Forever Grateful

Cycling round the area is great for exercise, and for seeing fresh views and local wildlife. It’s also a good way to smile and exchange good wishes with those I pass. Two days this week have been glorious. (The less said about Wednesday the better.)

As I cycled I started singing. Everything I saw made me grateful to God and naturally, without deliberate intention, I began to praise the Lord with these words: “For all You are, and all You’ve done, I’m forever grateful.”

forever grateful 002Pagham 030518ed

Here are more words shaped in a prayer.

For all the things I’ve seen this week, I’m forever grateful. Those grebes and the curlew, swallows and swans, a kestrel hanging in the sky- all offer praise in their own way.

I’m grateful for bluebells, and for the blackthorn’s white bliss. For warblers and skylarks singing their hymns, and the robins and blackbird fluting sheer joy. 

Reeds sigh and rustle as ducks do their thing, with eight balls of fluff who scurry and swim. There is that cormorant hanging out to dry, with terns taking turns at posting themselves.

All  these I have seen, and their witness is strong. This makes me forever grateful.

Beyond and above, cumuli process across azure fields and share their convection; and the sun pours down warmth which makes the world glow. Here is some land devoted to nature, useless for buildings or harvested crop. Some see only wilderness here, and some come for quiet: whatever the reason for visiting here, eyes tuned to glory will gaze upon God.

Lord, You are so much more than “just” what you’ve done! It’s all that You ARE that calls for my love. Creation’s splendour signposts Your glory, and grace highlights grace-notes in salvation’s Song. I give You my worship for all that You made, and all that You are.

To think that Jesus trod down the grass, making paths through the wilderness- so we could come home. Those feet, those hands, the thorn-stricken Lamb, who laid down His life- so we could come home.  Creation, redemption, sustaining a world where harmony flounders while angels sing hope. God acts out of Love to show us the Way, the way to come home- forever grateful.

As water mirrors the blue sky-vaults above, may our face reflect the Giver of Love. Amen.

In sunlit enjoyment, or rain-sodden squall, may we remember our Three-in-One hero – who gave of Himself in created wonder, then took on the price of ransom as well.

This is who You are- and I will be FOREVER grateful.

Tears in a bottle

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”  Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

When I was about six or seven, I came home from school to proudly present Mum with a string bag. It was made of a loose-weave cloth that I had carefully “decorated” with stitched patterns. I didn’t think much about it, except when I needed string and that’s where it was kept, hanging up in a cupboard.

Mum still had that bag when I was in my late 40’s.

054early May013 Ashcrop.jpg

Mum valued that old bag much more than it was worth. But she was strangely proud of all her family- her heart was big enough for kids, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She loved us all and had a store of “treasures.”

There was a bigger store of treasures that she she kept in her heart. Memories of triumphs, tragedies, laughter and tears. Mum carried them all, offering support, a listening ear, and cake when we came home.

The verse from Psalm 56 first came to my attention at a “Mainstream” conference where about 300 pastors and church workers gathered to worship and be encouraged. Early January in Derbyshire… exhausted by the Christmas workloads… wanting to hear from God and in some cases desperately needing to know God loved and accepted us.

We were praying at the end of an evening session. Words of encouragement, challenge and comfort were being shared as the Spirit prompted us. Words came into my mind: “God cares for you, every tear is precious, and He collects them in a bottle.” I didn’t realise they were from the Bible- but they made an impact on me, reflecting my spiritual need at that quite difficult time in my ministry. The words spoke to my heart, and maybe to others as well.  I couldn’t forget them, and later tried to find if anything like that was in Scripture. Computers have uses- and my Bible program obligingly pointed out Psalm 56.

Lamenting his sufferings, the psalmist cries to God for mercy and justice- and finds comfort and restored hope in discovering that the Lord cares deeply- He stores our tears as precious as jewels. We bring our “stringbag” best efforts, and Almighty God KEEPS them as things of huge value.

Wolf lamb 012whipsnade1212Quite a number of family and friends have been having rough times. Two have been brought to my attention today, several last week, and still others recently. I am finding hope in this psalm-verse: God IS with us and cares for us. Sufferings are not a cause for shame or despair. Even though we may not understand why pain comes, or why some prayers don’t get answered in the way we hope, our heavenly Father treats those tears as precious. Jesus knew the pain of loss- He wept. The Spirit within us groans- Romans 8 v26-27 tells us “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

Think on this- God loves us MORE THAN a parent loves a child. OUR Father in heaven stores up treasures. Remember- diamonds are basically carbon that has been put under intense pressure. Maybe our sufferings produce valuables too. I think that Father has lots of stringbags and bottles stored in His House- because He is Love, ultimate Love. Some are yours, and some are mine. I’m glad.

