Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. (Romans 5:1-5)
The reason that I was drawn to these verses is because they speak of hope, the hope that we have in God, a hope that will not be disappointed – the hope of salvation through Jesus Christ: salvation now, but right into eternity.
I have been meditating this week on the thought of hope, and I acknowledge my debt to Billy Graham, whose Hope for Each Day I often read. I love his writings. There’s such a clarity in them, he has such a clear, straightforward spirit and good old-fashioned Christian values, and I always find it such a relief to go to him. This week’s reading included this verse:
My heart is glad, and … my flesh also shall rest in hope. (Psalm 16:9)
He speaks of the importance of hope and quotes from various outstanding medical people who say that hope is vital both psychologically and physically; one of them actually said that hope is the best cure that he knew for most conditions. There’s a well-known quotation, Abandon hope, all ye who enter here, that I remember was once posted over a leper colony, and that may perchance come to your mind or heart or spirit if you’re not pleased with life – ‘Abandon hope!’ But, mercifully, hope is quite hard to abandon because, in the words of another saying in our language, Hope springs eternal in the human breast. And thank God for it: the gift of hope. Paul says: Now abideth these three: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of them is love – but hope is a close second. I think it’s a wonderful quality, a wonderful gift that God has given to the human heart, and how much more to the Christian heart. For when hope dies in us over a situation or over ourselves – if it dies, say, over a weakness that you have and you have no more hope that you’ll ever change, then you’re not likely to change. But if instead we hear a whisper in our spirits: Try again, hope resurges, and then we are much more likely to get victory over whatever we need. It is the same when it comes to being burdened for other lives – and surely as we go on as Christians a great deal of the suffering that comes into life is actually for the sake of others and their needs. Madam Guyon describes how latterly all her suffering was because of her care for other lives. It becomes essential to our spirits that we dwell in hope, that God dwells in hope. Even our flesh also will rest in hope, and we have the hope of the glory of God.
It is actually one of the titles of God. He was often referred to by His people as the Hope of Israel, which I think is a lovely name for God. The word hope has different translations. When it’s referring to God, one of them is confidence. It’s a bit more than, ‘It might happen’: it is a confidence, especially in relation to God. Sometimes it means expectation: the Hope of Israel is the Expectation of Israel, the One that they were waiting for, and He of course has come in the person of Christ. Sometimes it means refuge. The prophet says:
The Lord will be the hope of his people. (Joel 3:16)
That means that the Lord will be the Refuge of His people: that is often the meaning applied to God, and it is a wonderful one. When we have a refuge, then we have hope. When we have an expectation of something good happening in the future, it gives us hope. And He is our confidence.
I want to give one or two examples of the wonderful hope and refuge that God can bring from the lives of people that I knew. One was a lady in our church who many years ago, when I was a child, had gone out to the mission field in answer to the call of God. She spoke quite publicly of how she had had an open-eyed vision of Africa. She had gone and served there as a nurse. She came into a very difficult time, and also was pulled home by the illness of her mother. As she said, in spite of advice that she was given, she came home. And she suffered desperately. She felt that she had abandoned the call of God, and she was in agony of spirit for many months if not years. There had come over her a black despair. Now the devil is very cruel. I am quite sure he was tormenting her in a way that God did not mean her to be. Miss Taylor (one of our founding leaders), who lived near this lady, told us one day that she had been walking up a street in Greenock when they met at the top of Terrace Road, near Regent Street. When Miss Taylor saw her friend, she immediately realized that she was in desperate despair – the blackness was all over her. She just said her name … they stood together, and as they were standing there, Christ came in visible form and stood beside them. They didn’t say a word to each other; they just waited; then they parted in silence. Hope – our Hope – He came.
As I tell that story, I think of a time in my own life when I was in desperate despair, not seeing how I could cope with the future. And the Lord Jesus Christ came into my room. I didn’t see Him with the physical eye; I didn’t need to, I saw Him so clearly with my spiritual eyes, and I knew He stood at my bedside, and all was well. What a Christ we have!
