A Beautiful Rhythm of Life - Running Free
It is such a privilege to continue the series; A Beautiful Rhythm Of Life. In this series of learning about some of the false narratives, the lies about ourselves that we find ourselves believing and behaving, we are discovering the beautiful rhythm of life that Jesus can teach us and are seeking to deconstruct these false narratives that set limits on us.
We often have many false narratives around our faith. We often think of faith as being a positive confession - if I believe it enough, that good thing will happen or that bad thing won't happen. We tell ourselves that the outcomes of our faith is dependent on our behaviour... If I am good then my faith will be rewarded, but if I have doubt or don't behave well, then God won't listen to my requests. Or we tell ourselves that we will be rewarded for self sacrifice and effort on our part. But when we feel unable to control or influence outcomes, we are struck by fears formed by previous experiences and narratives and use these well trodden and familiar thinking patterns to inform us how to proceed and we wrongly identify this as faith.
All these narratives have one assumption. I am the author of my faith and I am the one who determines the course of my life. What we really need to understand is that true faith is determined by Jesus and is authored and perfected by Him. He has a purposeful plan for our lives and when we come into a full understanding of this, we can be free to run, knowing He has all that concerns us. We begin to see that all the joys, pains and longings are a part of our race and so learn to keep running as our faith in Jesus carries us onwards.
Hebrews 12 vs1-3 'Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.'
I wonder how many of you have described your life as a carousel. One minute up with all going well, the next, down struggling to deal with the latest challenge life has just thrown at you and round and round it goes. You don't really feel you are going anywhere fast and life seems to repeat familiar cycles. Endless cycles of our everyday lives that peak and plummet alongside all the usual routines of family, activity, eating and sleeping and in the midst of all that, having 'lost heart and weary', we wonder when we will be able to step off and out into the free terrain of real living, I know I have lived much of my life like that. I recognise the rhythm and swing of self sufficiency and fear.
In the West, many of us are so blessed to be able to achieve many things for ourselves. We can work hard, get qualifications, training, jobs, buy food, find homes, build families, get medical treatment, gather possessions, clothe ourselves, take time out for friendship and hobbies and much more. These are our peaks aren't they? We feel joy and contentment.
We build little Kingdoms for ourselves and much of our identity is placed in these things. After all, we are entitled aren't we? We happily accept that we should live our lives like those in our culture. I perform well, I get rewarded. We can become very proud with all that we have achieved and fiercely protect our lot, believing we have entitlement to all we have.
But we should be mindful to heed Romans warning in ch. 12 vs 3
'For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the FAITH God has distributed to each of you.'
If we begin to place our trust in our own ability to control our lives and to have influence over others, we have stepped out of faith, displaced God and established ourselves as rulers of our own lives. We begin to live by a false narrative that says: 'I am a good person and work hard therefore life will go well for me and my family.' But what happens when we can no longer influence or control the outcomes?
When we plummet into those fearful places, we grab onto the only thing we have left to steady us: the pole on the wooden horse in front of us that we have always grabbed hold of, our faith. But is this faith? Something we only take hold of in those circumstances where we feel unable to control the outcomes? I believe the faith Jesus spoke of was more than that and something to enhance and free us.
When I was 17, I went on a mission trip to Bulgaria. We were doing drama performances on the street and saw 50-200 people give their lives to Jesus each day. I remember feeling excited, maybe even 'proud' to be a part of it, as I was one of the lead roles. One evening myself and two Dutch young people, Pien a 16yr old and Alex an 18yr old, took a walk from our campsite. We wandered through random streets and eventually came across a road with a barrier across it.
There was clearly a no entry sign on the post. We discussed what the sign might mean and decided it was meant just for vehicles as it looked like there was an open park beyond it and we were drawn to the beautiful display of stars we could see in the night sky. As we came over the brow of a hill, we stopped dead in our tracks. Before us stood a Bulgarian Soldier with a rifle aimed right at us. I knew we were in danger.
