Reading between the lines

I recently had the enormous privilege of looking through my great grandfather’s bible. I found it incredibly humbling to hold in my hands the last book he read before he died. As I turned the pages, it was clear that it had been read often. Even though bible paper tends to be thin already, there were definitely pages that had been worn more thinly by frequent turning.

As I looked through, I was drawn to the verses that had obviously meant a lot to him, and he had underlined, or written brief notes against. Without being able to speak to him to enquire it was sometimes difficult to figure out why he might have highlighted them (Leviticus isn’t top of my list of “go to books” for assurance). Others were clear favourites and have been for generations of Christians.

I was drawn to one chapter that he had underlined in its entirety, Psalms 139.

In this well known and loved Psalm, David talks of his assurance that God the creator knows everything there is to know about him. He was there planning David before the cells that made David came together. He knows that God knows him intimately. He knows that God is everywhere, and that there is nowhere that David can hide from Him.

God knows every word that David will utter or write (including Psalm 139). He protects David and the thought that the God of the Universe cares about David in this was is too much for his head to comprehend, yet in the light of the knowledge all he can do is worship.

I love that we can read scripture again and again and God will reveal more of His heart, more of the message of the Kingdom, more that brings us closer to Him. If one of the aims of the Christian life is to become more like Jesus it inevitably means that we need to change.

As I read, it occurred to me that Psalm 139 is bookended by two similar but different concepts. The first, in verse 1 is a statement of fact. David writes “O LORD, you have searched me, and you know me.” He goes on in the next 22 verses to describe what the result of that search is. God is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. He already knows everything about us.

In verse 23 David begins to ask a question of God. “Search me, O god, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts, see if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.”

In spite of the sure and certain knowledge that God has already completed the search and found out everything He needs to know; David asks Him to search again.

I wonder if the question David was really asking was “God , will you reveal to me the results of your search, and more importantly will you help me to trust you more, and will you show me what it is you want me to work on at this time?”

I think if we are honest with ourselves, we don’t really need anyone, let alone God to tell us about our secret failings. We are all too aware of them. The point is that knowledge doesn’t do anything to fix the problem. Asking God to highlight areas that need work is the beginning of becoming more like Jesus. Together with Him we can work on things that will change us from one degree of Glory to another. Perhaps what God will reveal to you when you ask is that you need to learn to trust Him more, to rest in the knowledge that He really does know everything. That He cares.

The key is to ask. Acknowledge He knows anyway, then ask Him to show you. Its just possible that the thing He wants to work on are not the things you think. Either way, my experience is that He will be with us every step of the way. All we have to do is ask.

Sons and daughters

I wasn’t the easiest teenager to live with. Constantly pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable, pushing both my parents and sisters to the limit, I suppose I was no different to any other teenager. My parents had a constant battle trying to keep the volume down, to make sure everyone got their fair share of attention, TV time, or treats.

As I grew, the battles changed, as did my reasons for fighting them. Partly fuelled from a dry sense of humour, with more than a little sarcastic edge and partly because I like to challenge the ‘norm’ I clearly remember my mum warning me whenever we had company coming round (be that friends, or family) that I was to behave myself, and that there were certain topics that I simply wasn’t allowed to bring up.

Sometimes I found it just too difficult to keep to these rules and would have to go out instead.

I understand why my parents, mum especially, wanted me to behave. She wanted a peaceful time, with no arguments, no awkward silences and no bad feelings. She always wanted to ‘keep the peace’.

Governments are no different. They walk a fine line between doing what is right, and pleasing the greatest number of people. If they can find a way to ensure that everyone is happy, they will be elected. If not, the party who offers the most compromise in order to please the masses will be given an opportunity to please people. Governments try and ensure that there is at least an appearance of peace between the largest groups. Those at the edge, the marginalised or the quiet often feel disaffected, but governments will only try and include them if votes depend on it.

Many of our churches are built on a form of government which gives ‘power to the people’. Each member has a vote. In order to exercise that vote they must be given all the available information from the church leaders. If the leader makes a decision without the express approval of the membership they are questioned as to motives and reasoning. In an effort to ensure that there is a ‘happy congregation’ regular church meetings, setting out plans and reasonings are held. Peace reigns because everyone feels like they are a leader and involved.

The thing is, keeping the peace can only ever be a temporary solution to a more pressing problem. If we simply keep peace, there will always be someone who feels they have been aggrieved and needs to be helped to feel accepted. Compromise will always be needed to achieve this, and the message of the Gospel must never be watered down to fit societies whims, or to make people feel more comfortable. The Apostles refused to compromise the message to make it more palatable and neither should we.

In Matthew 5:9 Jesus tells us that if we want to be truly blessed we should be Peacemakers, not peace keepers.

What is the difference?

If we look at Jesus as our role model, I think there is an important difference in the way He approached things. He is the Prince of Peace, His peace passes human understanding and therefore it is wise to learn all we can from the way He operated.

Jesus had twelve disciples, all of whom at one point or another wanted to be, or thought they were the most important. He taught them all, but I imagine keeping the peace in the way my mum used to try would have been almost impossible, even for Him. All that going on around Him, it would have been easy to give each disciple a turn at being at the forefront of the difficult situations – just to make it fair. Yet this isn’t what we see in the Gospels. Whenever Jesus is heading off to pray, to ask God to take the cup of suffering away from Him, it is the same three disciples He takes, Peter, James and John. It doesn’t seem fair, it doesn’t seem to be the best way to keep the peace, yet this is what Jesus does.

It is important that we are not afraid to make difficult decisions just because we want to keep the peace. Of course, we all want an easy life, but the more you discover about following Jesus the more you realise that easy isn’t something He promised. Suffering and a daily picking up of our own cross seem to be the order of the day.

I suppose one would then have to ask if being a peacemaker rather than a peace keeper is worth it, if all we are assured is suffering.

Undoubtedly.

Jesus goes on to say about Peacemakers that they will be called sons (and daughters) of God. What a blessing that is. To be part of God’s family. To have full access to the Father, unimpeded, open and unrestricted. To be loved by Him. To have the promise of eternity with Him.

The world longs for peace. Let us be a people who make that peace, by bringing the Presence of Jesus, through Holy Spirit into situations we encounter, rather than those who seek to fix a broken world with little more than a sticking plaster.