Thursday, August 29, 2013

Being Still – Being Silent to Listen

“Have you ever noticed that ‘silent’ and ‘listen’ have the same letters?

Maybe it’s because you have to be one to really do the other.
― JEANETTE TUPPEN, Poetry for the Awakening Soul
(and Charis Dixon)
In a world and time where listening is so rare, where many people are more interested in hearing themselves speak than they are in listening to another person, it is rather amazing that we can see the parallel between the English words ‘silent’ and ‘listen’.
There is the mystery known to us, yet it is unknown in its totality, surrounding the phenomenon of silence and listening. We never seem to entirely grasp the need for silence in order to listen, but we must do so if we are to ensure our relational interests are optimised. We cannot truly relate with others, or with God, or with ourselves unless we are able to become silent, and calmly so, as a matter of habit at the appropriate time(s).
Being silent to listen is a necessity if we are to gain anything in life. Being silent to listen is required if we are to learn. If we are to be of service to people we must listen and we must be silent to do that. It is easy to understand, yet much harder to implement.
Finding Value in Silence So We May Listen All the More
Giving credence to the aspect of space, we may enter a realm where the silence may teach us something about listening, about human nature, and about God. There is a great deal to be observed and learned and clarified, so far as life is concerned, simply through being silent enough to listen.
We can wonder about the personal value, also, in remaining silent enough to listen to the meandering sequence of life, as we convert our listening into something beyond the audible.
We find great value in silence as we entreat the eternal nuances of listening, considering that communication is merely another way to the acquisition of understanding. Plumbing the lower limits of our perception regarding the ability we may have to still our hearts and souls enough that we may listen in our silence. Such a form of listening is entirely spiritual; the embodiment of the fuller life.
It is a privilege to listen by being silent within our souls. Blessing upon blessing comes into view as we consider a broader perspective than our present knowledge of life. Remaining open we begin to comprehend the enormity of what we still do not know.
***
Glorious it is, the silence. When we plead for silence, we can listen; we hear the echo of truth in people’s hearts, we hear our own, and we may hear God’s still and small voice.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Pragmatism of All-Conquering Hope

“But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”
— 1 THESSALONIANS 5:8 (NRSV)
To enjoy this day and this night,
This existence wherever I am,
Is to say... that in spite,
Of struggles I don’t give a damn.
I’ll look with glee in order to see,
The Spirit of my Saviour by might,
All to Him, I will gaze,
And enjoy His every delight.
***
Although we, as believers, are people of the day, there is the matter of choice as we choose our attitude for the day and for the night. What will it be? Do the struggles define us, or do they refine us? As children of the day, we stick with the character faithful to the day – we are steady on our feet, and, though we may stumble, we do not fall for the night’s tricks.
Do we struggle? Yes we do. But that’s not the end of the matter.
When we move on, and keep moving forward, in spite of the struggles; we win the moment... the hour... the day... the week... the tumultuous season.
Keep looking up!
And as we keep looking up – finding ourselves affirmed by a revelation that is communicated via the powerful Holy Spirit in us – we find we are vindicated, saved, and redeemed in our moments, afresh. It’s a glorious reality that is likely to inspire us to tears of joy for the faithfulness of God in giving us the hope – out of our pragmatism to take the Lord at his word!
When Nothing Can Defeat Us
The words of latter Romans 8 ring through our ears as we recall that which is set on defeating us is cause for our repealing victory – because we looked heavenward, yet acted with feet placed firmly on terra firma.
We added to the resplendence of our heaven-gazed hope a realness of wanting to do all that needed to be done. We focused on the process, not the outcome; we trusted God with that. We left it with him entirely.
When nothing can defeat us, because we have an unstinting frame of faith-bridled perspective, we are the humblest force to be reckoned with. What Jesus showed us in his death – that, death is the way to life – we replicate, though not quite literally.
***
With hope we cannot be defeated. Even out of the jaws of death comes the one who relies trustfully and unflinchingly on hope. That hope is borne on Jesus of Nazareth – the Son of God – the Saviour of the world. In Jesus is everything for a pragmatic hope that works – that reverses misfortune and makes for the best out of the worst circumstances.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, August 26, 2013

