Posted By Nan
As those who regularly read my blog know, my husband and I left the church system shortly after I started writing my blog. I prayed and studied the Bible for a few months, seeking to learn whether I was required to attend church. I discovered there is no Biblical directive to join a church, only a directive to fellowship with others when able. After much prayer, my husband I then left the church system.
What you may not know is that every so often I have been tempted to join a church. Every time I have prayed about joining one God has said NO. Recently I have felt drawn again to belong to a church family. At the same time I saw a local church building a community centre and really wanted to be part of that. Almost as soon as the thought was formed, God was urging me to speak to this church. I sat on that directive for over a year, until friends gave me a contact for someone in that centre.
I rang the contact and we agreed to meet. The meeting seemed to go well. The next day, I was at a training day, and I received a far from pleasant text from that person. The person saw something on my professional counselling website they did not like and had judged me without praying about it or talking to me about it.
After praying about this I learned two things. These are what I will be discussing in my blog.
The first is that sometimes when God wants to say NO, He directs us to seek to do the opposite. For me, He knew my longing, and knew that longing may override any prayerful consideration I may put in and any directions God may be giving me. So He directed me to offer my involvement so that I could understand the NO He gave me through the other person. That was quite a learning experience for me. I am used to the idea of doors closing when I try under my own strength to do something, but this was a new thing for me. God had asked me to seek out this person. It is possible that, had that person been one to prayerfully seek God’s will, the outcome would be different. Maybe the Yes would only have come if that person had been seeking God instead of his own personal belief system.
That is quite a thought to consider. What if the NO God gives us is conditional on other people and their responses as well as our own?
That makes sense when I consider times in the past when I sought to do things, only to be stopped. If we look at the life of Jesus in the Gospels, there are many examples of Jesus not doing things because He was blocked by the people He was seeking to work with. The most obvious example is Matthew 13:53-58 where Jesus was not listened to nor able to perform many miracles in Nazareth because the people would not accept Him.
The second point I wanted to make about this is about the culturally influenced interpretation of the Bible in Western Christianity. To put this in context, we need to consider the changes that took place in Europe as people moved out of the Middle Ages with its adherence to God and the directives of the Church. Life revolved around God and the philosophical underpinning of life was about God.
As Europe moved into the new age after that time, people began to challenge God’s existence. This left a vacuum in our concept of what life was. Philosophers started to conceptualise what life meant without God. This philosophising led to the Enlightenment period. A changed perception of life without God also challenged the authority of the church. This led to the breaking up of Christianity into rival, and at the time warring, factions within Christianity. As the new factions formed into denominations they took into their doctrine the new philosophies of life without God. It wasn’t a deliberate thing, but when the conversation within a society centres around a particular subject, it is hard to avoid it. Also, most people were not even aware that these new conversations were about conceptualising life without God.
Much of the doctrine of the Western Church is based on philosophies that were against God. These cultural practices are so entrenched in the Western Church people believe they are actually the proper way to worship God. It often results in the “throwing out of the baby with the bathwater”. Ways of conceptualising God, especially in regard to the Spiritual aspect of life, have been cast aside and now looked on suspiciously. People reject things they label as not being of God, because they are not part of Western Christianity. They ignore the evidence of life during the time of Jesus. They ignore the writings of Jewish writers in the period leading up to birth of Jesus and His new gospel. They ignore the experience of the early church. They fail to read the Bible in its proper context and instead either completely ignore its writings or take phrases out of context to support their cultural beliefs.
People seeking God today turn away from Christianity because they don’t find God there. Their God shaped hole needs to be filled with the spiritual, and that is sadly lacking in much of the Western Church. They turn to other religions that use the spiritual in their practices. I should point out here that ALL things are created by God. All things glorify God and all are used by and acceptable to God. Western Christianity has rejected things that were previously an integral part of Christian Worship. So things that are created by God are being rejected by the Western Church.
In addition to this culturally influenced doctrine, there is a lack of leaders in Western Christianity who know God. So many are more involved in the intrigues of human hierarchies than spending time in prayer seeking to know God and His will. There is a tendency for those who minister to the church communities – the pastors, reverends, ministers, priests etc. – to tell people what they should think and who God is, rather than encouraging them to know God themselves. People are told things they shouldn’t do, or that others do that are wrong and believe that is in the Bible. But when challenged, people cannot provide the Bible verse to back up what they say. In fact, a discussion of the Bible quickly reveals most people do not know their Bible. They don’t actually read the Bible. They rely on the interpretation of others. This means they are vulnerable to being told the wrong thing. That puts them at risk of false prophets. It also puts them at risk of not hearing God’s messages for them and not doing what He wants them to do.
So what does all this have to do with my experience with the person at the church community centre?
This person objected to something I used in my professional counselling practice that I spent many weeks praying about before making the decision to train to use this. I also sought advice from Christian mentors on whether I should train in this spiritual practice. The clear answer from God was yes. This man not only rejected me immediately based on a cultural belief about what was acceptable to God, he also rejected God’s directive for my life.
In a previous blog I mentioned the story of a woman attacking me about a decision I had made, that I had spent many long hours praying about. As I left the meeting, God had said to me “In denying you have done what I told you, she has rejected Me and she will have to answer to me for that”. The same applies to this man, and anyone else we encounter in life who rejects us for following God’s directive, that they have decided is against God.
Earlier in the blog I mentioned that NO sometimes comes about because the other person is not ready for us to do what God wants. This man, caught up in cultural observances is not ready for what God wants. So the answer was NO.
 