He started yelling at us in Bulgarian and forced us around. He steered us by using his rifle end as a herding stick and prodding us in the back. Suddenly a building came in to view and we could see about 30 soldiers knocking back sprits from glasses. I was terrified. As we were pushed into the room and the reeling drunk soldiers all stared at us, we each reacted in 'faith' differently. Some of the men started to look us girls up and down and started to tousle our hair, stroke our skin and pull at our clothing. They were menacing and looking for agreement.
Alex, brushed their hands always, even put a hand to one man's chest and insisted he step back from us. Pien's response was to be rooted to the spot and silent. I did only what I could think to do and prayed in tongues. Alex was so calm, addressed the senior officer and tried to explain how we had come to be there.
Finally the officer threw his head back, laughed and yelled at us to go, pointing in the direction of the barrier we had come through. Pien was off and running, shortly followed by me. Alex followed behind us, eventually catching us up on a street bench.
When I asked he’d been scared, he said: 'I didn't know if God had a plan to rescue us or not, but I knew if I was to die tonight, I would die doing what I knew He was asking of me - to protect and defend the two of you.' I realised, despite my tongues, my faith was a desperate clutching to convince God to intervene. Pien was frozen by fear. But Alex's faith said: whatever befalls, I serve Jesus.
Reflecting on that experience, I know we were saved by God that day, but also that Alex's words were an echo of the faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who, when faced with an inferno by refusing to bow the knee and worship a golden statue, said in Daniel 3vs 16-18
“We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if He does not, we want you to know, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Do we have a faith that says whatever befalls us, we will trust God in the outcomes...? Or in that place when something goes wrong do we start with false narratives like: 'What did I do wrong? Why am I being punished? I/they don't deserve this.'
How do we really respond when someone gets a life threatening illness, lose our jobs, our money dries up, our children mess up, self harm or get bullied, our marriage or friendships take a hit and our relationships are severed, or the gifting that made a way for us no longer works and someone else more gifted or qualified is placed in front of us, but it also seems everyone we come into contact with, is facing their own battles to maintain their portion. In those places of pain and uncertainty, in reality it is often fear that stalks our thinking. We often cry out to God and ask Him to intervene and sometimes we feel let down by Him.
How could He allow this to happen to us?
Or the sacrifices we've made to serve and follow Him?
But the truth is, the fact that we draw breath today, is because of His grace and mercy that allows us to continue to breathe and live. God is Sovereign over all.
Romans 11vs 35&36 teaches us: 'Who has ever given to God that He should repay him? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.'
So if any of us have achieved anything, we should be full of thankfulness that He enabled us to succeed, accumulate and build with all that we have been graced with. His grace makes it possible; none of it is earned or deserved.
The beautiful rhythm of faith in Jesus, is a free running horse that sometimes gallops, hurdles, but always sure footedly treads its path ahead whether over, under, around or through the obstacles before it. This free running steed has strength to lift us and our burdens. It can see the paths ahead and we live by its guidance.
I am told a horse will only step onto ground that is firm. Horses will walk windy cliff top paths and precipices as long as the path is wide enough and firm enough to take their steps and they do this happily carrying their mount and burdens. Our faith should be like this - riding a horse that knows the ways of solid ground and leads us through the ups and downs of life.
2 Corinthians 4 vs 17-18
We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Recently, someone who I had never met before said: 'When I look at you, I see someone who has learnt the ability to sing in a prison cell like the apostle Paul. He was referencing the account from Acts 16 when Paul and Silas are flogged and thrown into prison under false accusation for being rebels. Having been flogged and imprisoned, they responded in singing and the doors flew open and chains fell off.
Their response was prayer and worship. Their rhythm of faith opened doors for them. Looking on my own life, divorced, slandered, robbed, made homeless, penniless, isolated, abandoned, intimidated and mistreated... I didn't often respond in prayer and singing, but I did cry out in fear for God to help me.