From Suffering to an Abiding Hope

“... suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
— ROMANS 5:3b-5 (NRSV)
Oh how unfortunate as it is that we trivialise the process of suffering and talk about it as if it were easy with God. Suffering is never easy. The golden key in reconciling the fact of suffering is, as we reflect later on, back over our suffering, we see God’s faithfulness as an outworking of the faith we plied.
Our faith meets with God’s faithfulness.
Suffering is a horrible requiem of the sort of circumstance we never want to live out, and indeed, would never truly wish upon anyone. This is because suffering transforms us beyond our volitional will. It forces us into a corner, and from that corner we either flounder or fly.
When we respect such a living torment because we have experienced it, again, beyond our volitional will, we become different. God can make something of these situations, because we have no alternative but to trust – to hope for a vision we seek for a positive future – and to do whatever needs to be done to advance that vision, because, quite frankly, we don’t have a choice but to choose for it.
The Process of Character Development through Suffering
No one voluntarily enters into the process of suffering, but such a thing is a vital compensation for what we have been through. Indeed, some may say that such a compensation is more than adequate, and perhaps even preferred.
We don’t develop endurance of any sort without doing the hard yards. Just like how we grow patience, we need opportunities. We grow our endurance in the midst of suffering and never in the midst of fun. Those who have fun do not need endurance, for fun doesn’t need to be endured, just enjoyed. But endurance is an admirable quality, so there is a benefit for having suffered well (no clich├ęs intended).
Likewise, endurance produces character, which is a strength all its own. Another word for character is virtue. Endurance builds our character, and character development is the greatest gift. We can quickly see how crucial suffering is in accessing the greatest gift of God.
The production of a God-sustaining hope is the final frontier of the lived experience. When we live full of hope – a hope that isn’t contingent on a wealth of happiness, and we can do without it – nothing can beat us. We are unconquerable.
***
From suffering is an opportunity to grow in endurance, which funds character development, which sponsors hope. And hope cannot disappoint, for the person who is intrinsically hopeful can sustain themselves via their faith in God under any circumstance. In these things we experience God’s unfailing love with power.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.



Friday, August 23, 2013

A Time for Courage

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die...”
— ECCLESIASTES 3:1-2 (NRSV)
There is a time for courage and such a time in a time consistent with eternity; as eternity presents itself as an ever-present reality in this life.
***
The concept of courage for such a time as this – for any time in reality – is consistent, again, with the wisdom that is in God, for merely operating in life requires courage.
We have no way of avoiding the need for courage, because we must act or rescind. In a forwards-backwards life there is no scope for remaining as we are – courage takes us places and a lack of courage sees us slip back. Nobody wants to slip back.
We all need help in life, and we are benefited by the help of loved ones and from those who care for us, but courage is just as much, if not more, the help we need in our moment of need.
The Character of Courage
Courage is a statement made in the moment about the faith we have regarding the information we have. We make a decision. Having considered the options, we decide.
Having decided, and having used courage to make the decision, we utilise courage further in acting out that which we have decided. Courage needs to be ongoing. Courage is about the commitment to sustain, endure, and to not give up. Courage is about faith – for courage continues in spite of a lack of evidence that things are working out. And courage requires humility. It doesn’t need to be placated. It can wait. It doesn’t have to have its own way.
The character of courage is virtuous – it helps in every situation of life.
When we can epitomise courage we begin to understand its power for our lives, because we embody it; we try it on; we wear it. Courage becomes us. And courage is easier when we know it’s there for the applying.
For the life that wishes to believe in a hope for a good future, courage is the way. Courage opens the door to such a hope, it sparks awareness for action, and it gives the power to complete what needs to be done.
***
Every time and situation of life is helped with courage. Now is the time for courage. As we reflect on our moments, bringing courage into view, we see where it can help. Then we put it into action, and life gets better. Everything is helped with courage.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Responding Well to Spiritual Attack