The following night I was at a social get together of professionals who work in my building. There I met a new professional who is Christian and does not belong to a church. We had a lovely time of fellowship. I was longing for fellowship and God supplied it. And I didn’t have to go to a church to find that fellowship.
 
 
Posted By Nan

This blog was written on Wednesday but I never had time to post it. So I am posting this today, and tomorrow I will post the blog I write today.


It may seem odd to talk about peace in the midst of a discussion about going through dark times. My reasoning is found in John 16:33 “… in this world you will have trouble…”
The preceding sentence says: “I have told you these things that in me you may have peace…”
It is worth noting that the last sentences of that verse read “…but take heart. I have overcome the world.”
In reading through the many references to peace in the Bible, it is interesting to note one of the words associated with peace is rest (2 Chronicles 14:6). So often, when we are in a place of darkness, we do not find rest. It is as if we have lost the space in our lives for joy. It is rest that allows us that space to open up. In a place of rest there is respite from fear and turmoil and we experience peace from which joy is able to spring.
Trust is also a word associated with peace (Isaiah 26:3). This makes it possible to envisage peace, even in the darkest moments.
Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us there is a time for everything. In verse 8 we read that there is a time to love, hate, have war and peace. If your time is one of darkness, it is possible to cling to God, place your trust in Him and allow yourself to receive everything else in His time.
It may seem counter intuitive to suggest you seek rest in a dark time, but sometimes no effort on our part will take us out of darkness. Sometimes the only way to deal with darkness is to wait, allow the space for rest, and let God do everything else!
 

 
Posted By Nan

Psalm 84 especially 10-11.

I am continuing to explore what we can do when we find ourselves in those wilderness times when life seems so hopeless. Today I want to explore Psalm 84.
I was drawn to Psalm 84 today after thinking and praying about a beautiful woman I knew years ago. She had great faith in God but was going through a time of terrible depression. Her path lead through endless dark places. Eventually the darkness overwhelmed her and she sadly took her own life.
It was what to do about this darkness that led me to be directed to Psalm 84. I know from being in my own dark places that nothing is so bad that God is not greater still. But not all people are able to find that truth.
I am not saying that my dear friend failed because she couldn’t see that truth. But I am saying it is possible to find that truth. And we need to watch out for each other, especially those we know are struggling.
As I read this psalm, I was reminded of some beautiful songs based on it that have been written.
One of my favourite ones, that is based on more than just Psalm 84 is Under the Shadow of Your Wings by Chris Bowater. (Link to video on YouTube is below). The reference to Psalm 84 is in the middle of the song when the words repeat those of this blog’s heading (v10). The words of faith and praise in this song are wonderful and I never cease to be lifted up by them, no matter how low I feel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1yLdSOqyE4

In The Message, Psalm 84 has been beautifully written. The most inspiring excerpt starts at verse 5:

“And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel; they wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks, discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain! God-travelled, these roads curve up the mountain, and at the last turn – Zion! God in full view!”

