Tag Archives: perseverance

Staying the Course in 2021

In a few hours, the year 2020 will be behind us, and we will have entered a new year.

Many are hoping for some relief from the COVID-19 pandemic, and longing for respite from trouble and hardships of all kinds.

It’s natural for us to hope for good things at the start of a year. I look for this as much as anyone else does. But my prophetic intuition coupled with my understanding of Scripture tells me that while there may be some respite in 2021, we are headed for increasing turmoil in the years to come, as the end of the age draws near.

When I was a boy of fourteen, I had the privilege of sailing with my uncle and my two cousins on an oceangoing boat off the coast of the Netherlands. It was an unforgettable experience. I loved it so much that on my return to Canada I bought my own little sailboat with the proceeds of my paper route, and for the next several summers I sailed it on the lake at the family cottage.

I learned that when you are sailing in rough weather, a key to success is to keep a steady course. I learned not to fear the wind and waves, but to lean into the wind and leverage its power to propel my boat forward.

This is what I believe people of faith need to do when faced with stormy weather in life.  The storms we face don’t define us, but they do give us an opportunity to exercise faith. We can persevere through the storm and get to the other side if we know where we are headed and who is the true Captain of our boat.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

~ Paul the Apostle (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV)

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Stay steady and win the prize

Last night Marion and I watched a movie about Philippe Petit, who famously walked a tightrope between the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center in 1974.

I was struck by his courage but also the extensiveness of his preparation for this feat. You don’t accomplish a feat like this without both attributes. Further, I noticed that he was completely convinced he could do this. He had faith – not in God but in his own ability. The pressure of maintaining this faith almost drove him mad because he was relying on himself and not on God. Still, he persevered and accomplished what he called his “coup”.

Petit said that he did this not only for the sake of the feat itself but also for the glory that would be his as a result.

To walk a tightrope you do need preparation, training, courage and faith. You also need incredibly good balance.

This morning I awoke from a dream about the Bride of Christ. The nations of the earth are being shaken in the time we are in, and the Bride of Christ is being shaken.

Although Jesus is called our Bridegroom in Scripture, and we are called his bride, the wedding is still to come. We are Jesus’ betrothed, but only those who stay steady through the shaking will get the prize.

The shakings are part of our preparation for glory. Many of us waver at times. We might even stumble and lose our balance momentarily. If we steady ourselves and get up again, we will make it. If we lose our grip and forget our hope in these moments, we will fall to our destruction.

As I was waking up from this dream the Lord also told me to get up and eat something sweet. I asked him, if I am being given this message about shaking, shouldn’t I be fasting and praying? He said no, get up and eat something sweet. So I did. As I did this I realized that God was saying that in the midst of shakings He sustains His people with the sweetness of His presence. We don’t have to maintain our balance and our courage by sheer force of will, as Philippe Petit did in his classic tightrope walk. We do need to fix our will on the prize, but we can abide in the sweet presence of the Lord. He steadies us so that we can finish our walk.

If you are going through difficult times know that you are not alone. The Holy One has his eye on you. Philippe Petit also had a team of people who believed in him and were cheering him on. We have a team as well. We need the Body of Christ to cheer us on to success. Even more than that – especially in those moments when we feel completely alone – we need to remind ourselves that the eyes of the Lord are on those who have put their hope in Him.

Yesterday evening was the beginning of the Biblical Feast of Tabernacles. This feast celebrates the abiding presence of the Lord with Israel as they were crossing the wilderness, when they lived in temporary shelters. For believers in Jesus it also signifies the beautiful, sweet reality of the indwelling Holy Spirit who refreshes us, renews us and empowers us to finish our race with joy. The Holy Spirit is given to us as a deposit or first installment on our  inheritance. Those who persevere in faith are destined to inherit an eternal kingdom that cannot be shaken.

If your life sometimes feels like a tightrope walk between two towers, fix your eyes on Jesus and let Him steady you. You will get to the other side. Eternal glory awaits you.

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Nuggets of Hope 21 – The Hope of Glory

The hope of glory.

The runners in this photo were both running for the prize. They were running to win. They were running with focus and determination.

One of them is my young friend Rebecca Greer. She is an exemplary young lady. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic she has continued to train and stay in shape.

Why does she do this? It would be easier not to.

The answer is that she has vision and a purpose that enable her to see beyond the limitations of this present time. She is living for fulfillment. She is running for the joy of it. She is running for the hope of glory.