Techniques of warfare the enemy of souls uses,
Anything that frustrates, discourages or cavalcades fear,
Anything, more, that might shatter or cause bruises,
We forget too often that God is always near.
The wise one might say, “See what’s going on here!”
He or she that has the insight to see,
The spiritual attack repelled now is cause for cheer,
For heaven’s host comes home to the one who does agree.
***
The spiritual attack within the ever-present spiritual war is easy to see if we’re spiritually aware; it comes by frustrating circumstances, vast discouragement, and unrelenting fear.
But God’s always near.
Whenever we note a calamity as it’s taking place, we can see what the enemy of souls is doing. He disrupts the good that is happening; the more of God’s work that’s succeeding, where God is glorified, the more disruption can be evident – at least until we’re under way and well on the track God determines we travel on.
We repel a spiritual attack by virtue: patience, grace, humility, faithfulness, compassion, gentleness, self-control... the fruit of the Spirit. In such forth are faith and hope and love. These never fail.
But awareness and humility to face the humiliation of circumstances; this is the spiritual poise of retaining calmness in the midst of a storm.
Under spiritual attack we become weaker and our pride resists, making things worse. It would be better to allow the perception of weakness. It takes a wealth of resource of humility to accept weakness when it’s just as tempting to cover up and protect the self in a manner of pride. But pride gets us nowhere – and the enemy of souls wins, because we have compromised.
***
Spiritual warfare is real and never more real than when there is a threat to Satan’s grip on situations. Any time we stand to do a thing that God wills us to do we might best expect to be tested by frustration, discouragement or fear. What we expect might occur prepares us for it and we can counter it.
When we see the tests of life for what they are – not being surprised or angered by their presence – we see them as opportunities with which to please God. The Lord knows we can transcend every test when we rely on his grace. Nothing would inspire us to conquer in Jesus’ name more than to endure tests out of a pure reliance on God’s powerful grace to get us through.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Christ, the Complete Lifestyle Makeover

“The romance of religion isn’t nearly as beautiful as the reality of Christ.”
— Darlene Zschech
There are many religions and religious affiliations within those religions over every corner of the globe.
So many of us have traipsed these religions; these structures for ‘faith’ and spirituality. But inevitably with religion—taking the terse definition—we find the binding of rules, of traditions, of humanistic legalism. That, or there is a complete lack of any sort of truth from which the religion is based—they don’t get past superstition.
We are easily romanced into religion. Our parents convince us or we follow their lead, and we are won to what sounds good at the time—because we are searching.
As human beings we are purposed to continually search for meaning, if we seek truth. If we have nothing to believe in, we find something to believe in. If we have nothing to worship, we find something to worship (though worldly people wouldn’t call it “worship”).
We tend to search until we find something; something with which we can latch upon; something that transforms us and makes us happier and more at peace with ourselves and our world. Sometimes we find, later on, we have believed in a delusion.
But when we meet Jesus—when Jesus truly finds us—we encounter something completely different. We encounter a relationship with the living God. Yes, this Jesus is living through the Holy Spirit and comes to live in us in apportionment to our acceptance.
But religion promises us a romance, but like all romances the romance soon wears off.
Christianity is different in this way. Finding Christ and becoming discipled helps us understand not only the meaning of life, but it helps us put our suffering and lack of meaning into proper context.
Finding Christ is about finding truth; the answers to all our questions, even if the answers are encapsulated in mysteries beyond us and are unfathomable. At least we can admit we don’t know.
This is part of accepting Christ; that many realities are often beyond us, but we have the living Presence of God in us, and, by that, we can experience peace that transcends our understanding.
Becoming a Christian is just as much about rejecting the fluffy romance talk of religion and shallow spirituality and digging into the truth. It’s about nurturing a real relationship with God. True worshippers of God worship in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
With all this talk about religion and Christ opposing, I haven’t even mentioned grace! The reality of Jesus is alluring to this fact: Jesus died so we might be connected with the Father, and, in so doing, have a relationship with God. Jesus is different in that, through him, our sins—our guilt and shame—are forgiven.
***
Sweeping away the vain promises of religion—these unfulfilling romances—we suddenly come face-to-face with the Christ. Jesus, the living God, relates with us, and such a relationship, born of the grace to forgive and to reconnect us with the Father, is life transforming.
Christ is more than religion; Jesus is a complete lifestyle makeover.
God has something better in mind for us who would be romanced by religion. His name is Jesus, and Jesus transforms lives, building completely upon a promise—to save us from our sins. The romance of religion wears off—it’s a temporary satisfaction. Jesus is permanent fulfilment.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Leading a Life Worthy of God

