Living in the struggles – Look, See, Pray

Camellias have a tough time in British winters. They often set bud early, and can flower from January onward. Luscious blooms glow gorgeously in the low-angled sunlight, and the bushes bring vibrant colour to dark days.

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Then the snow comes, and the frost bites.  Today’s pictures were taken in the garden just a few hours apart. A beautiful golden evening led into a freezing cold night and a smattering of fine snow. Harsh conditions for a delicate-looking flower. Despite the cold, the plants survive. Blooms may turn brown and drop (always a sad sight) but the bush fights on. Next year it will flower again.

A life lesson from camellias. Keep on with the struggles- as a wise person once said “This too shall pass.”  We can’t “give” a bush human qualities, but if vegetation can keep going, surely so too can we- or at least, we can try.

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We can choose to exercise trust.

God shows himself to be good, holy, and loving. The supreme revelation of His character is seen in the character and actions of Jesus.

Now then: Jesus may have lived perfectly but He still struggled with the “winter” of hostility. Warm words and appreciation turned to damning lies and yells of hatred.  The truly Beautiful was scarred, betrayed, judged unfairly, and executed brutally.

On the third day… Resurrection!

Even more wonderful, Jesus overcame the power of Death for all. Because He died and rose, we have a hope that is everlasting.

When all seems lost, when the fight is on, the frost is biting… remember the faithfulness of God.

Hold onto what you know. This too shall pass. We may have questions, doubts, tears. But we still have hope- the confident expectation that Jesus will do as He has promised.

Apparently next Monday, the 21st January, is called “Blue Monday” because the scientists have calculated that is when we are most miserable after Christmas:  we are short of cash, overloaded with calories, and regretting the resolution to join the gym.

Try this instead- go and look for a camellia, or snowdrops, or an early daffodil. Gaze at it, appreciate it, value it- and take it as a marker of hope. Remind yourself to actively choose to trust God’s love and faithfulness, His compassion and mercy.

May the God of hope grant peace, joy, and eternal blessing to you today.

 

Come to the Quiet- Look, See, Pray

Quietness found beside the restless sea… The weather forecast had suggested a heavy swell propelled by a cold front moving down from the north, but here on the south coast  all was calm and the slow, low ripples scarcely made a sound.

Cold? Oh yes, it was cold. The breeze blowing off the land betrayed its parentage, slicing through my thin jacket. A distant, bundled dog-walker moved faster than the dog wanted to go! Central heating and a cup of hot tea was the desire of a thick-coated human, whereas a thin-coated dog explored sand, seaweed, and sea-strand with pleasure.

My imagination kicked in. Did Jesus stand on the sea shore on a cold morning, watching the sky-veil torn asunder? Do the angels pause on their journeying, taking in the fresh beauty at the start of a new day?

When the world began, and the Spirit of the Lord hovered broodily over the waters, was it this quiet and peace that drew the morning words “It is good…”

Here is a short prayer, an invitation to rest in the shalom-presence of the Eternal Lord.

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May the Peace of Christ be with us, always. Amen.

Time to rest

Christmas was packed away into boxes today. Our lights are down, tree gone, and the bathroom scales are being scrupulously avoided.

I don’t know if there is any direct link, but I have been falling into hibernation mode this week. I keep dropping off and rumour has it I may have snored. Certainly the cold grey day didn’t inspire outdoor activity. I clearly remember thinking “I should go out on my bike for some fresh air.” Good thought, no follow through!

Why so lethargic?

Could be reaction to sad news- some people dear to us have been suffering and struggling, and our hearts have grieved. Could be reaction to being busy and a bit stressed. It could be that I have some genetic link to big brown bears, and the low levels of sunlight have triggered the desire to slumber until Spring sets nature free again.

Rest is good. According to the Bible, God rested and taught His people they should do the same.

time to rest 091frostleaves 1116 The photo is of a rose which flowered long past its usual season: then frost and sunshine combined to swiftly denude the flowers and open up the remnant for inspection. Strong sunlight threw the background into a velvety darkness, and the last beauty of the rose glowed.

Roses need to rest through the winter. They harbour their strength, and then are renewed for fresh growth and spectacular beauty next season.

I have been learning more about rest over the last year. Rest by choice, and also rest through weakness. Along with rest, I have been exploring silence and trust. All three belong together. My struggle has often been a perceived need to be active, creative, productive- but the lessons I am being taught are about the value of rest, the worth of silence, and the importance of trust. I identify with the words of Isaiah the prophet who warned about thinking we know all the answers and can work everything out with a bit of help from the strong. The new beginnings of a new year will go better IF only I will rest, be quiet, and trust.