God has designed humans to want fulfillment. We are made for joy. We are made for glory. We are made for the glory of God.

I would never want to minimize anyone’s positive achievements in this life. We all need hope and purpose to sustain us. Young people need the motivation of believing that there is a point to their efforts to live a productive life.  But the energy of youth does not last forever, and so we need to ask ourselves whether we are spending the substance of our lives for a prize that is temporary and fading, or for a prize that is eternal and will never lose its luster.

Many of us feel that our plans, hopes and dreams have been placed on hold by this pandemic. Just yesterday I lost perspective for a few hours and needed a sister in Christ to remind me of my focus. The specific challenges are different for each person, but all of us are in a battle to hold on to hope. In the midst of that battle, it’s good to lift our eyes and look to the heavens, to the One who is seated on the Throne.

Why is this pandemic happening? There are many possible answers to that question. But in the end, no circumstance is outside of God’s control. Wicked people contrived to put Jesus to death, but God had a higher purpose. It’s up to us which narrative, which script, which agenda characterizes our life. It’s up to us whether these few months of pandemic are wasted time or fruitful time.

Like Rebecca, we can choose to continue training during this time. Physical training has some value in leading to a better life, so I continue to work out and ride my bike. I do this because I want to remain fit, productive and positive in my focus. I still have some years left in this life, and I want them to be good ones. But for what purpose? What is my ultimate goal? What is yours? If we make the daily choice to let Jesus work on the inside of us, to teach us His thoughts and His ways, the benefits will be eternal.

Writing from a prison cell, the Apostle Paul wrote these words of encouragement to his dear friends in the church at Philippi,

I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:6

Although he was in prison, Paul wasn’t obsessed with his own troubles. His confidence was in God, and so he was able to encourage others with the hope of their eternal inheritance and God’s faithfulness.

I believe that promise. It’s one of the Scriptures that I speak over my life almost every day, and it has changed the way I think. Today and every day, I am choosing to fix my eyes on the hope of glory.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18

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Nuggets of Hope 13 – All Things

All things. Yes, I did mean all things. All things work together for good. 

All things? Everything?

Yes, all things. That’s what it says. Romans 8:28. You know the verse.

Even COVID-19? Lord, surely you couldn’t mean that.

Yes, yes I do. I do mean exactly that. For those who love Me, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to My purpose.

But God … how can you mean that? How can this pandemic be good?

I didn’t say it was good. I said it can work for your good. But since you’re asking Me questions, I have a question for you. It’s a really important question. The most important question anyone will ever ask you. Do you love Me?

Well …. it’s a bit complicated right now. I mean, you aren’t exactly managing things the way I would like.

Well, do you?

I think so. Sometimes. Sort of. A little bit. But I don’t like some of the things you do – or allow.

Then maybe you should spend some time with Me, and let me show you what I want to do in you through this test.

Maybe. I guess that would be a good idea. But God, can’t you just make things like normal again, and make this coronavirus go away? I don’t like tests. I don’t like upheavals. I don’t like it when I can’t control things, or when my life doesn’t work the way I think it should. And I don’t like to see people suffering.

I know.

Yes. Yes, I suppose you do know. You know my thoughts, don’t you.

Yes, I know your thoughts. But you don’t seem to know My thoughts very well. Did you know there’s another part to that verse?

Is there? Doesn’t it just say all things work together for good for those who love You?

That’s part of it. But remember that bit about being called according to My purpose?

Oh yeah. That part. So what’s that all about, anyway?

You tell me. What do you think is My purpose for you?

I dunno. A nice, easy comfortable life here on earth – after all, I’m a Christian, right? I go to church, I believe in you, I hang out with my nice Christian friends, I do good Christian stuff, and you’re supposed to protect me and my family and make sure we don’t have any trouble. After all, we’re good people. And then I get to go to heaven. But it doesn’t quite seem to be working out the way I thought. This COVID-19 thing really has me rattled.

Yes, I noticed. But did you know that you left out a couple of bits? My purpose for you is a bit bigger than you thought. 

It is? I was afraid of that.

Yep. Did you know there’s a part in there about becoming like Jesus

Really? You expect that? Nobody can be as good as Jesus. He’s special. He’s different.

Well, I didn’t say you had to do that part by yourself. You can’t make yourself like Jesus. You can’t change yourself. Especially not when you keep trying to play it safe and stay out of trouble. That’s why I’m helping you out by letting you go through some problems. 

