The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else; whereas, if you do not fear God, you fear everything else. Oswald Chambers
Dear child of mine,
It’s the eve of my thirtieth birthday and I’m reflecting on the years of my life. I thought I’d write down some of the key things I’ve learned in that time that I know I will reflect on throughout the rest of my life.
Do not be afraid
We live in uncertain times. Every day we hear reports of violence or oppression in one form or another. This shouldn’t surprise us, and nor should we be afraid. The Scriptures tell us: “In this world you will have trials and tribulations, but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). But also, several times in the Scriptures we hear the admonition: “Do not be afraid”. For example:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
This is easier said than done, but the Scriptures do give us a few things that can help.
Rejoice, pray, and give thanks
‘Rejoice on the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4: 4-7).
This passage was written by St Paul who knew real fear, having feared for his life many times, and so much so that he ‘felt the sentence of death.’ But, as he said: ‘this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead’ (2 Corinthians 1:9).
St Paul goes on to give more practical advice. The first relates to how we use our mind.
‘Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in my – put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you’ (Philippians 4: 4-9).
In other words, there are so many good things in life. Yes, there may be war, terror and violence but this doesn’t take away from the fact that there are so many wonderful things in the world. Good is all around us, if only we have eyes to see. And God wants us to actually spend time thinking about these things.
This is similar to Colossians 3:2 ‘Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.’ And 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18, which reads: ‘So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.’
So what exactly can we think about?
Firstly, we can marvel at the creator and his creation. It’s a humbling experience to look at the sky and the stars and realise that God created all that. He is in charge. Truly.
Secondly, we can reflect on who we are in Christ, and what our baptism means. When you were a newborn, I longed for the day of your baptism, knowing that something truly cosmic would take place on that day (which it did). And that while I could not promise to keep you safe, you would be secure in the arms of Christ. For, as Scripture says:
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).
‘He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.’ 2 Corinthians 1:22
Going back to Philippians passage, St. Paul says we will have peace when we put into practice what we have ‘learned or received or heard’ from him, through Christ (Philippians 4: 4-9).
Yes, this may mean training our hearts and minds, and casting our imagination onto the wonder of God’s goodness and all things lovely. I personally love thinking on things like the passage: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has imagined, the things God has in store for those that love him.’ (1 Corinthians 2:9) or ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your path’ (Proverbs 3:5).
But putting into practice what we ‘have learned’ (Philippians 4: 9) is not just a matter of what we think in our heads, but also what we do with our bodies: being baptised, receiving the Lord’s Supper, repenting and receiving forgiveness, loving our neighbour, remaining in him (the true Vine John 15:1).
Place of suffering
Jesus never promises us that we will pass through this life without suffering.
Suffering is always suffering, but somehow God transforms us through it.
‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28).
He also beautifully promises us that if we share in His sufferings we will also share in His glory (Romans 8:17).
Jesus also tells us to live courageously and boldly for others, saying: “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33). He also says there is no greater love than laying down one’s life for one’s friend: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15: 13).
Love involves sacrifice. If our love does not involves self-sacrifice, it is always self-serving.
Living in God’s grace
As I have got older, the more I have understood St Paul where he says: ‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do’ (Romans 7:15). Oh my wretched sin!
Thanks be to God, 1 John 1: 9 tells us: ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’
We are then purified so that Christ then lives in us, working through us. He is the vine and we the branches (John 15: 1-11).
I am so mindful that I did nothing to bring you into the world, you were pure gift to us. We love you, beyond measure, and always will, but ultimately, you belong to the Lord (1 Samuel 1: 27-28).
When you were a baby I would watch you relax in my arms and be carried from one room to another, without asking any questions. And I wondered? Is this what God wants me to do with him? Relax into His will? I think this is precisely what He is inviting us to do. Lord, help us trust you like this!
All this is to say, very briefly, and maybe I’ll elaborate further one day, that we should listen to the One who created us and who says to us:
“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev 1: 12-17).