“As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”
― 1 THESSALONIANS 2:11-12 (NRSV)
Every serious Christian seeks to live a life worthy of God. But knowing what that means and converting into a usable formula to achieve that end are two calamitous problems that easily confound us.
The apostle Paul gives us one solution to this age-old problem of converting the will into action. That solution is a fatherly mentor; we need someone who will urge us on, encourage us when we need it, and plead with us to lead a life worthy of God, by speaking our language to us. We speak, here, about the value of someone who is ready to invest in our lives, combined with the value of us coming under that person and having the humility and trust to believe them.
Such a mentor is our fan, our coach, and our accountability partner all wrapped up in one. We trust their judgment. We know that, because they know us, and we know they have the best in mind for us, that we can trust them. But it's not like we follow them blindly; the best of mentors wants us to think critically, to check their judgment. And the best of mentors – that true father figure – will want us to think for ourselves and make our own decisions, and to demonstrate effective self-leadership. The best of mentors accepts the decisions we make even if it means we go against their advice, so long as we have considered it.
When we have placed ourselves in a relational arrangement with such a father figure we are continually learning and, therefore, humility is a constant companion.
But such an arrangement needs most an approach where honesty and love for the other, combined, ensure the arrangement is sustainable, and the relationship can bear any conflict between the two.
Leading a life worthy of God requires us to 1) live in a way where we have people around us prepared to give us honest feedback, and 2) where we are fully prepared and able to absorb the feedback and, getting beyond our pride, we use it as a catalyst for growth.
***
Every serious Christian seeks to live a life worthy of God. But seriousness requires us to plan and act on those plans. The more we turn from the world’s thinking, the more we think and behave in ways that please God. A mentor can help shape our spiritual development, urge us on, encourage us, and plead with us to keep growing.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Prayers of Unutterable Depth

“The Lord needs not the tongue to be an interpreter between him and the hearts of his children. He that hears without ears can interpret prayers though not uttered by the tongue.”
— Thomas Manton (1620–1677)
There is an answer to all our depths of despair, which is the safety we all need when life turns sour. There is an answer for all sorts of pain, but that answer may not satisfy us unless we are putting God first. When we put God first, our prayers of unutterable depth help us transcend our problems—and, by this, God becomes our Saviour again.
Blessed is the person who has suffered and has called alive to their God.
In our wisdom to admit our incomprehensible incapacity to deal with the lamentable torment that has expunged us of all joy and peace, we are graced with the holding, flowing, containing power of God.
The Experience of Unutterable Prayers
When we pray without uttering a word,
As indecipherable as the warble of a lone bird,
The Good Lord hears without a doubt,
And comes to us within depression’s bout.
***
There is enormous comfort in the expression of unutterable prayers, so long as we know beyond doubt we are in communication with God. Experiencing God is about knowing God’s Presence by knowledge. Such a knowledge we can only know. Such a knowledge is held by faith and belief in the Word of God.
Unutterable prayers are not prayers of works, but prayers of faith.
We are wrong to judge ourselves for praying insufficiently or inappropriately when the words don’t come. Eloquence in prayer is a lie of the devil, who loves to trip us up in compounding our desires of perfection.
The best of prayers come from the heart and are beyond words.
The most solemn of prayers God already knows, and all the Lord seeks is our humility in truth to acknowledge him above all else. We cannot add to the value of our prayers the sounds and nuances of words. God has already valued our prayer within the price of salvation—grace has paved the way, eternally.
The experience of unutterable prayers, within the paradigm of surrender, before the only One who can help, is eventual peace—that peace we know that transcends our understanding.
***
There is good news at rock bottom depth. God needs no words when we’re numb. Simplicity in prayer unfolds blessing to the heart close to God. All God needs is a heart yearning for him.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sharing the Consolation of God

