2015: A challenging year…
As I reflect back upon this past year, I would have to say that it has not been an easy year for me or for my family. There have of course been high points such as the fantastic times we had as a family in the Lake District (2 weeks at Easter) and Norway (4 weeks at summer). Its also been a year in which I have spent much time with my children and its been such fun in particular watching them grow in their love for mountain-hiking. There have however been many challenges arising from my wife Debbie’s ongoing health struggles and the impact that has had on our family and indeed our ministry. Speaking for myself I have had my own health struggles this year (experiencing high blood pressure) and many will know that over the course of this year my availability and capacity for ministry has gradually increased and I began a new ministry assignment in September involving Students and overseas Missions. Working with students again (both in the summer in Norway and back at Southampton Uni) this past term has been much fun. Yet it has also been quite an adjustment after almost a year on the sidelines and I feel that there is still much to do in cementing our new rhythms of life. So it is perhaps no surprise that I find myself feeling quite weary and am in need of rest.
Rest for the weary
It will be no huge shock to read that the Bible has much to say about rest. The word ‘rest’ comes up 500 times in the Bible! Jesus Himself promised rest to the ‘weary and burdened’ when we “come to Him” (Matthew 11:28-30). Likewise in one of my favourite Bible passages we’re told that God gives “strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (v29). Who are those that renew their strength? Isaiah writes that it is those who “hope in the Lord”; they are the ones who will “soar on wings like eagles” they are the ones who will “run and not grow weary” and it is they who “will walk and not be faint”.
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God,the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31
This is my premise today that there is hope for the weary and burdened because Jesus offers rest and the renewal of our strength. It is as we ‘hope in the Lord’ that we renew our strength in the Lord. Hebrews 13:8 says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” and so whatever lies ahead there is always hope because Jesus our Hope just as He was yesterday and just as He will be tomorrow. I am looking forward to 2016 because I am trusting that no matter what life throws at us God is still God, God is still good and God is so committed to us that He will stop at nothing to move us forward with Him.
Lessons from the Besor Valley (1 Samuel 30)
In what will be my last post of 2015 I cannot resist revisiting a passage I studied with some of the students ministry earlier this month. The context is that David and his men have been off on a military mission with the Philistines. They had each left their families unprotected and on their return they find the Amalekites had raided Ziklag and taken their families captive. We read that David and his men “wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” ( v4). David is distressed because the men are talking about stoning him “but David found strength in the LORD his God” (v6). David for the strength to continue, the strength to form a plan and pursue the Amalekites out of His relationship with His Saviour. Amidst crisis David found hope, strength and courage in God.
There is however another noteworthy group in this passage and they are the men David leaves behind! Firstly David enquires of the LORD about whether they should pursue the raiding party. God promises them success but we then read that 200 men (one third) “were too exhausted to cross the ravine” (v10) and so they stayed behind. If you know the story you will know that David was indeed successful in his attack thanks to the Egyptian man God brought into their path en-route who was able to give them the inside track on the Amalekites. David recovers everything that had been taken without exception! The men made a point of saying that this was “David’s plunder” but upon returning some “evil men and troublemakers amongst David’s followers” said that the plunder should not be shared with those who remained behind. David however is strong and promises that the share of what the LORD had given them would be the same for the both man who stayed behind with the supplies and the man who went down into battle. “All will share alike” (v24).
David honoured his tired soldiers at the Besor Valley; it was a place that blessed rest! The Besor Valley also cautions against arrogance; the victory was won against all odds and was a gift from God. Here in Southampton we are feeling the blessing of all that God has been doing in the ministry even when at times we have been on the sidelines while at other times we just haven’t had the energy or the capacity to give as much as we would like. We have been blessed by so many who have sought to help, encourage and support us on the way. Such lavish blessing (like Salvation itself) is unearned, undeserved but gratefully received.
David did a noble and honourable thing to ensure that the spoils were divided equally amongst ALL his men even those who were too exhausted to join the pursuit. Are you tired and feeling weary? The great news is that there is much hope for us because Jesus has promised rest for the weary. Do you need to ‘come to Jesus’ for rest and to ‘find strength in God’? Do you need to ‘renew your hope in the Lord’. Read no further than the lessons of the Besor Valley which anticipate these words of Jesus…
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)