Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Cold Hard Truth Behind Discipleship

“It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”
A.W. Tozer (1897–1963)
We don’t make the gradients for our growth in God; our Lord makes them.
Nobody can choose his or her growth direction or modulate his or her growth gains; our good Lord does it.
None of us really can make any contribution to the Kingdom of God that we haven’t already been previously prepared and equipped for. It is for God’s purpose we are utilised and we are equipped perfectly for the task – whether we think we are or not.
The person who’s been through most pain in their journey is the person most likely to be humble enough to know God’s true aim – to use us greatly, our Lord must first teach us. Teaching takes time. Teaching costs a lot in effort and pain.
To be blessed greatly is to be used greatly. These are intrinsically connected and linked. But there is a precursor to being blessed, as Tozer puts it.
This is the hope that anyone who’s going through the struggle of their life needs to hear. If we are really for God, we will see that we will need to learn resilience for resolve and poise to work under pressure. God can only teach us by taking us through some very ugly life experiences. We would be prideful and foolish to think a sinner’s heart could be used to do God’s holy work. No, God must purge us of our pride and folly first.
The cold hard truth about discipleship is we follow a Lord who suffered so greatly – a human being, also fully divine, who learned through bitter experience what his Father knew would be required of each of us.
God is certainly no hard taskmaster, for there is no mandate to suffer. We can easily go through life running every day from suffering; yet we will suffer more as a result. No, God offers us the opportunity to learn through our bitter experience; to learn that resentment serves no purpose, but humble submission gives us intimate access to the empathy of God.
“It’s not about you,” Rick Warrens says. When we get our heads and hearts around the idea that life is about God, life begins again, and life takes on significance. The less important we are, the more important God is, the better God makes our lives.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Oh, How Deep the Heavenly Father’s Love

Having a twenty-month-old son has reminded me of the richly unconditional nature of our Heavenly Father’s love.
My son has taken to the endearing act of trying to poke my eyes out when he’s excited. At other times he gets great satisfaction from pinching my nipples (when he sees my wincing response). And sometimes when he’s blowing raspberries on my belly he takes to giving me little bites, too! Finally, there has been a stage when he would head-butt me (several times) if I was holding him when he was angry. I could get concerned at all these behaviours, but I choose to see them more in the ilk of the age-and-stage phenomenon. As we engage together I’m intrinsically interested and ever curious as to my son’s experience of things, even in the times he seems to do the wrong thing. When I have to discipline him because he really does hurt me, I’m careful to ‘hold’ him in his hurt. I don’t want any unnecessary harm to come to him. He needs to learn right from wrong, but tough love is still love. There is no way that my son could genuinely hurt me in these tussles.
My response to my son is similar to how I picture God’s response to us. Sometimes we hurt our Heavenly Father, yet he remains loving (unhurt) in his response.
We resist God when life isn’t going our own way, yet our Heavenly Father treats such contempt with love. As a perfect and holy Father, the Lord is wholly good – the very best of fathers.
Some fathers will be hurt by their children, yet fathers who are beyond being hurt exemplify the Heavenly Father’s love; they have come to accept that fatherhood and his children are not about him.
A father’s role in this life is to serve his children’s best interest. Yet the Heavenly Father’s role is also to serve his children’s best interest.
Love allows hurt never to become the issue, because love is not about itself. Love is completely other-focused.
How greatly deep is the Heavenly Father’s love that God cannot be hurt by our many transgressions against him. Insisting that we have opportunities to learn, however, means God will not save us from lessons that are meant for our good; those decreed and designed by love.
There is nothing more trustworthy than the faithfulness of the Holy Father’s love.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Being Carried Through Grief By Grace Through Prayer

As my son and I walked along the boardwalk one morning on a recent family getaway, I encountered an older lady I knew from a previous season of life walking past intently. We walked past each other and then I was redirected, as if by Spiritual intervention. About ten metres behind her, I called out, “Anne Platt... it’s Steve Wickham.” She stopped, turned and then embraced me.
Having followed our story of the recent months, she offered her sincere condolences and sought to comprehend how I was going. Anne wrote Whispers From Heaven having lost her husband, Bob, to cancer. Having been touched by God’s ministry to her in her grief she faithfully chronicled her journey for others. Anne had previously been such an encouragement to me in my role as a children’s pastor.
This ministry of encouragement to me was during the very midst of her grief.
It was very clear to me, then, now about ten years ago, that Anne had been so transformed by God’s grace, she was now an eternal being loaned to earth for the remainder of her time.
As we spoke this particular morning – present day – there was much gold shared. One little priceless nugget we both agreed that we had seen and experienced was this: we are/were carried by God’s grace, through the sorrow, by a peace that transcended our understanding, because of the prayers of many others.
‘Because’ is the very operative word. We never knew when people were praying for us, but we were always unconsciously or subconsciously aware of the grace that had been given to us in being able to experience joy in suffering, hope in the despair, and, peace despite the unparalleled lack of control our realities were impinged by.
Prayer works. It cannot be explained, but when we feel ‘carried’ – and we are carried by grace alone through faith alone – we are simply to be thankful.
Being carried is managed by the simple fact of knowing we are being carried by others’ love – their prayers manifest in the kindness of affection. We must, however, believe by faith that 1) people are praying, and 2) their prayers are making a significant difference.
Prayer is the reason we feel carried by God’s grace through faith. Others’ prayers that intercede for us we are so grateful for. Each person who obeys the Spirit and prays for another who suffers is heard by God. And God honours such a prayer.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Forgive Them, For They Know Not What They Do

This wrangles with our pride: people presuming they: 1) know what’s going on for us in our experience; 2) think they know what we are thinking; 3) can give us advice when perhaps we just don’t need it. Yet, such a pride is veiling the truth. Some people are out of step with how to discern and deliver upon love. For, love has as its precursor – the other person and what they need. Love is not about the person doing the loving; it’s all about the object of the affections – the subject before each one of us.
But the reality of this life is harsh. We are likely to need to suffer the fool gladly. That person is trying their best to love us, even if, in doing that, they transgress love.
We are to be full of grace. Yet such grace is nothing if not a miracle if it isn’t worked on incessantly for months and months and months.
Character growth is always a slow process. Particularly in the processes of ‘sandpaper ministry’, as we rub each other up the wrong way we tend to say things that people find hard to bear; they say things that we find, equally, that grate.
And, yet, few of us would perturb others deliberately.
When Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” he prayed such a relevant prayer that finds itself pertinent in many of our situations.
We often do not know in the moment of our transgressions what our transgressions are or how they affect those impinged. We know this is true by the amount of times others put their foot in it, when it comes to us, without wishing to.
Grace comes into its own when we find that we are no longer irritated by the ignorant offerings of the uninformed.
If we are to forgive the common person their common transgression we will find ourselves being forgiven.
As we forgive the situations that seem to thwart us – as we are given to a moment’s surreal sense in the sweeping tide of temptation to anger – we are practicing such a God-anointed character trait. It’s no good trying hard to our own exasperation. It’s myriads better to contemplate really feeling love toward those we have forgiven.
Forgiving a transgression with understanding is like a prayer to receive that same understanding when we are the transgressor.
Forgiveness understands the common human frailty and extends the wisdom of God in making such wisdom personally accessible.
Forgiveness, hence, is the wisdom of God, so those who forgive borrow righteousness.
Forgiveness is the wisdom of God. Resentment is the bitterness of humanity’s folly.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.