Posts Tagged ‘knowing God’

Here is an interesting thing – in the Apprentice Training Programme, creating MARGIN is the Soul Training exercise linked to the chapter headed God is Holy.

The Diamond Ring Effect - the Sun's light peeking from around the edge of the Moon's surface

An important aspect of decluttering your life is making space to understand and know God.

Writing about God’s Holiness in Knowing God,  J.I. Packer speaks of the goodness and severity of God (p181). He warns against creating a false Santa Claus theology where God’s goodness is welcomed and his severity ignored.

Understanding and responding to all of God’s attributes is both urgent and important.

When do we take time to gaze at the stars – lifting our attention from the urgent issues that shout for our attention and beginning to consider the important issue of seeing ourselves and God in perspective?

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.


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If you think of humbling yourself before God you might imagine lying prostrate or covering yourself in sackcloth and ashes.

I can testify that lying on your back, bare-chested, arms stretched above your head, feels pretty humbling. Add some strangers to the scene and the feeling intensifies.

Mark Twain was right

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society

You will not be surprised to hear I have been thinking a lot about this.

In the brief minutes on the rack while I have my treatment I feel vulnerable, powerless and naked before God.

Here I am, God,

No pretence

Flesh and bones

And the part that is me

No secrets

You knew me before I was born

You know me from start to finish

. . and I am not finished yet

Just as I am dependent on BC’s attributes when we have a disagreement, I reflect on how dependent I am on God’s attributes.

Lying naked and vulnerable, not knowing the future, I am dependent on God who tells me he is . . .

accessible creator eternal faithful father good gracious guide holy impartial immutable incomprehensible infinite jealous just long-suffering love merciful omnipotent omnipresent omniscient perfect preserver provider righteous saviour sovereign wise

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

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Week three, treatment 10 and all is well.

The sun keeps shining. Life and growth are all around me.

I know the routine:

Mosaic Art Sculpture - to support breast cancer

Brisk walk

Sigh under sign – RADIOTHERAPY

Doors engulf me

Card in box

Alcohol gel

“Hi, fish”

Read book

Blue gown, smiling faces, harsh room

Stretch on rack

Bare breasts

No jewellery, no blanket, no pretence

Nowhere to hide

Measure . . check

Adjust . . check


Pushed to the wall, I called to God; from the wide open spaces, he answered. God’s now at my side and I’m not afraid . . God’s my strong champion; I flick off my enemies like flies.
God’s my strength, he’s also my song, and now he’s my salvation.

So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.

The machine whines – I give thanks that any cancer cells are flicked off like flies.

Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego I am not alone in the furnace.

As I walk back into the sunshine I breathe deeply – no smell of fire on me!

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Treatment 2/18 today and no problems. Same staff, minimal delay, fish more relaxed.

Retail therapy on the way home.

I could get used to this. I could congratulate myself on coping well with the outer journey. And you might look on and say “Isn’t she strong!”

Well of course I am . . . until I am not.

Now that the physical suffering of chemotherapy is fading, the inner journey takes my attention. And the main driver is fear.

Who would’nt be fearful when you are told you have cancer?

C.H. Spurgeon, commenting on Psalm 119 when King David pleaded with God for deliverance from his troubles, wrote:

He who has been with God in the closet will find God with him in the furnace

If we expect to recognise God’s presence with us when we are in trouble, we need to have spent time getting to know him when things are going well. In fact, we need to set aside time to make sure we know HIM and not some teddy-bear God we construct to suit our needs.

I am learning a lot about anxiety and fear – what they mean to me and how to manage them.

My radiotherapy treatment is all about adding years to my life. With this in mind, what Jesus says about worry hits home

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life . . .  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life ?

Clearly worry is not a constructive part of my treatment plan.

Jeremiah spoke of God’s compassion and faithfulness, in the midst of his severe suffering. He had a very mature knowledge and experience of God. I can learn a lot from him.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Both passages refer to God’s love and provision being given one day at a time, fresh for the day’s needs and not to be stored in advance.

Now we do need to plan ahead for business, for agriculture, for education etc.

This challenge is about the stuff we construct and then worry about – the what if’ scenarios. You can reflect on your own what if’ scenarios, or you can imagine what mine might be in relation to cancer.

We want tomorrow’s blessings today. We want to store up certainty today so that we do not need to worry tomorrow. And yet chances are we will worry again tomorrow about the next day.

God says trust me for today’s resources today and tomorrow’s resources tomorrow.

Maybe your worry is not about the length of your life – but there is a principle here that covers worry in general.

I can see the benefit of going to bed ’empty’ and yet free from worry, knowing that in the morning God will fill me up again. To do this I need to spend time in the closet getting to know the God that Jesus shows me and learning to trust him.

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This is a tough one.

Trustworthy in what . . ?

I can easily sit in comfort and theorise about an all-powerful, all-knowing, good, loving God when I am warm, safe and have food in my cupboard. But what about when my health or safety are under threat? And worse than that, how much can I rely on God for the health or safety of those I love?

Trust is earned, not given. And so to experience God as trustworthy I need some experience of having to trust him. And if I am to trust him I need to be absolutely sure that I have understood his nature and what sort of relationship with him is possible.

Now that takes some learning.

When James Bryan Smith‘s baby daughter died people asked him how he could still trust God after all he had been through. To explain he described the healing power of the prayer that their pastor read out as Madeline was dying.

The prayer took our story, our own personal narratives (a mother, a father and a sick child), and put it in the context of a larger story, a meta-narrative, which is the story that God is writing. It gave words to our anguish as well as our hopes. The prayer is honest; we cannot see God’s “divine hand”, and we want to see that there is purpose to it all. It is only when our suffering seems meaningless that our spirits are finally broken. But the prayer goes on. It placed our suffering in the proper setting: God’s “own saving plan, established before the creation of the world”.

