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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus and his disciples’

Jo 17One day recently, feeling quite uninventive, I chose to make a good old standby again for dinner—some humble beef rissoles. Not wanting to rush, I started preparing them early. I had time to add a few more things than usual to make them a little tastier—dried mixed herbs, basil, black pepper and also some fresh parsley and thyme my neighbour is always telling me to take from her garden. I added a chopped onion, along with breadcrumbs and an egg, all the while thinking how much tastier these rissoles would be than usual.

As I cooked them, my husband commented how enticing our dinner smelt. We were both looking forward to those rissoles. But alas, even though I had gone that extra mile and added ingredients I usually don’t bother adding, I had forgotten one key item—that very necessary salt! Now I know some people don’t put any salt in their cooking, but that is certainly not what we like to do. As soon as I took that first bite, I realised my mistake. I could not believe it! I had had so much extra time, but still managed to forget that one ingredient that makes such a difference.

Eventually, I managed to laugh at myself, as I hastened to sprinkle table salt all over those poor old rissoles! But this whole episode rankled for a long time afterwards. You see, I would much rather have spent the afternoon writing or preparing for some speaking event than cooking dinner. It was a sacrifice to me to put that time aside. So for the meal not to turn out as I wanted it to was a little annoying, to say the least. However, as I sat thinking about it all, I decided to ask God what lessons I could learn from this episode.

Apart from realising I should focus more on what I am supposed to be doing rather than dream about what to write next in my current novel (!), I felt God highlighted a much more important lesson for me in general. What if I were to forget that ‘salt’ in other areas of my life as well? What if I were to leave it out of my writing and my speaking in particular, so that all those words I labour over became bland and tasteless? Worse still, what if what I thought was ‘salt’ was only some useless, powdery substance left behind after the real salt had gone, as apparently happened in Bible times? If I did, then those words of mine would be mere worthless rubbish. What if I lost sight altogether of those key things God wants me to highlight so others may ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Psalm 34:8)?

In Matthew 5:13, Jesus says to his disciples:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.’

I want God’s perfect balance and seasoning to be present in all my creative efforts. I want my words to remain punchy and flavoursome to the end, with just the right amount of salt in them. So Lord, may I never forget that valuable, key ingredient—ever again!

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I wonder if you have ever been in the situation of trying to make yourself understood to someone who does not speak the same language as you. It can be fun but also frustrating, can’t it? We can get so far with sign language and facial expressions, but there is a limit, after which we are stuck. Once when I was in Turkey, visiting a friend, I offered to go and buy some sugar for her, as she was in the middle of cooking and had run out. I knew the basic Turkish word for sugar (şeker), but what fun I had, trying to make myself understood, as the helpful shopkeeper showed me raw sugar, brown sugar, icing sugar, cube sugar, even lollies (also called şeker in Turkish), and eventually what I wanted—plain old white sugar!

Our two year old grandson Zain now has a beautiful little sister Maxine, who is all of seven weeks old. Now Zain has a special puzzle at home that helps children learn counting and also teaches what the numbers look like. A few days ago, according to Zain’s mum, he recognised the number four and wanted Maxine to appreciate this momentous event.

‘Maxine! Maxine! Look, Maxine—four! Dat’s four, Maxine!’ he told her earnestly, showing her the relevant puzzle piece and trying to help her understand. I doubt that he was duly impressed with her response! But at least he tried.

In John’s Gospel, there is a lovely, honest account of an interaction between Jesus and his disciples that I have often smiled over. In Chapter 16, just after Jesus has explained as clearly as he can that he is leaving the world and going back to his Father in heaven, his disciples respond:

Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have everyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.” (30)

We can almost hear the relief in Jesus’ voice as he responds simply: “You believe at last!” (31) Finally, after being with Jesus for many months, hearing him teach and watching him perform many miracles, it all seems to click with them. Finally, they seem to understand what he was on about.

Yes, we often strike limitations of some description when it comes to understanding others. Thankfully, however, God has no such limitation. In 1 Chron 28:9, David points out to his son Solomon that God understands not only what we say but what we think, before we even say anything:

And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.

Then in Psalm 147:5, we find the following simple but profound and all-encompassing statement:

Great is the Lord and might in power; his understanding has no limit.

This means that, wherever we are at, however confused and frustrated we might feel, God sees through it all and understands straight away—in fact, even before that. God speaks our language, wherever we are from and however young or old we are. While others might look blankly at us and misunderstand us and our motives at times, God never does. Everything is transparent with God—and I’m so glad of that, aren’t you?

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There I was, quietly reading away this morning when, in a trice, I found myself swept back into the past. I was a young girl again, watching my father struggle to his feet, put on his gardening hat and declare in a resigned but relatively cheerful voice, ‘Well, I’d better get going again. No rest for the wicked!’

You see, I had just read Isaiah 57:21—“There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” A few days ago, a similar verse in Isaiah had not triggered any strong memory. Yet this morning, I was jolted back so forcefully that I could not only hear my father’s voice but see every detail of how he looked—old blue singlet, checked shirt and all. Now to Dad, these words seemed to mean he needed to keep working hard rather than that there would be no heavenly rest or peace for the wicked. At that time, Dad claimed he rejected the idea of eternal life in any form and used to say with finality, ‘When you’re dead, you’re dead.’

Well, it is many years now since he passed away. I was not present in the last weeks of his life, but it seems he may have changed his mind about God and eternal life. I hope he did—I like to think of him at rest and at peace with God. Because that is really what God is talking about in Isaiah 57. In verses 15 and 19, we read:

For this is what the high and lofty One says – he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. … Peace, peace, to those far and near,” says the Lord. “And I will heal them.”

We all need that peace, don’t we? There are often so many competing voices seeking to bring us down and make us feel anxious or hurt or frustrated or inadequate or angry. We may well find things in life that give us great peace and joy—a wonderful partner, an interesting job, a new home, success in some area, good friends. But God’s peace goes beyond all of these.

I have always loved Jesus’ words in John 14:27 as he tells his disciples about what lies ahead. I like to imagine the sound of his voice as he spoke out such comforting words—a voice I am sure was filled with authority but also with love:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Jesus’ peace is different from any we might find in this world. It is far, far deeper and more profound. It is eternal. It is not merely the absence of trouble, but rather the presence of the Prince of Peace within us in the person of his Holy Spirit, even in the midst of strife.

So let’s close our ears to the voices that would pull down our faith and call us to look elsewhere to find a peace that satisfies. Instead, let’s choose to be among those who are ‘contrite and lowly in spirit’, who listen intently to that loving voice of God and learn to recognise it as readily as we do the voices of father or mother or others close to us.

Whose voices are you hearing? Do they speak peace into your spirit?

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