That is so beautiful.
Our lives become the roads we travel. We wind through lonely places and beautiful places and at the end we see God.
I am going to close this blog with verse 11 (NIV). A reminder that God is our sun and He is our shield. We walk through difficult, lonely places in our lives. Life is not always a happy, pleasant place. We often get so caught up in the sadness we forget our joy. We live our lives in the shadow of His wings and we eventually come to realise that it is better to have one day in the presence of God than a thousand in any other place. Of course we will have more than one day in God’s presence. But it is worth realising the value of that eternity by considering how much one day in His presence is worth compared to other places we might be.

If you are going through a dark time now, or sometime in the future, remember that, no matter how bleak things seem, there is hope and a way out ...

For the Lord God is your sun and shield.
 

 
Posted By Nan

I have written a lot lately about going through hard times when all seems bleak and there seems to be no hope. I have written as well about those times being ones where we need to cling to the rock of Jesus and wait.
In such hard times we can hear from others that we need to worship more, or focus on God. And we all know that. But sometimes we need to just sit in our darkness and desolation and wait for God.
As I prayed and reflected on this blog, my thoughts were drawn to the way the old hymns were worded and how people in past centuries took comfort in their faith. I am drawing my thoughts from an old hymn book I own. There is a section in it labelled “trust and resignation” and I am drawing highlights from the hymns contained in this section.
The first that caught my attention was an old Lutheran Hymn by Georg Neumark. This was written in the 17th century and was translated into English in the 19th century by Catherine Winkworth. The first and fourth verse are as follows:
“If thou but suffer God to guide thee, And hope in Him through all thy ways, He’ll give thee strength, whate’er betide thee, and bear thee through the evil days; Who trusts in God’s unchanging love Builds on the rock that nought can move.”
“Sing, pray and keep His ways unswerving; So do thine own part faithfully, And trust His word, though undeserving, Thou yet shalt find it true for thee; God never yet forsook at need the soul that trust Him indeed.”
What I love about these words is the encouragement to persevere in faith, worship and hope. To persevere in trusting God. As well as encouraging us, these words remind us that this perseverance builds on the rock that we cling to and reminds us that nobody and nothing can move that rock.
Another one that I found encouraging was by John Campbell Shairp, writing in the 19th century. The first two verses are below:
“’Twixt gleams of joy and clouds of doubt, Our feelings come and go; Our best estate is tossed about In ceaseless ebb and flow. No mood of feeling, form of thought, Is constant for a day; But Thou, Or Lord, Thou changest not: the same Thou art always.”
“I grasp Thy strength, make it mine own, My heart with peace is blest; I lose my hold, and then comes down Darkness, and cold unrest. Let me no more my comfort draw From my frail hold of Thee, In this alone rejoice with awe They mighty grasp of me.”
What I found encouraging about this hymn was the hymnist’s acknowledgement that no feeling is constant and that he is bound to fail when he tries to grasp God’s strength in his own strength. He is still trying too hard to make himself feel better, rather than waiting on God to fill him with those feelings.
Another interesting aspect of this hymn, which is shared by others in this section, is the focus Christians in past centuries had on being in heaven. There seemed to be an acceptance of the hardships and often misery of life and their faces were turned to heaven. It is a different way of looking at things.
My final hymn is one by Augustus Montague Toplady. He lived in the 18th century and wrote a number of hymns, the most well known today is “Rock of Ages”.
The hymn I am discussing “Your harps ye trembling saints” is based on Psalm 137 which speaks of the exiles in Babylon hanging their harps on the willows in a foreign land. This hymn starts speaking of the trembling saints taking their harps down from the willows and singing praise to God. He acknowledged that here in this world we are in a foreign land but our home with God in heaven is not far away and every moment we are alive we are one moment closer to being with Him. Again the emphasis is on the life to follow.
The last four verses are the ones I particularly wish to discuss. They are as follows:
“When we in darkness walk, Nor feel the heavenly flame, Then is the time to trust our God, and rest upon His Name.”
“Soon shall our doubts and fears Subside at His control; His loving-kindness shall break through The midnight of the soul.”
“Wait till the shadows flee; Wait thy appointed hour; Wait till the Bridegroom of thy soul Reveals His love with power.”
“Blest is the man, O God, That stays himself on Thee; Who wait for Thy salvation, Lord, Shall They salvation see.”
I find it helpful to read of the difficulties others feel. Walking in darkness, not feeling God, being in the “midnight of the soul”. The hymnist encourages us to trust God and reminds us that God will break through our darkness. And of course, he encourages us to wait for our salvation.
I know many find waiting for the salvation to come is not encouraging when in times of darkness. I totally agree. However, I do find it interesting that people of previous centuries had a different approach to their life of faith. Maybe this is something that we could meditate on. Not necessarily when we are experiencing the dark night of the soul, but at other times when things seem better.
For me the overarching message of these hymns is that people have always experienced times of darkness and despair. And the message has always been the same. Trust in God and cling to the rock. Just hang on. Don’t fight. Don’t try to fix it. Just wait for God and trust in Him.
 