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.”    
— 2 CORINTHIANS 1:3-4 (NRSV)    
We, in our cultures, might not think much of the word “consolation” as we attach to it the receipt of novelty prizes.  Everyone wants first place, not the consolation prize.  But God’s consolation is worlds different.  It’s everything to the lowly.
Consolation is also a basis for belief, for how much better a sign of God’s love is this comfort that the Spirit offers?  It’s the very reason many of us believe, or came to believe, in the first place.
God is made real by the solace we experience in our problems, issues and hellish realities.
But this consolation has a more definitive, ongoing purpose.
For the Consolation of Others
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” says the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:15.
One of the bases of our belief in God is that the relief we experience is purposed to be experienced by others in their plights – the hope of God through us to them.
We’re to be open to people who suffer, so we might deliver for them copious portions of the genuine compassion of Jesus — no matter where they find themselves.  The imperative of Romans 12:15 is not conditional; it’s how we’re to operate as disciples of Christ.
This has nothing whatsoever to do with ‘converting’ people.  Compassion has no strings. Compassion is completely other-centred.
The Empathy of Consolation
One of the incredibly difficult contrasts of faith is empathy.  Someone who’s never needed this consolation of God — who hasn’t experienced that deep comfort — cannot possibly know the depth of it, so as to offer it through themselves via the Holy Spirit to someone else.
This is the blessing that suffering delivers to those who’ve suffered, for they’ve lived the compassion of God.  It’s become intrinsic to who they are.
Those who’ve not suffered to such a vast extent — and they are fortunate — should not feel bad for not knowing that depth of empathy; theirs is a different call.  They can still be compassionate, but at accord with their experience, for everyone should be authentic to whom they are.
If we’ve suffered it’s for this reason; to help others with the help we’ve received from God.
If you’re suffering, there’s a purpose to it; one that in time you may be supremely thankful for.
The consolation of God becomes the foundation from which all of the rest of our lives springs from.  It really is Spiritual gold.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Psalm 130 – Faith, Fear and Forgiveness


“If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared.”
— Psalm 130:3-4 (NIV)
Why on earth would we fear God for forgiving us? It’s a very good question. Perhaps it’s easiest asking how we’ve felt whenever we’ve been forgiven by someone (if that’s occurred to you). Picturing this right now, in the first person, there’s firstly the sense that what is undeserved – the forgiving act – is coming my way; they’re choosing to trust me again, no strings attached, notwithstanding what I’ve done to them; they’re showing compassion to me. It’s a pure loving compassion. And my response? Respect, undying respect. This is a reverent, positive, loving fear.
And this is the edge to the fear, I think, that the psalmist is talking about.
How wonderful that the Creator of the universe and of life as we know it – in his utmost holiness – can even stomach me and my sinfulness. He tolerates and forgives over and over again, and we especially feel his forgiveness when we’ve come to understand the hurts we’ve caused.
His forgiveness facilitates our own self-forgiveness which in turn gives us courage to seek forgiveness of others. Convoluted, I know, but God is central to forgiveness transactions – whether it’s accounted that way or not.
Forgiveness is shrouded in mystery, assuming respect, because it is so rare in this world. When we’ve experienced this forgiveness of God – his grace – we are transformed into his loyal servants more and more. We wait on him without pressing – more patiently perhaps even than a watchman through the night would (v. 6). Our thinking and viewpoints are being transformed, enlivened, spiritually-awakened. We cannot be more thankful.
In this way, forgiveness is the experience of an undeserved favour, and the forgiven want to return the favour ordinarily. That’s love and respect; it’s a positively rooted fear wanting the very best for the relationship as far as it depends on them. This motivated fear – for the best for the other – compels us to act; to obey; to reverence life and the God behind it all.
‘Full redemption’ is the mode of forgiveness, knowing that whatever heinous and grievous sins we’ve been party to, he is there, willing to forgive at the moment we require; the very moment our souls dare to ask – but daring is not the point. The act of redemption is vouchsafed; it’s a solemn guarantee.
God’s forgiving heart never changes. He is yesterday as he is today as he will be tomorrow (Heb. 13:8). What God forgives he judges no more, such is the amazing fullness of grace.
This Song of Ascents is a song of hope; a lament psalm inspiring trust because of the holy and most trustworthy nature of God. The experience of his forgiveness is tantamount to the miraculous.
God is with you; for you, not against you.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.