That’s supposed to help me?

Well, how else am I going to teach you to depend on Me? You spend most of your time trying to figure everything out by yourself. So I allowed the devil to stir up a problem that was too big for anyone to handle. 

I have to admit, I did wonder if maybe the devil had his hand in this. But I don’t understand why you would let him do that. I still don’t see how this pandemic can lead to anything good.

You see how your leaders are trying really hard to cope, keep everyone from getting sick. And medical researchers are working really hard to find solutions, things they can use to manage this problem. They want to find a vaccine. They don’t want to have another problem like this one again. I understand that. I understand that you’re all frightened, and you just want it to end. Believe me, I feel it. I’m hearing way more prayers than usual, and most of them are full of fear. But at least they’re praying. That’s a start. But most people haven’t got a clue what this is really about. 

What is it about then?

My enemy – the devil – wants to destroy you all. He always does. He hates you, and he hates Me. But I’m not going to allow that. I am letting him test you, though. To see how you’ll do. To see how many of my people – those who say they’re my people, anyway – will actually turn to Me. Did you know that’s how you become more like Jesus?

By turning to you and paying attention to you? Really? It’s that simple?

Yes, really. That’s how it works. And not just when things are hard. All the time. You have no idea how much I love you and want to see you grow up into the amazing, glorious person I intend you to become. I want you to live with Me in My perfect Kingdom that is coming, where there is no more suffering or death or pain or anything evil. But none of that can happen unless you go through some troubles. Without troubles, you won’t change, because you’d rather stay in control, you’d rather keep things safe and comfortable. The reason I allow troubles in your life is so that you’ll turn to Me and let Me have My way in your life. 

Ouch. But yes, you’re right. I see that, a little bit anyway. I do want to learn to turn to You and trust You more. I’m tired of being afraid. So what should I do? How can I fix this?

You can’t fix it. That’s the whole point. But I can. I can work in you so that you’re not so anxious, so worried, so stressed. I can teach you to trust Me. I can make you more like Jesus. I can cause you to grow in love, so that you can actually help people in this crisis and not just worry about yourself. I can prepare you for My glorious Kingdom that is coming. I can do all that. But you have to pay attention to Me. 

OK God. Let’s give it a go. I think that would be a good thing. My way’s not working so well.

I noticed that. Glad you’re on side. Walk with me through this. 

Thank you, Lord. Please help me. Teach me Your ways.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. (Romans 8:28-30 NLT)

 

 

 

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Nuggets of Hope 7 – Called to Shine

“I’m no saint”.

When someone says these words they are usually admitting that they’re far from perfect. But is that what it means to be a saint? Does it mean that you have achieved moral perfection? If that were the case, no-one would qualify except Jesus.

For the past week I’ve been offering these daily reflections on Scripture to bring hope and courage into the hearts and homes of God’s beloved people during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Today we are going to look at a Biblical concept that is often misunderstood, and may not seem very relevant or encouraging at first glance. Like some long-lost family heirloom, many people don’t appreciate its value, or don’t even know it’s there. In this short post I want to try to blow the dust off and shed some light on this gem of life-giving truth.

Most people have a great deal of respect for Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was renowned for her works of mercy and charity. She was also recognized for her simplicity and humility. Many would have no problem calling her a saint.

These are all great qualities, and they do indeed flow from a genuine relationship with Jesus. But it’s not actually our character traits that make us saints. Believe it or not, being a saint is actually very simple. The only qualification is that you have to belong to Jesus. It’s really that simple.

This doesn’t just mean saying a quick prayer. It means letting Him change us day by day, by the power of His Spirit living in us. So, for example, if we truly belong to Jesus, we won’t be panicked by this pandemic. Yes, we’ll experience feelings of fear like everyone else, but we won’t let fear rule us. Why not? Because we have Jesus living in us, and we are letting Him renew our minds with His word, and pour His peace and joy into us by His Spirit.

Being holy is a gift, but it’s also a daily choice. It’s something that happens over time, as you respond to Jesus day by day. The pull of darkness and despair is strong – not just during COVID-19, but all the time. But the resurrection power of Jesus is stronger. We are the ones who get to decide what defines our lives. It took a lifetime of daily choices for Mother Teresa to become someone who was defined by the Light. We can feed ourselves on Jesus, or we can feed ourselves on things that pull us away from him. One way is the path of life, the other is the path of death.