You renew the face of the Earth

“When you give your breath, life is created, and you renew the face of the earth.” – Psalm 104:30 (NLT)

new shoots 044Slindon 280418Over thirty years ago, the “Great Storm” carved its way across southern England leaving a broad scar on the wooded landscape as ancient trees uprooted and crashed.

Today I went on a bluebell hunt in Slindon woods and, as well as some lovely bluebells, I photographed these fresh shoots. They were springing up from the moss-draped carcass of one of the forest giants wrecked in the storm. The new leaves are fresh, soft, and perfectly shaped. Life has been renewed.

Mysteries exist- and our understanding of how our planet works is patchy. If there is a Creator, whatever processes were used, life itself stands as a true wonder. The Christian Bible, with its roots far back in beginning of civilisation, does not explain everything. The ancient writings describe, question, and marvel: and consistently affirm that God is the Giver of Life.

The quoted verse from the book of Psalms offers tremendous hope and confidence. God created, breathing Life so life exists; and God is constantly renewing Life, healing the scars of history’s storms and making new life.

These fresh leaves and the bluebells shown below could be described as the fingerprints of God on His artwork. Reflect on this: the stump has lessons to teach, the renewed shoots testify to the power of Life, and the bluebells suggest that such beauty could only come from a Creator with a beautiful heart. Think on those things, and as you do that- you will be praying and maybe praising. And I surely hope you will be grateful for the gift. Peace and grace be with you!

005Slindon 280418

Wolf offers peace…

Wolves have a fearsome reputation. This one was “safe” although not tame. He was part of a small pack at the zoo, and in the large enclosure it wasn’t hard to see the hunter in his genes. We leave wolves alone, and don’t provoke them. In the right setting they are magnificent. In the wrong one they are deadly.

I selected this photo to celebrate the better news from Korea. Two national leaders have met, negotiated, and offered hope of a reduction of the nuclear threat.

Wolf lamb 012whipsnade1212Pray that this new state of political agreement will last, and become stronger. Isaiah, that great spokesman of hope, foretold the day when the predators would be at peace with their normal prey. Part of the purpose of God is to bring reconciliation through Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God and Prince of Peace.

Naturally enough, we worry and pray when international tensions are high. We should also pray with thanksgiving at every small step towards peace and the dawn of the Kingdom of God.

There is more hope today than there was yesterday. Give thanks and commit to being a peacemaker. Our prayers make a difference!

Prayer with our Senses

Praying with our senses makes sense. Why limit communication to words?

That which we may see, hear, taste, touch, or smell can be a direct route to God’s Presence. Some of us may lack one or more of these senses: I lost my sense of smell forty years ago, and I would dearly love to enjoy the perfume of a rose again. Those who are blind, or deaf, or otherwise restricted can still use the senses we enjoy. If we are made in the image of God, do you not think that our appreciation of a sunset, a symphony, a meal, a fragrance and a texture is a gift from God to His children?

God created a world that is sensual, physical, and beautiful. Allow yourself the treat of a sensual prayer. Go and find something to enjoy with your senses; remember who is responsible for the existence of what you enjoy. Then with whatever means seems most appropriate, make it prayer.

This is a short prayer I penned after enjoying cherry blossom, photographing it, thus thinking God’s thoughts after Him as a tribute of worth. Lord, these blossoms are GOOD, and gorgeous, and offer the hope of future fruit. What a great God You are. Amen.

Prayer Cherry Bright 011Home 250418

Photograph & words (c) 2018, Richard Starling

A Long, Wandering Walk

“Let’s go for a walk…” quickly followed by the “Do we have to?” response is a conversation many families have. As a nipper, I was strongly on the side of “do we have to?” Assurances that “you’ll enjoy it” seemed rather optimistic.

A funny thing happened on the way to the South Downs- I discovered the joys of nice long walks in the country. Sussex was replaced by Derbyshire- long walks across the Peak District. Derbyshire was traded for Devon- long walks across wild, beautiful Dartmoor and the lovely coast. Then came Luton.

Somewhat to my surprise, the Chiltern Hills and Ashridge woods gave scope for wonderful exploration.

Over the years, trips abroad featuring Alpine walks and visits to wild country acquired a special place in my heart.

I discovered I loved it. Walks became a time for solitary thinking, or an opportunity for quality time with special people. Walking even became a prayer-place of real importance.