In another situation someone was in desperate need, with terrible weakness in their own life that led them into real trouble. They said that one night an angelic being, if not Christ Himself, came and sat at his bedside, and said: I have come down to help thee, thou sorely tried one.
And I would say, just to remind us all: Try Jesus. Try God. Don’t give up hope, even if you feel that you have failed. In the case of the lady missionary, though she felt she’d failed – and failed God – that wasn’t His verdict on her. He came to her. And He comes to us. We never need to lose hope. He is our hope of glory.
Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself. (1 John 3:3)
To be purified often means to go through refining fire, and we have to go through refining fires because a lot of refining is needed before we are ready to meet with God. But we have this hope, the hope of Christ’s appearing, and that when He appears we will be like Him. And because of that hope, we want to be ready, and we want Him to refine us, refine our fallen natures, until we are prepared at least to begin to be like Christ.
A lot of our suffering ultimately can be related to our care for other lives and our desperate longing that they will find Christ as Saviour, and having found Him will keep following Him, and will find Him really deeply. There comes an agony on our spirits at times that another life will come into the knowledge of the glory of God and the freedom that there is in Christ. Sometimes we can be tempted to give up hope. I’ve known myself be almost ready to give up hope for another life, and find that God has compelled me still to have hope, still to pray, that that He is going to win that one, that they’re not going to be lost.
As I was meditating on hope last night, my book opened at a poem of Amy Carmichael’s. One verse and then the whole poem really lived for me. It will be especially relevant to those who are finding in themselves a care for other lives. We have just completed an Alpha course in Greenock, taken by some of the younger generation. By last Wednesday night there were definitely six people who had found Christ as Saviour, and one of them was also baptized in the Spirit. I am sure that for those of you who have been running that course, your deep care is now that they will keep following and find more of Christ. And others of you will be burdened for various people in various ways.
Let Us Believe
Saviour, who bore the bitter Cross,
That he* for whom we come today
Might be redeemed and purged from dross –
To Thee, triumphant Christ, we pray.
What though our faith be swept by storm?
Thou who hast promised wilt perform!
Faithful art Thou to perfect those
In whom Thy grace begins to move.
Changeful the tide of feeling flows,
Changeless Thine everlasting love.
Not hell itself can countermand
The saving strength of Thy right hand!
Renew within us quenchless hope,
O God of Hope, though oftentime
He slip upon the upward slope;
Let us believe that he will climb.
O let us sing before we see;
And glory, glory be to Thee!
*or ‘she’, and so throughout.
‘Renew within us quenchless hope, O God of Hope’ – isn’t that lovely? As we pray to Him, and as we find Him, we find hope.
I want to start with a short recap from last week, when I was speaking about my daughter Christine at three years old, and the help that she had given to my sister in bringing her a Daily Light that had a word from God. A lovely story then came to me from one of our congregation, Audrey Burns, who I’m sure will not mind me sharing this with you. It brought back to her a memory of her seven-year-old son, when she had been having a tough time. He just marched up to her and said: ‘Mummy, you’re a conqueror!’ and that gave her the victory. So that was another lovely story of how God can use the action of a little child.
But my theme for today is ‘having an appointment with God’. In the way life has gone in our present society, we become more and more aware that we must have appointments, and are even talking about how we must book before we go somewhere even for a coffee. We don’t really like our life being so governed and regulated as that. But it is a wonderful thought that God makes appointments for us and with us. I think that’s very clear in the story of the woman at the well, where Christ said to His disciples that he had to go through Samaria. He had an appointment with that woman. She didn’t know about it till she arrived at the well and found Him sitting there.
I often remember how, when one of you was much younger, Miss Taylor took you aside after a meeting for prayer, and you had a wonderful encounter with God. I can remember her saying that what had thrilled you so much was the fact that it was God who had made the appointment. And that is a wonderful thought, that God actually wants to make an appointment to meet with you or me.