The Apostle Paul frequently referred to those who believe in Jesus as saints (e.g. Colossians 1:3-4, 12). The word saint simply means someone who is holy, set apart for God, and in the process of being purified. He wasn’t saying that they were already perfect. Far from it. He was saying that the life of Jesus in them was changing them day by day, and that their destiny was to be like Him. Their destiny was to shine. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, he wrote, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12)

The Apostle John put it this way (1 John 3:2-3).

Beloved, we are God’s children now,
and what we will be has not yet appeared;
but we know that when he
appears
we shall be like him,
because we shall see him as he is.
And everyone who thus hopes in him

purifies himself as he
is pure.

If you already belong to Jesus, you are a saint – a holy one. The power of God is at work in you to make you new. And if you don’t belong to Jesus, this amazing gift is freely available. All you have to do is surrender to Him and trade your life for his. It’s that simple.

What a hope! What a promise! When we wake up to the glorious destiny that we have in Jesus, what hold does a virus have on us?

God bless you today with hope and courage. You are called to shine.

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Finishing well

Working Out

The other day I was working out on my exercise bike. When I’m on my bike, I set a goal, and I try to push myself and fight the temptation to quit. I was getting winded, and so I asked the Lord to help me finish well.

I often return to this prayer theme during exercise. It speaks to me on two levels. At one level  I am focussing on a very practical, physical goal. I am asking for strength to persevere in doing the things I need to do to stay fit. It would be easier just to quit.

But there’s another level to this prayer as well. Why bother exercising if your life isn’t going anywhere? I work out because I have hope and a purpose. I have hope for this age and for the age to come.  So, it’s my goal to finish well.

My mother in law passed into the presence of Jesus a little over six weeks ago. Since then, three people who are close to me have said good-bye to their mothers for the last time in this life. Two others have received cancer diagnoses. This has reminded me of my own mortality. When you’re young and energetic it’s easy to think that death is a long way off. But the older you get, the less you can convince yourself of that particular delusion.

The passing of Marion’s Mom completed a process that began with my Dad’s death thirteen years ago this month. Marion and I no longer have earthly parents to look up to. We do have great memories and much to be thankful for, but our parents have left this life, left the family circle, and we are now the ones that our children and grandchildren look up to. We’re the old folks now, as our good friend John Herweyer used to put it.

I know that I have entered the last major phase of my journey in this life. I might stay healthy for another twenty years or more, but unless Jesus returns first, my life on this earth will end in my death, and that date is drawing closer with every breath. But I don’t want to live out my remaining years worrying about what might happen to me. I’m not afraid to die. I’m in good health and enjoy a reasonably active life. My health is a blessing. But even if my health should fail, and even as my strength gradually wanes as I age, I want to run my race with perseverance and joy.

I have friends who went to South Africa two years ago when Tony was in his mid seventies and L-A was approaching her sixties. They have been serving young South Africans in one of the townships in the Western Cape. They inspire me. It hasn’t always been easy for them, but they have run their race with joy, creativity and purpose. I am inspired by people who live their senior years in conscious devotion to the goodness and purposes of God, relying on His nearness and power to sustain them and give them hope. That’s how I want to finish out this life. In the words of a classic worship song,

This is my desire – to honour You.

When I draw my final breath in this life, I want to enter Jesus’ presence having lived my last years on earth in wholehearted obedience to my Lord who gave me life, and who redeemed that life and gave me a purpose. He is worthy of whatever I have to give, and much more. I recognize that good health and energy are a great blessing, and I want to honour Him by enjoying my remaining years. I believe this gives God more honour than living a miserable, fearful, self-obsessed life. I want to be a blessing to my children and grandchildren. I want to support missionaries and help the poor. I want to be a good steward of the bit of land I have, and the time, energy and finances that have been entrusted to me. I want to use my spiritual gifts to serve others and help them turn to God with their whole hearts. And if health and strength should fail, I am still determined to close out my days with my eyes on Him who gives me hope for eternity.

Lord, give me strength and grace to finish well.

All my life you have been faithful
All my life you have been so, so good
With every breath that I am able
I will sing of the goodness of God.

Jenn Johnson.

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Knocking on heaven’s door

This morning at church, I did something perfectly ordinary. I left my seat and stood in the aisle to let Grace pass by so that she could sit with her older sister and her parents.