 
Posted By Nan

Psalm 74.
“You walked off and left us, and never looked back. God, how could you do that? We’re your very own sheep; how can you stomp off in anger?” v1 The Message.


This psalm is a hard one to digest. There is no hope. It is a lament at how God appears to have deserted His people and left them to a terrible attack. There is no comfort in this and the questions remain unanswered. The purpose of this psalm appears to be a source of lament when that is needed.
Being able to sit with hardship and receive no respite or explanation is hard. It is not part of what people often imagine faith in God involves. For those stuck in such times there may be little support. Others often rush to fill the air with platitudes. To tell you unhelpful things like “it is meant to be” “it is for your own good” and so on. But these are not helpful.


Feeling abandoned by God is very hard.


As a child, growing up in an abusive household, and being bullied at school, there was nowhere safe. I have lost track of the hours I spent asking God to save me from it. But He never did. It has had an effect on my faith. Where others pray for God’s blessings on their lives, I pray expecting God to say “No” or to allow bad things to happen instead because that is what is good for me. I have faith in God and believe He can intervene, but I do not expect Him to do so in my life. There have been wonderful times of blessing, but there have also been terrible times when I have lost so much.
When I think about the millions of people in this world who are living as refugees, I think about how much they must beg God to intervene in their lives. Yet they remain stuck in refugee camps, unable to get on with their lives and watching their children lose the opportunity to be educated and get out of those places. In Australia, there are many refugees incarcerated on offshore islands and subjected to the terrible abuse, and this is supported by supposed Christians who invite the media into their church service at Easter to show them raising their hands in an act of pious hypocrisy. Those refugees must beg God to intervene, yet they remain in this terrible, inhumane and hopeless situation.
Then there are those who are stuck in poverty in wealthy western countries. People who receive little if no help from others, especially governments. People who try to find work, or who work in jobs that pay so little they cannot pay for life’s basic necessities. People who want to see better opportunities for their children but have little hope that will happen. People who are homeless and forgotten. Those people must beg God to intervene, yet they remain in their terrible conditions.
There are those who are being raised in abusive households. There are those who struggle every day with chronic illness. There are those who are bereaved. The list goes on.


We all feel abandoned by God at times.


We do not know why that happens.


I am sure that there will come a day when God will show us our lives and explain His purposes in leaving us in situations we begged to be removed from. In the meantime, I need to do what the writer of Psalm 74 has done. I need to lament and wait.


We all need to lament and wait.
 

 

 

 
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Nan
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