When we join our story to God’s . . . then everything begins to make sense. The pain is still real, but it becomes bearable . . we can begin to see beyond the suffering and look towards the widespread mercy that surrounds us.

I often feel waves of fear and anguish wash over me as I travel through this breast cancer journey. They challenge the narratives I hold about life, death and my relationship with God. And they push me to explore the bigger picture, the meta-narrative.

In the final chapter of Knowing God, J.I. Packer speaks at length about the Adequacy of God. He quotes Paul’s challenge in Romans 8  to think of what you know of God through the gospel and apply it. Think against your feelings; argue yourself out of the gloom they have spread; unmask the unbelief they have nourished; take yourself in hand, talk to yourself, make yourself look up from your problems to the God of the gospel; let evangelical thinking replace emotional thinking (p295) . . .

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The big lesson in this is that trusting is not a passive state. It takes a lot of strong self talk and self management.

I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure

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A year ago I would have described myself as a private person. I would have laughed if you suggested that I would soon have breast cancer and be blogging about it.

And yet this blog is not so much about me as about you. Sharing my journey with you gives us a chance to get to know each other better – and that is important to me.

Chapter 3 of J.I Packer’s book Knowing God adds a lot to my understanding of what relationships are like, and especially what a relationship with God can be like. It is headed Knowing and Being Known.

He gives a really useful description of what knowing God involves:

‘Knowing’ God is of necessity going to be more complex than ‘knowing’ another person. Just as knowing my neighbour is a more complex business than ‘knowing’ a house, or a book. . . The more complex the object, the more complex is the knowing of it. . . the position is further complicated by the fact that people keep secrets, and do not show everybody all that is in their hearts.’ (p. 36-37)

And so the quality and extent of our knowledge of other people depends more on them than on us – how much they want to be known.

Packer asks us to imagine what it might be like to be introduced to someone we considered to be ‘above us’ – whether in rank, or intellect, or personal qualities. The more conscious we are of our own inferiority, the more we will feel that our role is simply to respond respectfully and let them take the initiative in all interactions. He continues:

‘But if instead he starts at once to take us into his confidence, and tells us frankly what is in his mind on matters of common concern, and if he goes on to invite us to join him in particular undertakings he has planned, and asks us to make ourselves permanently available for this kind of collaboration whenever he needs us, then we shall feel enormously privileged’  (p.38)

This, as far as it goes, gives an illustration of what it means to ‘know’ God. God honours us by taking the initiative to make himself known to us.

To make it easy for us the bible gives us four pictures that help us understand how we can expect to relate to God

as a son to a father; a wife to a husband; a subject to his king and a sheep to its shepherd.

I find this really helpful. In the most recent part of my journey I have been like a bleating sheep who needed to be looked after and led. At other times a different metaphor would be more relevant.

The wonderful thing is that, according to biblical values, each pictures tells of a God who loves and cares for us.

Thank you so much for joining me on this on-line conversation. Whether you comment or not I value your presence. My journey through cancer is moving forward all the time. I can see us in the months ahead looking back at the highs and lows, remembering the pictures, the stories, the music, the pain and the joy behind them all.  We have so much more to talk about and to explore – and I look forward to doing that together 🙂

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. . . all the time.

Can you believe it?

How ironic that this should be my scheduled blog, part 2 of the apprentice series, after yesterday’s news.

Some events shake you at your core. Your whole body responds – physically, emotionally and intellectually. As you try to make sense of the mess that is life, you refer to the narrative you hold about God and suffering.

James Bryan Smith wrote the chapter God is Good from the heart. His second child, Madeline, was born with severe chromosomal abnormalities. Doctors told him and his wife that she would not survive birth, yet she lived for two years. Through these years they explored their own narrative about God and suffering. And they suffered on the receiving end of comments from well-meaning friends who spoke from the belief that Madeline’s deformity was in some way a punishment. People can have a strong need to be in control – to have a set of cause-and-effect rules that explain everything.

Christians and non christians commonly hold to the narrative that

God is an angry judge. If you do well, you will be blessed; if you sin, you will be punished

I hear it all the time from people around me.  And this was the dominant narrative about God held by the people Jesus associated with. You can hear the ‘punishing God’ belief behind the question when Jesus was asked to explain two horrific events – one caused by human wickedness and the other a natural disaster. Jesus answered:

Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.

Jesus unequivocally rejects any link between suffering and personal sin. And then he uses the opportunity to warn that there is a bigger issue at stake, a fate worse than death. What a challenge to pay close attention and lift our thoughts beyond immediate issues.

Elsewhere Jesus shows that God treats all people the same

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous

You do not get what you deserve – and you get what you do not deserve. Wonderful things happen to evil people and dreadful things happen to wonderful people.

So what narrative does Jesus teach us about God?

Jesus boldly proclaims that his heavenly Father is good – good like no other. God is the benchmark for what is GOOD. The dictionary defines this as possessing or displaying moral virtue. For there to be a benchmark for what is good, there must also be a benchmark for what is evil – we can explore that later.

God reaches out to show us his goodness. He takes the initiative in making himself known to us.

And in the end it is the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience . . that lead us to him.

If you believe God is an angry judge, then you are likely to respond to him by being angry when things do not work out as you think they should. Our experience of disappointment with God says more about us and our expectations than it does about God.

James Bryan Smith’s experience, and my own, challenge me to check out the narrative I hold about God to see if it is consistent with the God Jesus revealed.

Check out your narrative of God . . . and share some thoughts or experiences with us. Is God GOOD – all the time?

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