We had just finished singing three beautiful songs of worship and adoration, and faith was stirring in my spirit. As I stood there in the aisle, watching this pretty pre-teen girl child make her way to her seat, my eyes were opened and I was given a vision from heaven. In my spirit, I saw Grace standing in front of a large wooden door. She had her right hand raised and her knuckles formed into a fist. With childlike confidence, she was poised to knock on the door.

As I briefly pondered the meaning of this vision, I immediately realized that it portrayed the teaching of Jesus about faith-filled prayer.

Ask, and it will be given to you;
seek, and you will find;
knock, and it will be opened to you.

Matthew 7:7

Grace is a wonderful young woman, the beloved youngest daughter in a warm, loving, faith-filled family. I concluded that this was a message from God about her developing character, and I made a mental note to share the vision with her and her parents to encourage them.

But my internal dialogue with God didn’t end there. As I prepared to sit down, I sensed that this vision wasn’t just for Grace. My thoughts immediately turned to my own daughter Bethany, also the youngest in our family. Although she is married now and no longer living in my household, Bethany knows – like Grace with her Dad – that if she needs something from me, all she has to do is ask me. If I can do it for her, I will.

I realized that Father was showing me something about His heart towards His beloved people. The vision was not just about Grace. It was a picture of the Bride of Christ, His beloved, knocking on the door of heaven and asking the Father for favour.

Grace is still a child. There is much she doesn’t understand about life, but she does know that her Dad loves her. Even if he doesn’t always give her what she wants right away, she knows that he will always answer her in love. She knows that she can trust him.

The message was clear. Knock boldly, knock with confidence. Even if the answer is delayed, it’s for a good reason. Keep on knocking. The One behind the door is faithful, and in His good time He will answer.

We live in times when many things are being shaken. There is trouble all over the earth, there are wrongs and injustices everywhere, and in many places God’s people are hard-pressed. But there are also signs of the Kingdom in many places for those with eyes to see.

In times like these, some will be tempted to shrink back and become discouraged and fearful. Others will press on boldly, knocking on the door of heaven and trusting Father to answer.

The ones who press on are the ones who understand the character of the One behind the door. They know they are His beloved, they know He has a glorious destiny for them, they know that Jesus will partner with them to rule the earth in the age to come. And so they keep on knocking.

This is how the Bride grows up and comes into her glorious maturity. She keeps on knocking, standing and waiting in faith and hope and love, until she hears the Father’s answer. She will keep on knocking until her Bridegroom returns to reign on the earth, and invites her to reign with Him.

O glorious day.

 

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In season and out of season

September is not the season for beans – at least not in this part of the world. Beans are usually picked in July, maybe in early August, but by September they are long gone.IMG_20130909_081942_961

Let me introduce you to my amazing pole bean plant.

I planted pole beans twice this year. The first time, none of them germinated. It wasn’t just that the tender green shoots got eaten by nasty critters, as some of my gardening friends helpfully suggested. They didn’t come up at all. The seed was a few years old, and it was a long shot, but most of our local stores no longer carry pole bean seed so I used the old seed. My second planting didn’t do much better, but one lonely little plant did eventually germinate, weeks after one would normally plant beans. I finally decided to plant some bush beans to keep it company.

The bush beans did what bush beans usually do. They bore for a couple of weeks and then tailed off. Since then, there have been a few beans here and there, but barely enough to mention.

My lone pole bean plant, on the other hand, is still producing. On the weekend I filled a three litre basket with its produce. Today I did so again. This was at least the fifth harvest from this wonderfully productive singleton plant. And there are still more beans coming – lots of them.

Most years, the three trellises that grace my back yard fence support the vines from four or five pole bean plants. This year, my lone surviving pole bean plant made the most of its opportunity and spread out to cover a full two thirds of this support structure all by itself (with a little help from my guiding hands, placing the vines where I wanted them to go).

A bean is not very impressive. It’s quite small and unspectacular – just like most average Christians, who tend to think that they don’t have a lot to offer. Yet this one little bean, planted in the ground, undaunted by the failure of its colleagues, has quietly gone about its business and produced a truly prodigious harvest, simply by consistently doing what it was made for, day in and day out.

The apostle Paul, toward the end of his life, wrote a letter of encouragement to his young protege Timothy. One of the gems of wisdom in this letter is the advice to preach the word in season and out of season. In other words, don’t quit when circumstances seem unfavourable. Just keep going about your Father’s business. Be who you were made to be, do what you were made to do, and you will reap a harvest.