Slogging up steep hills with a loaded rucksack as the rain trickled down my neck… the sheer “joy” of sleeping in a small tent and having to pull on rain-sodden trousers the next morning… those moments, not so much. Sore, hot feet. Aching back. Running short of water. Getting slightly lost… Sounds amazing… “Do we have to?”

“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” – Hebrews 12:11-13 (NLT)

Learning the discipline of walking, acquiring the skills of navigation and map-reading, breaking in new boots, and yes, even the hardships are worth it. A satisfying weariness sat in front of a nice fire, with a cold drink and some good food- priceless. (And no credit card necessary!)

Austrian tourist maps are interesting. They are more of a loose guide that allows interesting discoveries. Often they have “helpful” notes about the ease/severity of the various climbs and “strolls.” Bear in mind these are penned by local experts who are possibly half-goat and were born with an Alpenstock in each hand. Be aware (which should shortened to “BEWARE”).

The photo today comes from the smooth, flat path between Bovey Tracey and Lustleigh (South Dartmoor). It used to be a railway until savaged by Dr Beeching. Lovely beech trees overhang the track, the river sparkles and gurgles nearby. Birdsong beats any “canned” music and peace descends. Blissful.

Journeying to the wild has become an essential ingredient for my wholeness. Body, mind and spirit find freedom. Yes, there are still “tired hands and weak knees” but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Walking becomes a pilgrimage through a natural cathedral. God seems close by: the things you see and hear communicate eternity. Walking become a metaphor for discipleship.

I’ve missed long walks over the last couple of years. My health severely limits the distance I can walk; and difficult terrain becomes impossible. However, the disciplines learnt over the years, and wise choices of destination, mean I can still visit “my” cathedral. I make my “smooth paths” by driving the car or riding the e-bike to reach safe places. Guess what- God is still close by, and eternity still knocks on the senses.

It’s not the distance that counts, nor the difficulty of the road. The willingness of the mind, heart, and spirit will still unlock the door and let me in.

Fancy a walk? Willing to find your “own” cathedrals? God awaits. Go take a long, wandering “walk” alongside.

Tired-hands-weak-knees

Spiritual issues and physical causes

I’m not always as smart as I think I am. (Before you snigger, that’s probably true for you too!)

It took me YEARS to put together the experience of spiritual struggles with the gloominess of winter. I began to notice that I had a “pick up” every year round about April. I laughed more, was less moody, and generally enjoyed living more. I prayed better, and read the Bible more and was “up for God.”

If I wanted to pretend to be really super-spiritual, I’d probably say it was all to do with the Easter experience. Resurrection re-ignited my rejoicing… and so on.

That’s partly true. The resurrection of Christ IS seriously GOOD NEWS. Bound to have an impact on me. Or I’m in a real mess!

psalm 146 v2_3 063Country190418 edited.jpgYesterday I saw these technicolour tulips, backlit by the spring sunshine. Seeing them struck me with joy. I could have done a little dance, a jig, and shouted honking great hallelujahs. The beauty of these flowers filled me up and made me grateful to God for being alive.

Back to the beginning. “It took me YEARS to put together the experience of spiritual struggles with the gloominess of winter…”  Spring sun and colour simply thrills me, delights me, and makes me feel better. I’m excited. I feel alive. I begin to turn my attention to God again. This is a simple but profound principle: our physical bodies and our experience of the climate & season will be linked to our spiritual well-being. My sense of closeness to the Lord is stronger. My ability to live my faith increases.

We are physical beings as well as spiritual. Bad health, tough circumstances, stress, horrible experiences (etc) are likely to have a knock-on effect. Realising this means we can be better prepared and geared up for the battle. I do love the experience of the prophet Elijah, who after amazing triumphs then abruptly crashes down with exhaustion and depression. We find Elijah in a cave, asking God to finish his life. What does the heavenly doctor prescribe? Sleep, eat, rest, and carry on like that until Elijah’s sense of purpose is renewed. “Spiritual” issues often have a physical root cause.

Diagnosis and prescription:  Enjoy the colour of these tulips. Get ready to laugh just for joy. Jump up and down if you like. Stop beating yourself up for being physical, and remember Elijah. Rest, recover, renew- and get ready to rejoice. Be grateful to God for the wonderful triggers He has put in us, the physical things and beauties that remind us we aren’t “only” physical. We are reborn in Christ, renewed in the Spirit, and reconciled to our Father. We have an eternal destiny and a purposeful life. God has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy! God bless you and give you a mouth full of laughter. 

(Read Psalm 146 v2-3)

Photo (c) Richard Starling, 2018