There is a story of Rees Howells, a deeply anointed man of God, who was used in Africa in the salvation of thousands of souls and in the establishment of a college for prayer in Wales. As a young man being trained very deeply in the ministry of intercession, he was very tied up with the needs of other people. But throughout many years he had a trysting place with God up on the mountain, where as he passed through an iron gate he forgot everything else and spent time in the presence of God. One particular month was given him there of unalloyed worship and communion. When the enemy was trying to disturb him during this time, Rees was told to leave his taunts behind the moment he shut the gate. It would be like heaven on earth to him that God had an appointment with him as soon as he passed through that gate.
It is absolutely vital that this becomes integral to our Christian life and our walk with God: that we have at the very centre the desire for God. The poet speaks of a ‘jubilant pining and longing for God’. We discover that we really need to take our eyes off the world around us and off our own lives, our own needs, pleasures and joys – the things that can choke out the seed of the word of God, or the things that can drag us down. A lot of people nowadays are struggling, some against a sense of nameless depression, some with real anxiety and worry and in desperate need, because of what has happened around us with this pandemic. And you can be taken aback perhaps by feelings that you have never had before, perhaps with something like depression, and you don’t know quite what to do. But what we discover is the great unchanging God, and that the removal of some of the things in life that cushion us can cause us to turn our eyes to the heavenly country. There’s a saying which I dislike very much, that someone is ‘too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use’. But C S Lewis says that if we are not heavenly minded, we cannot be of any earthly use either. To be of real use to our fellows on earth, we have to be heavenly minded. Being heavenly minded isn’t being airy-fairy, but it is discovering that the answer for life is not here on this earth. The answer for our own spirits and our own mental wellbeing is not found here on this earth; it is found in the heavenly country. In other words, it is found in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
We think of somebody like Moses, who carried such a heavy burden of responsibility and leadership of the children of Israel. He tried all sorts of ways earlier to lead them out of the land before it ultimately happened by the power of God. But while he was still in the wilderness and they had been sinning (as they frequently did, being human), he finally discovered that God alone was his answer and his strength, and he was propelled more deeply into the spiritual world, just as we can be at this very present time. The spiritual world is wonderful. Moses pleaded: ‘God, show me Your face – show me Your glory.’
Show me Your face, Lord, Your power and Your grace;
I can make it to the end if I can just see Your face.
That was what Moses discovered, and so can we. Will He be there for us? Yes, we will discover that He has made the appointment. He has known all about this time that was going to come in our world. I was talking recently to a postmistress outside our own locality, who described how she had been brought up on a farm and was just so glad that her parents, grandparents and great grandparents didn’t suffer what we are suffering now. I said: ‘Well, they had the war to face.’ She said: ‘Oh, but this is different.’ She obviously thought that the present time was worse. I don’t know that I would agree with her, but I understood what she meant: the pain of it, barriers between people having to wear masks, and so on. But God has known all about it, and God has an appointment with you and me and with His church, to go more deeply into the Spirit, to find our spirits becoming more alive in God. Search after Him. Ezekiel found that the river deepened until he had waters to swim in. And that is what we need to refresh our mind, our spirit, and even our physical being. We need the spiritual world, which is full of God and of Christ, and is wonderful. We are not riding into the sunset that the old cowboy films used to finish with. We are riding into the sunrise, here and now finding that God is there and God is light. He becomes our dearest friend.
So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God, because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
Is that not beautiful? He has made us friends of God. We think of that in association with giants of the faith like Moses and Abraham, who is described as that – but Paul says we have been made the friends of God, because of our Lord Jesus Christ. How precious He is – what He has done for us – what He is to us.
I’ll just finish with this part. Abraham was called the friend of God, I think over many years, as his soul grew in faith. But there’s that wonderful chapter where he has been told by God to take Isaac and sacrifice him at the top of a high mountain ‘that I will show you’.
Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of… On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. (Genesis 22:2, 4-5)
I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. He went to pray, he went to worship; he wasn’t focusing on his broken heart, he wasn’t focusing on his need. He said: ‘I’m going to worship.’ Try that. ‘Lord, I’m coming into Your presence just to worship You, to pray, to be with You.’ Abraham’s faith was well rewarded. He didn’t know the revelation that was awaiting him upon that mountain, as he and Isaac and God went up that hill that became the hill of revelation. It revealed to him something of the Calvary that was to come, and yet has always been there in eternity. As he walked with God; he surely found fellowship with the Father, who took His Son up Calvary’s hill, there to sacrifice Him. It became to him the mountain of revelation, of the unveiling of the deeps of God. How satisfied his soul must have been. God showed him the ram caught in the thicket. Abraham had said: ‘The Lord will provide Himself a sacrifice,’ and He did provide Himself a sacrifice.
What a mountain we have to come to! We find again and again that God will have made an appointment for us to meet there with Him. All else becomes forgotten. Rees Howells would go through the gate into a place of fellowship with God. We find that we are well-fed children, and His Name becomes exceeding precious.
Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 2:3)
Paul’s words to Timothy show us his idea of what a follower of Christ is like. We are a soldier in Christ’s army, and a soldier does not expect a life of ease; indeed, he is often keen and up for the challenge of what his job will involve. And for us it is not a job; it is not even a duty. It is a privilege to be a follower of Christ. And He has made provision for us, that we can endure hardness. It’s not that the way is always hard, but hardness will come into it, as Paul himself very well knew.
During this period in our country’s history there are varying degrees of hardness of the way, depending on our circumstances, but something that is probably coming to most of us is a sense of weariness of the way, a weariness of all this abnormal mode of life, and (for some of us) most of all the weariness of not being able to be together in God’s house and to worship in the way that we are accustomed to. The whole experience of lockdown and restriction and (to begin with) the sense of isolation for many has given me a greater appreciation of what people suffer when they are imprisoned for their faith or for any other reason. I have a tremendous admiration for those who endure that hardness and glorify Christ in it, sometimes in isolation for many years. Many of you of an older generation may be familiar with The Colditz Story, either through the television serial or (like me) through reading the book. One of the things that is an abiding memory for me is that year after year the weariness of being imprisoned in that cold fortress came upon very brave men. It was the bravest that tended to end up in Colditz, because they were the ones that had tried to escape from other camps. They would find another winter was coming on with all the cold, and they realized the war’s not over yet, and the weariness of another winter of confinement came over the souls and spirits of these men who were accustomed to a life of adventure and freedom. And to a little degree we can identify with that: just the weariness of the way.
Paul said: Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. The hardness of the way of life can engender not just a bitter spirit, but a hard spirit that becomes indifferent to other people’s suffering. Or it can have the opposite effect and make us more aware of other people’s suffering and more compassionate to it. The hardness that we have to endure brings a hardiness into our spirit, a good kind of toughness, like the iron that entered into Joseph’s soul in prison. But it doesn’t make us hard, as such. There’s a tremendous contrast in the spiritual world between the hardiness of spirit that we need and the gentleness of spirit that we need. No one was braver than Christ, and no one more gentle.
It brought to me the picture of the manna coming for the Israelites in the wilderness, in a desert place, in a hard place. God sent them a form of bread, the manna, and it came with the dew. The dew fell overnight, and in the morning when the sun rose and the dew dried off, there was the manna. It is such a picture of the coming of the Holy Spirit, who comes to us often very gently, without being seen, but is totally needed to come upon our spirits, or they will become hard. We are very dependent on the oil and the balm of the Holy Spirit to come, and as He comes He brings Christ with Him, and He brings into our spirit the gentleness of the healing of Christ, the gentleness of spirit that prevents us from being hard in the midst of hardship. He comes so beautifully, as the dew falls down on the mown grass that’s lying bleeding and broken and brings healing and recovery, and He brings Christ, who brings us all that we need.
Paul was one who tremendously found this, and could say then to his disciple: ‘You endure hardness, Timothy.’