Today I am thankful that God used my one little bean plant, so quietly yet consistently productive, to remind me of this simple but powerful truth.

 

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Was blind but now I see

Yesterday I met a man who prayed for my salvation over thirty-five years ago, when we were both students at the same college.

Until yesterday I had not known that he had been praying for me, and he had not realized that his prayer had been answered.

Back in the 1970s, I was a spiritually hungry but very confused young man. I was studying theology at Queen’s Theological College in Kingston, Ontario, which only served to increase my state of confusion. Most of the faculty and students did not really know what they believed. However, they were quick to mock anyone who claimed to be born again, or who articulated a simple faith in the Lordship of Jesus and the Bible as the Word of God, or who said they had been “saved”. Sadly, I joined in the general chorus of mockery. How foolish and arrogant we were in our presumed wisdom.

I do remember, though, that there were a few students at QTC who were different from the rest. Ken was one of the ones who stood out. He had a confident faith which he expressed with respect but without apology. I wouldn’t have said so at the time, but looking back I realize that Ken scared me. It wasn’t that he himself was a scary guy. He was intelligent, polite, and well-spoken. It was his confident, well-grounded faith that scared me, because it challenged the core assumptions of my life. In particular, Ken challenged my prideful assumption that I did not need anyone to save me. I thought I knew so much and had so many answers, but in reality I had no answers at all, and knew nothing about the things that really mattered. I wanted spiritual truth, but I wanted it on my own terms. I was not yet ready to surrender my will to anyone. Still, I remember being hungry for the peace and assurance that I saw in people like Ken, even though at the time I would not have had the words to say so.

I was part of the graduating class of 1977 at QTC, although I hung around for a couple more years and did further studies while my wife finished her degree. Ken likewise graduated, and having been refused for ordination in the United Church because he was unwilling to compromise his convictions on baptism, he was ordained as a Free Methodist pastor. We had not been close while at college, and I never expected to see him again.

Fast forward ten years to 1987.  By this point I was married with two children, and trying to be a pastor, all the while still trying to convince myself that I had answers. The truth was that I had no answers at all. Any fragments of truth or wisdom that I did understand were of no real value to me or anyone else, because I lacked the One who holds all things together. But God had prepared salvation for me. Through the loving ministry of the Anglican pastor in our village, a faithful and intelligent man of God, I finally surrendered my pride and accepted Jesus as Lord of my life.

Fast forward another twenty-five years to 2012.  Through a mutual friend I discovered that a fellow by the name of Ken Roth was pastoring a Free Methodist church in Stittsville. I remembered his name from college and decided to contact him.

It must have been the Holy Spirit that prompted me to get in touch with Ken, because when we finally got together for coffee and a chat at the One Way Ministries office, both of us were encouraged, humbled and amazed at the goodness of God.

Ken told me that back in his days at Queen’s he used to go into the chapel almost every day to pray for the other students and faculty at the college. As one of the only students at QTC who honoured the integrity and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, he must have been incredibly lonely. Life at Queen’s must have been a huge battle for him. Yet he didn’t give in to the temptation to become bitter or arrogant. He remained gentle, humble and truthful in his dealings with his fellow students and faculty, and (as I learned yesterday) he remained faithful to the hidden ministry of intercession.

As one who has been waking up to the realization that intercessory prayer is one of God’s major callings on this season of my life, I found this tremendously moving and motivating. I was humbled and amazed to realize how faithful Ken had been in praying for all of us so many years ago, and even more so, how faithful God had been. I had the amazing privilege of telling Ken that at least in my life, the prayers he had prayed more than thirty-five years previously had found an answer.

I believe he was encouraged. I know I was.

 

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Seeds of life

Today Marion’s parents celebrated sixty-five years of marriage. A simple family celebration marked the occasion. Later, as we said our good-byes, I thanked my parents-in-law for getting married, pointing out that had they not done so, I could not have met and married my wife, nor would Marion and I have had our own four wonderful children or our two beautiful granddaughters. I looked at my father-in-law, gestured at the family members around the room, and said “See what you started?”

Towards the end of the day I went for a bike ride by the river. I needed to clear my head and get some perspective. It was a beautiful October day, and the water sparkled in the sun’s rays. The pathway was full of people enjoying the final hour before sunset. I thought about seeds. Each of the trees that line the river began with a seed. Each human life begins with a seed. At the beginning of all things, when God made man and woman, he told them to multiply and fill the earth. When Marion’s father and mother pledged their vows sixty-five years ago, they made a covenant to be seed-planters.