I was raised in a secure Christian home, had a good education and was a 'good person', so how could these things happen in my life? In the story of Job we are told of a righteous man who had everything and yet God allows him to be tested. We often question whether God IS good if He would agree to allowing Satan to strip Job of everything. But I am fascinated by Job's own confession:
Job 3 vs 25 'What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.'
Could it be that God loved Job so much, he wanted him to live without fear? Maybe Job found a rhythm of faith more beautiful and complete? You see I had been fearful that my marriage might end badly, that I might not be able to pay my bills, lose my home, and lose the job I loved and that I might fall victim to someone else's hatred. All this happened and miraculously I survived, though not unscathed. This journey I've been on has been teaching me that I need Jesus all of the time and that I can trust Him with all of my life. In learning to sing in prison, we let Him open the doors for us.
8 yrs ago, my Dad, who had been a surgeon, missionary in Congo and an inspiring evangelist was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. This was a big blow to our family. We all knew that this disease had been his biggest fear. We spent many prayers requesting he be healed. One day, I asked God what He wanted to do. He very clearly said He wanted to take Dad home. I prayed towards that end and we said a beautiful goodbye. When he died, I felt peace despite the grief and pain. When I went into his office , the morning after his death, I found his bible open at his desk. It was open at Hebrews 12.
You see, despite all my Dad's failing functions, he knew who Jesus was and would often sit with his Bible. I remember going into Ralph's, after his death, and determining, I would sing for the faithfulness of God. It took everything in me to sing, overcoming my grief, and the tears streamed down my face. But in that place I also felt joy because I could see my Dad running free over the golden paths of Heaven. His faith had been perfected.
In Hosea 2vs14, we read: 'I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.'
The word Achor means 'singing'. In that place, where we have lost all, we discover Jesus and that He is all we need. When we truly know this, we always have a reason to sing. I am not saying we all have to lose everything, in order to discover Jesus, but I am saying He loves us so much that He will allow anything to give us opportunity to live full of faith and free of fear. If that means taking us deeper into what we fear most, then He may do it, in order to free us from that fear.
There is a fight going on in the spiritual realm for our souls. We live in the midst of a spiritual war, and sometimes in the battle plan for victory, there has to be some losses. God is looking at a bigger picture than we can see, that stands outside of time, and He knows the best way to get us to our destination.
Jesus is ever present with us and He has promised to finish what He began in us. If we are humble and teachable, He will bring us through. In this position of trust, we learn the rhythms of faith.
Proverbs 3 vs 5-6.
'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.'
Faith in Jesus will guide us and lead us and the seasons around us will change, but Jesus, His goodness, His love for us and His will for us to know Him deeper will remain the same.
Rose Kennedy - mother of President John F Kennedy, "Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments".
Faith is living by the moment of our lives. Involving the Holy Spirit and inviting his promptings in all aspects of life. He is doing something right in front of us all the time. Do we want to be a part of it?
How do we cultivate rhythms of Faith?
Joseph Campbell. - Mythologist, writer and lecturer from the 20th century,
"We must be willing to relinquish the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us."
We need to choose to submit and surrender to the fact that God knows best even when we don’t understand it.
Let's be open handed, knowing that if God takes from us, He has something better for us.
We choose to believe His promises. He will never leave us, nor forsake us. We get into His word, meditate on it and grow muscle memory in the things of God. What we focus on, we will empower in our lives.
Let’s see every hardship as an opportunity for God to grow us. Who knows what miracles He may do? He has promised to perfect our faith.
Let's keep persevering in faith, knowing He is accomplishing something great.
We keep our identity constantly in Jesus and not our accomplishments, circumstances or relationships.
Let's seek intimacy with Jesus. Know Him and His ways.
We need to learn to be thankful in all circumstances, because we can trust Him with all that we are, do, cherish and own.
We can rest in Psalm 16 where King David writes, not out of a desperate plea for help, even though he is being exiled and hunted down by Saul, but out of a recognition that it is God who watches over him and oversees all that concerns him.
'Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”...
Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
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,
Because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.'