You have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, you may receive the promise. (Hebrews 10:36)
Paul describes himself as having been as gentle as a nurse in the midst of his spiritual children, nursing them as a nurse cherishes her children – Paul, who was so strong, who had overseen the stoning of Stephen. His life then was probably without too much hardship: he was respected and honoured, probably quite well off. Now he was just the opposite, despised and rejected – but not hardened, his spirit softened by the coming of the dew of the Holy Spirit until he loved every one of his converts, and he loved the fallen race of men and sought always to win them to Christ. And he is comforted by different means and such a simple situation as the coming of his friend Titus. He was cast down and almost in despair, but he said:
God, who comforts the lowly, comforted me by the coming of Titus to me. (2 Corinthians 7:6)
It is not wrong to take comfort from our friends. We think: ‘Well, we should be ultimately dependent upon God,’ but God uses people and incidents to bring help and comfort. Don’t feel guilty and somehow inadequate if that is how help has come to you.
An illustration of this comes from my sister Alison’s life many years ago, in 1989. She was in great need. She was overworked, overstrained, she was writing a book review in the context of her own career, she was doing a lot of the looking after of Miss Taylor by that stage, and these and various other circumstances had all conspired to make her dangerously overstrained to a point that she just did not know how she was going to cope with life and with the future. Alison is a very strong and resilient person; this was not like her. She had been taken out in the car by her sister and a friend to try and help her relax, and they had come into my house to see me. I was there alone with my daughter, who was just three years old at the time. Christine was sitting beside Alison on the settee; they were alone in the room, Alison in deep inward distress. And Christine trotted over to a coffee table where was lying my miniature Daily Light, the exact same as Alison’s one. She brought it over, opened it, and held it open long enough for Alison to read the emboldened words at the top of the page for the 2nd of September: He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, and on the other side for the morning reading, it said: Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart. Christine closed the book and took it back. Alison only had time to read these verses, but it was the start of renewal and healing. Later on in the day on her own she was still feeling the stress of it all, and she went to look up the verses in her own Daily Light, but instead opened at the 19th of March, with verses like: Strengthen me according to Your word. Because it had spoken to her so much in the morning, it spoke to her again, and the distress lifted from her.
God is a wonderful healer; there is nobody like Him. We cannot explain how he heals a broken heart, an overstrained spirit, in a moment. What no psychology or psychiatry can do in the same way, He does in a second. Always remember that. Always remember when you’re suffering hardship that there is still God, and at the right moment at the appointed time He comes, His touch is wonderful. So endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. There comes His moment, and in Him, as the dew falls, healing comes. He is like the cloud of dew in heat of harvest. Think of that cloud of dew dropping around us. It brings to us health, and it brings the Son of God.
My subject today is Ruth – a biblical character much talked about and already featured in an earlier Thought for the Day.
Andrew Jewell spoke one recent Sunday night of hearing the call of God coming in at the edges of our lives along with an awareness of the other world. Ruth was such an example of that: a young Moabite girl into whose consciousness there had broken an awareness of the world of God and of God Himself. We see her in contrast with her mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth had caught a sight of God. She had caught something from that other world, and it was almost certainly through Naomi. It might have been through her husband, her father-in-law, her brother-in-law, but her subsequent behaviour with Naomi tells us something of what Naomi has meant to her. She has been stripped of all that could make life very sweet. She has lost her husband, her father-in-law and her brother-in-law, but she stays with Naomi. And Naomi also has been stripped of what could make life sweet to her: she has lost her husband and her two sons. She decides to return to her own country, which she left in the time of famine, to go back to the land of Israel. Her name means ‘pleasant’, but she feels life has been bitter, to the extent that she says: ‘Call me Mara’ (which means ‘bitter’), because of the suffering that has come into her circumstances. That suffering has come into Ruth’s circumstances too, but she is not bitter. Her name means ‘vision of beauty’. She seems to me to be one who has so caught the sound of the eternal call that it has captured her vision. She is determined to stay by Naomi and says to her:
Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. (Ruth 1:16)
‘Don’t ask me to leave – I want your God – I want to be amongst your people.’ She is not one who has reacted as many (even Christians) can do in difficult circumstances when they turn to blame God. She is not one who says: ‘Well, I’ll trust my own gods from Moab – I’ll not trust your God.’
