharmacy because my wife was out with the car. This gave me an opportunity to process the morning’s events with the Lord. I recognized that I was being humbled by a set of circumstances that served as a very effective reminder of my weakness and dependency on Him. I was, quite simply, powerless to either prevent or change the events that had impacted my orderly plans. All I could do was to decide how I was going to respond to these events that were beyond my control. It was as if God had put the brakes on. At the same time, when I made things worse by misplacing my phone – a simple but humbling mental lapse – He demonstrated His great kindness and care for me, reminding me that what seems like a crisis to me is no great problem for Him, and then simply, kindly and clearly showing me what to do.

I have learned that God always knows what I need to do in any set of circumstances, and is willing to show me. This simple truth is powerfully securing. I am learning in a fresh way just how good He is to his children. But we only taste and see His goodness to the extent that we lay down our stubborn independence, and admit that we really can’t manage life very well on our own.

I don’t make New Years Resolutions, but I do believe in setting goals and establishing priorities as Holy Spirit leads. In 2018, I want to become a much more peaceful man. The kind of peace I am speaking of is not passive. It doesn’t mean that I care less about the issues and concerns and needs around me. It simply means anchoring my soul in the reality that God is God and I am not, that He is good to me and wants to bless me with His peace, and that when my heart is at rest and free from anxiety, I am far more able to recognize His priorities for me and act on them, without having to contend with the “white noise” of constant low-grade anxiety that at one time used to dominate the landscape of my mind. Like some unwelcome but hard-to-get-rid-of squatter, anxiety is stubborn and hard to evict. This usurper occupies far less space in my thought life than he once did, but he still crops up every now and then, cluttering my mental landscape with harassing thoughts that – if entertained – distract me from the simple obedience of faith. I want him gone, and I am learning that abiding in God’s rest is the key. There’s not room for both in the same space. Either peace is driven out by anxiety, or anxiety is driven out by peace. In 2018, I’m choosing peace. Who’s with me?

 

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