Tuesday 4 November 2014

Broken dreams and Psalm 42

Conchiglie Seashells 01/Alessio Sbarbaro/Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.5

   As children bring their broken toys
With tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dreams to God
Because He was my Friend.

But instead of leaving Him
In peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help
With ways that were my own.

At last I snatched
   them back and cried,
"How can you be so slow?"
"My child," He said, "What could I do?
   You never let them go."

What does one say to a friend whose heart is aching?
When life's challenges seem to be eroding the hopes and dreams of the future...

Nothing on the scale of a tsunami.
More like a powerful spring tide,
Nevertheless, every time the moon is right, it creeps up the beach a little higher and a little stronger.

 As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  
When can I go and meet with God?
Most of us have been there, haven't we? So many times.
   Worn out by the relentlessness of life's challenges.
Spiritually it's like wandering on a deserted beach with nothing to drink... the tide is coming in again... it gets harder and harder to keep walking. Tired. Parched.
   I need fresh water.
So thirsty for God. He is the only one who can give me streams of living water...
   I need him so desperately.
Yet I find myself crying salty tears of disappointment and disillusionment - there's nothing else to eat.

My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    ‘Where is your God?’

I begin to wonder that very thing myself. Where is my God in this mess? Those who do not share my faith in God think he's left me... and it appears he has.

 My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    ‘Where is your God?’ 

I'm suffering inside and trying to hide it from the world. And there's a deep sense of being alone in this trouble, everyone else seems to be getting along just fine... except me.
Casting my mind back to happier times does not help - joy seems almost elusive now. It won't do to dwell on what used to be...
      "Once upon a dream" when my hopes were young, and my heart expected a fairytale.

These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

Instead I feel like I am drowning. It would be so easy to give up... I'm done. Or undone.

 Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

Is this really what living the victorious Christian life is supposed to look like?
Not much overcoming. So much defeat. And guilt. 
   Perhaps I'm doing this all wrong?

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?

Yet, there is still hope! Even though I ask God,  
   ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?’
      I already know that I am not abandoned on sinking sand - there is a Rock to cling to...

Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Saviour and my God.

And so I told my friend what I have to keep telling myself when my friends, my family, my church, my job or my health fail me, when my hopes and dreams seem to be washing away... I must let go of trying mend my life, or the people in my life, and instead cling to the One who saves.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me –
    a prayer to the God of my life.

And so I pray to my God who loves me and is able to save. He can mend what is broken. As a child I approach my Father and with tears running down my face I whisper...

"Daddy, my dream is broken. I was trying to be careful with it... But it slipped out of my hands and shattered on the floor... I can't get it back together again... it's in a million pieces. Please, please could you mend it? I know you can fix anything, and I loved it so much."

"Child, my precious child, nothing is impossible for me. I am able to do so much more than you can ask or imagine. I delight over you, but I want you to see that it is not a mended dream that is going to bring you lasting joy - it's me, your Father. Fixing a dream is easy, but instead I chose to do what is hard... it cost me everything, for what needs mending is your heart. I know it hurts, and it seems to take a long time, but when I have made your heart completely new, then you will find that all your dreams come true. Because then, and only then, you will delight in me, the Dreamgiver, and you will find that I am everything your heart desires."

Saturday 1 November 2014

A ghost story

By Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Isn't this picture hauntingly beautiful? It's nicknamed the Ghost Nebula and you can easily see why. There is a mysterious, brownish luminescence in the ghostly shapes of the cosmic dust clouds that create an otherworldly appearance, and on the left there seem to be human-like figures with arms raised as they drift through the starry expanse of the night sky.

Perfect for a night on which (according to pagan Celtic beliefs and folklore) the curtain dividing the living and the dead was supposed to lift allowing the spirits of the dead to walk among the living as ghosts haunting the earth. Eery to say the least. Enough to send a few shivers down my spine...

So, I'll ask - have you ever seen a ghost?

Jesus' disciples thought they did. But let me start the story at the beginning.

It was a dark and stormy night! (Matt 14:22-27; Mark 6:45-50) Very dark - sometime between 3am and 6am. And very stormy - the wind was blowing fiercely and the waves were buffeting the boat. The disciples were on their own and a considerable distance from land. I doubt they were getting much sleep. Actually, they were straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Cold, exhausted and alone... while Jesus was back on shore having a prayer retreat by himself up in the hills overlooking the lake.

Cold and exhausted, yes. But neither Matthew nor Mark mention anything about the disciples being scared... yet. Until... until they catch sight of something moving on the surface of the lake! Something, or someone? It's a human figure - walking on the water - and it's coming towards them.

How they manage to see a figure approaching the boat in the darkness I am not sure, perhaps it was glowing softly, but they all can, and they are terrified. After all, it couldn't be human - humans can't walk on water - it must be something sinister, and supernatural, like a ghost! The storm is mentioned as no more than an afterthought and we almost forget that it is raging on in the background. All their eyes are fixated on the ghostly figure, and their hearts are gripped with fear and terror.

But immediately
      the terror of the moment passes
            and the apparition speaks in a voice that is strangely familiar...

 ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’

Then they know... they know that voice! It's Him... Jesus! It's not a ghost at all! They don't have to be afraid.

I believe that Jesus still speaks these words to us today. No matter what our circumstances or what we may be terrified by we need to see that the One Person who can bring peace amidst the storm and instil courage where there is paralysing fear is here, with us.

See that Jesus is real: "It is I."

      Listen when he tells you, "Don't be afraid."

            "Take courage!" he's not a ghost. Instead he reminds us:

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.(John 16:33)