‘No,’ she says: ‘Naomi, I want your God.’ What an example she is to us! Independent of life’s circumstances, she says: ‘I want God’ – even when Naomi is saying: ‘Ruth, what can I do for you? You stay in your own land, return to your own gods.’ How bitter Naomi had become in that hour that she said: ‘You don’t want to follow my God. Return to your own gods.’ But Ruth has seen enough to say: ‘No, I’m coming.’ And she comes with Naomi into Naomi’s own land and back to Bethlehem.
There is something about Ruth that attracts attention, that makes Boaz (the kinsman who ultimately was to become her husband) say to her: ‘The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.’ The draw of God is upon her soul. She is just a young girl, but she has caught the vision. She is not thinking of all that she’s lost: she is thinking of what she could find in God. What an example! To me she is like the life that Christ speaks of, into which the good seed of the word has fallen, the fruitful soil that will bring forth a hundredfold in reward. Boaz treats her with great kindness and gives her advice as she is gleaning: ‘Don’t go to any other field. Stay in my field with my harvesters and you’ll be safe: I’ll take care of you.’
When she goes back to her mother-in-law, Naomi says: ‘Where have you gleaned today?’
It’s a question that God could ask of us sometimes: ‘Where have you gleaned today? Where have you gleaned this week?’ In other words: ‘Where have you been gathering your food? Where have you been going, what have you been looking at and feeding on in your inner being? And the word comes to us from God: ‘Stay in My field. Don’t go into another field looking for something. Even if life has been difficult, don’t go to another field: stay with Me in My harvest field. Stay with My harvesters.’ And others can help us. They are there who have gone ahead of us, who know God better than we do. They are there to help us find the way. But Ruth had had to find the way by herself, initially. She had to have her own integrity and a decision made in her own heart: ‘I have seen the vision of beauty … visions of God – just a glimpse – and the draw of the eternal world is on me.’
Does it seem mystical language? You know, it is wonderfully true. What keeps a soul faithful to God ultimately is when we have caught sight of the vision of beauty, when we have caught sight of the eternal realm that makes everything in the world seem faded and tasteless, until nothing in this world seems sweet unless it has the touch of God on it, and then the simplest things seem rich and satisfying and sweet. So it was for Ruth: content to glean there in that field, humbly waiting, until the hour came when Boaz made her his bride. She makes us think of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will take His church to be His own Bride, a church – oh! let her be a people that have found Him and have loved Him and are not ashamed of Him, that have heard His voice calling:
Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak to her heart. (Hosea 2:14)
It’s a cold kind of religion until God has spoken to our hearts and our hearts have responded. It’s not then a duty; it’s not a set of rules; it’s not just a challenge; but it is a contract, a covenant between us and our God in our inner beings. It’s a covenant of faithfulness, for He will never be unfaithful to us.
And Naomi? She did suffer; her suffering was real. But she had been perhaps brought down into that land of Moab just in order to find Ruth and bring back that one who was to be the direct ancestor of Christ. And I don’t think she remained bitter. She found, and was told even by others: ‘Your daughter-in-law is better to you than seven sons.’
But let us beware as we travel through life, as the years pass upon us – don’t lose sight of the vision of loveliness. Don’t lose sight of that that first charmed your heart and caused you to follow Christ. Never let life become bitter because of circumstances. Never doubt God. And never lose the thrill of belonging to Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Thou vision of undying loveliness,
Once glimpsed, cannot by any be outshone.
No fragrant morning, noon or dappled evening
Compare in any facet with the Son.
Copyright © 2014 Struthers Memorial Church All rights reserved
Struthers Memorial Church is a registered Scottish Charity No. SC 006960 | Struthers Memorial Church is a company limited by guarantee incorporated in Scotland Company No SC335480 | Registered Office: 33 West Stewart Street, Greenock, PA15 1SH.