Isaiah 30:15-16 (NLT) 
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it. You said, ‘No, we will get our help from Egypt. They will give us swift horses for riding into battle.’ But the only swiftness you are going to see is the swiftness of your enemies chasing you!

Perhaps Isaiah speaks to you and me?

May the peace of God be ours this day.

That Loving Feeling…

Halfway through our worship service this morning I realised that I was feeling very happy and content. We were being led by musicians and singers from our youth group and they played well and sensitively.  Jamie engaged us in discovering who we are, and what God thinks of us, and my smile widened.

Please don’t jump to the conclusion that on the other weeks at church I have been miserable! Nothing could be further from the truth. Today was simply a special moment.

I didn’t just know my faith was true- I felt strangely comforted in my heart of hearts, the centre of my being.  Can I explain it? No, not really.  Can I depend on my feelings as a measure of my faith or the truth of Christian belief? No, my feelings can go up and down because of health, tiredness, weather or something that goes wrong and annoys me.

Are “loving feelings” good? YES! If my faith is only knowledge about God, or some hope of a better life after this miserable one… then something is wrong with me!  To know God is to love Him, and to experience REAL love is a distinctive way. Paul writes in Ephesians:

Ephesians 1:3-4 (Message)
How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.

God’s love is His divine choice. He has set his heart on us. Today was one of those moments where it seemed that he whispered in my ear… “You are loved, and chosen, and I wanted to remind you!”

That loving feeling may not stay forever. But God’s love WILL last forever. Chosen before He dug the trenches for the foundation of the Universe, he has set his heart on little old Earth and those amazing yet exasperating human beings. Jesus came to this world so that we can be reconciled to the Creator, Lover, Sustainer, Provider and Redeemer- the Lord of All. No wonder there was a loving feeling involved! Whatever tomorrow brings, and however this uncertain life unfolds… God has loved US so we can love Him.

That’s the best feeling and the deepest Truth I know. May God whisper love in your ear today!

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The cutest and most lovable Meerkat…

 

Weeds of humble splendour- Look, See, Pray

A weed is a plant growing in the wrong place. What if we valued them for what they give instead of judging them by our desire?  Plants make this planet breathe- and some flourish in harsh places that would be desolate without them. At the edges of the salt marsh, tough plants make a margin of life. Their gaily waving flowers add charm to the landscape, provide food for insects and birds, and carry a promise of life now and for tomorrow.  A poem that just might be a prayer…  a weed that might be a hero.

weeds of humble splendour

Photo and text copyright Richard Starling, 2018.

Just a yellow rose- Look, See, Pray

One rose… different faces. They say “the camera never lies…” but you may not recognise its truths! 059August11crop This is one rose, with one photograph edited in different ways. The camera sensor digitally records the light falling and being reflected back from the rose. The first picture is the camera’s best effort at realism.  

 

The second picture shows what the computer program can do to try and make the photo look more like what the eye actually sees.

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My THIRD photo is intriguing. The software has attempted to process the image by bringing ALL the digital information “to the surface.” I didn’t expect this result.
The program has “found” blue light reflected in the shadowy parts of the rose.
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It is ONLY the information “recorded” by the sensor… the blue IS present- but normally filtered out.
Questions and beliefs may seem simple at first sight. There is usually more complexity waiting to be discovered and explored.
Look, see, pray. This is what I am discovering to be realistic: as I look, I learn to see more. The more I see, the more I engage in “conversation” with God through thought and prayer.
What I see is what I pray: what I think about is what I become.
Thank God who created a world of such beauty and variety. May I become more like God in character and motive; and in action.

Patience

Watching wild birds can be fascinating. Their behaviour is a good teacher. The heron was slowly and patiently stalking its lunch. Stillness. Endless patience. Eventually, success.
Then I realised that was exactly the same process for the photographer. Waiting quietly, patiently, then seizing the moment. What I didn’t realise then was the presence of a black-tailed Godwit hunting within the frame of my photo. (So much for careful scanning of the scene and precise composition!)
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Patience brings its own rewards.
We learn patience by having it tested- people, events, problems, little aggravations. I was thinking about a situation this week that made me realise I was becoming grumpy.
Then I thought… I wonder if that is how God feels about me? He puts up with my annoying faults and my regular “fail” moments.
Without condoning my errors, God still loves me (and you). In the New Testament, the classic definition of LOVE is written in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 (NIV).
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
Now that’s the kind of patience that GIVES great rewards.
“Lord, help me to become patient… and do it quickly!”
A better prayer is this: “Lord, teach me to love as You love. And please be patient when I am slow to love patiently, kindly, and humbly.”
Patience brings its own rewards.