When a couple conceives a child, they don’t know the details of what that child will become. There is an element of mystery involved. But in hope, they look for their creative act of love to bear fruit and give rise to a child who will be a bearer of their hopes and dreams.

In a less literal but no less real sense, we plant seeds every day with our words and our actions. We impart to others what has been worked into the soil of our own lives, for good or for ill. We do this whether we know it or not, but as we co-operate actively with God’s purposes, uprooting the plantings of the evil one in our lives and cultivating the plantings of the Lord, we can become more effective and fruitful sowers of good seed in the lives of others.

As I have been waiting on the Lord for an answer about work these past six months, I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of reflecting. At the beginning of this waiting period, I kept myself occupied with several small projects. But as time went on, both Marion and I became increasingly convinced that the Lord was telling us both to use this time to rest in Him and seek His face – to meditate on the Word, to pray, to worship, to listen to teachings, and to allow Him to work some new seed into the soil of our hearts.

Along the way, of course, we have wrestled with God about the issue of work and provision. We have been in no real financial distress, but we’ve had to make several adjustments. I had no idea that I would be out of work for this long, yet all along the way Marion and I have received clear and repeated assurances from the Lord that His provision would come at just the right time and that it would prove to be just the right thing. Although we have been walking the road of faith for many years, we are not immune from temptation, and we’ve had plenty of opportunities to embrace worry, fear and anxiety. But thanks be to God, every time we have recognized those ugly tentacles seeking to drag us down, we have found grace to resist the tempter and place our hope in the Lord.

As our time of waiting has been extended well beyond what I had expected, I have found it humbling to recognize how little control I have – humbling to have an explicit, specific promise from God but no explanation as to why it is not yet fulfilled – humbling to explain to people why I turned down two contracts three months ago (“I sensed the Lord telling me not to take them because he had something better for me”), even though the ‘something better’ has not yet become visible – humbling to have no explanation for my circumstances and choices other than “God told me” – humbling to have to sell the camping trailer that Marion and I had bought less than two years ago. But, praise the Lord, it’s only a trailer – it doesn’t own us – and as always with these things, it was liberating to let it go. We got to enjoy it for two summers, and then we got a good price for it, so we are able to ride this wave a while longer without having to make more major adjustments. And it is truly wonderful to sense the Lord stretching me, working faith in me, increasing my capacity to endure a test that seems to go on and on, with no clear exit in sight. God is faithful, and He has given us a promise, but He hasn’t given us a schedule. When I ask him for dates, he says “soon” and “trust me”. He’s been saying “soon” and “trust me” for the past three months. But, praise God, His provision has not run dry during that time.

The past few days I have thought about what it must be like for those who are in prison because of their faith. Like me, they have no control over when their waiting period will come to an end. Unlike me, they face verbal and physical abuse, separation from their families, and possible death. Although my test is light compared to theirs, I have been able to pray for them with increased understanding of what it must be like to face each new day with no idea how long they will be in prison. From a human perspective their situation may seem hopeless, yet every day they choose to cultivate hope and faith because they know that the One who has called them, and holds them in his hands, is faithful.

The Apostle wrote that none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. Periods of testing are never appointed for our benefit alone. They are appointed for the benefit of those whom God has called us to serve. And so, as well as increasing my capacity to endure tests, I also see that He is deepening and strengthening my capacity to impart hope, faith and courage to others. I have fewer answers, but I sense that the answers I have are becoming more deeply anchored in my life, so that I can speak them with greater integrity, from the core of my being, as it were.

All of us are seed-sowers. I want to plant good seed in the lives of others. And so, though periods of testing by definition are never truly welcome – at least, not to our flesh – I can now say that I am truly grateful to God that he has appointed this season of testing in my life. I am also grateful that he has chosen at several junctures to ignore my advice as to when it would be best for him to bring this test to an end. I will be glad when this particular test has come to an end – in His timing, not mine – but I am deeply grateful for what it is producing in Marion and in me. Because of this period of testing, fallow ground is being broken up, our hearts are becoming softer and more pliable, new seed is being planted, we are seeing new possibilities for the future. And so on this Thanksgiving weekend, my bride and I have many reasons to praise and thank the Father of lights from whom comes every good and perfect gift.

Thanks be to God.

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