Lent reflections 2021

Lent reflections 2021

Easter Morning- Christ is Risen He is Risen indeed!

We think of the women going to the tomb early in the morning, carrying perfumed spices to anoint the body of Jesus. Their hearts were heavy, and their eyes tired from crying and grief.  And when they got there, nothing made sense, for the stone to the tomb had been rolled away, and it was empty. They were bewildered and grief-stricken. What was happening?

And then angels spoke to them ‘ why are you looking among the dead, for someone who is alive? He isn’t here. He has Risen. Luke 24:5-6.
The women were amazed, and rushed to tell the others, the first witnesses to the resurrection.

After a year of pandemic, we are weary, we have been scared, we have been frustrated and sorrowful. We all have different stories to tell. But the Easter message reminds us that after the worst thing that can happen to us, the darkest day, that there are still possibilities for healing, new beginnings, new energy, new life.
And so we need to pray the resurrection of Jesus Christ, helps us receive the life giving power and love of God in our lives, so we can go forward with hope in our hearts. May we trust our Risen Lord and rejoice.

Let us pray, Risen Lord Jesus, you appeared to the women, the disciples and hundreds of others, to demonstrate the power and love of God. We thank you that grief-stricken, weary, desolate people were given hope, and as they came to a deeper belief in You, You transformed their lives, so that they were filled with love and amazement, thankfulness and rejoicing. Holy spirit, whatever our story, touch our hearts and lives, and bring new life and love, joy and vision, so we can go out and share the good news with all, Amen.
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Holy Saturday- the ‘waiting and questioning’ day.

 

‘ …..the sabbath had begun, so they rested as required by the law.’ Luke 23:56

 

The unbelievable had happened- Jesus had died on the cross. The women had seen from a distance. It was such a shock- it had seemed as if he would have gone on forever. How could this have happened? Why did God allow it?
We can identify with the women and the disciples. It all seemed too much to bear- the words of Pontius Pilate, the hostility of the crowd, Jesus face in the midst of the crown of thorns, the brutality of the nails on the cross. How could humanity have treated the King of love in such a way?
Holy Saturday is an ‘in between’ day, a day of questioning and deep reflection. A day of noticing grief and loss, and trying to process what it means. Why is there such greed and cruelty in the world? Why is there such trouble? Why do the innocent have to suffer?
In these days of pandemic, we relate to holy Saturday. We understand that viruses evolve, that we are not treating our planet well, that everything is under strain. We understand that we have free will, and that we make poor choices. But we grieve the suffering of so many- the orphaned child in a refugee camp in Syria, the girl who has been human trafficked from one side of the world to the other, the family without enough to eat in Glasgow.
What we do know, is that Jesus understands our pain, because he has suffered too. He knows what alienation and woundedness and sorrow looks like. The cross is about showing love, even to those who hate you, about speaking words of forgiveness to people who want vengeance, about showing grace and mercy. There are so many things we don’t understand in life, so much pain, but Jesus, as Man of sorrows, hears our cries.

Let us pray, Father God we confess that there are many times when we don’t have the answers, and we just have to sit with our pain and confusion. We cry out to you Lord Jesus and sometimes you are hidden from our sight, but you still call us to trust, and Your love never leaves us. Holy spirit, even in days of uncertainty, may the beauty of a flower, the prayer of a loved one, the thoughtfulness of a friend, remind us of your mercy towards us, and may we find peace even in the middle of the pain, Amen.
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Good Friday reflection- a day of tears.

‘Father I entrust my spirit into your hands’ and with those words He breathed his last.  Luke 23: 46

Jesus had been arrested and taken to the house of the high priest. He had appeared before Pilate. They shouted accusations at him, he was convicted and sentenced to death on a cross. He was mocked and beaten by the soldiers- they even put a royal robe on him, and asked how could he be a king. And the crowd shouted ‘crucify’.
It breaks your heart. Jesus had not done anything wrong- he had healed the sick and fed the hungry, and had meals with sinners. He had taught about the kingdom of God, of love and justice and peace.

But the response of humanity was ‘crucify’.
Jesus would have been justified to be hurt, angry, resentful, but he was silent, like a lamb sent to be slaughtered. Even when he was nailed to a cross, in physical and spiritual agony, he talked of forgiveness, of paradise, a calm trust that he was in His Father’s hands. His mum Mary, and the others were in deep sorrow, and they wept.

Let us pray, Lord Jesus along with those gathered round the cross, we weep at the barbarism and cruelty of human kind, to treat the Son of God with such intentional hatred and savagery. Our tears of sorrow express a torrent of pain. The cross symbolises the worst of humanity, and the forgiving grace and love of God, that overcomes all things. And we have learned nothing, for your people are still martyred, whether in a Chinese prison, a shopping container in Eritrea, or a raid on a school in Nigeria. Lord God, have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Holy spirit of God, have mercy on us. Amen.
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Maundy Thursday – Holy week reflection.

 

‘Your will be done’ Luke 22: 42 Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.

 

Traditionally on the Thursday of holy week, we think of that sacred meal that Jesus shared with his disciples, and we will indeed think more about this at our zoom lunchtime service.
After this time of poignant fellowship around the table, Jesus goes into the garden of Gethsemane, away from noise and conversation, into the peaceful stillness of the garden in the evening of the day. There, he can be with his heavenly Father, and pray. He asks that God take this cup of suffering from him, yet His will not Jesus’ will be done.
The Garden prayer reminds us of Jesus’ humanity, that part of him was maybe afraid of what was about to happen, of the unknown, of being separated from His heavenly Father whilst hanging on that cross. There was a struggle going on inside him. And at this time, he asked the three disciples to watch and pray with him. And they kept falling asleep. And Jesus was so stressed, that his sweat was bloody. And an angel strengthened him.

Gethsemane is so raw, with Jesus expressing such anguish of soul, facing again the temptations he had faced in the desert. Was there not another way it could happen?
The vulnerability of Jesus is so moving, yet he also continued to trust in His heavenly Father, and said Your will be done. His love for humanity outweighed his own desires. His path to the cross is destined, as the soldiers arrive to arrest him.
We often struggle in the darkness, and with the darkness. We struggle with doubts, with heartbreak, with resolve. It can all seem too much, and there are many tears. But God in His mercy sends holy angels to minister to us, and to strengthen us for our purpose. What a faithful and wonderful God.

Let us pray, Eternal Father, You watched the agony of Jesus, as he submitted his will to your will. You saw his struggles, and you sent an angel to minister to him. Lord Jesus, thankyou that in your mercy, you see our struggles, our striving to do the right thing, even when it is costly and sacrificial. Holy spirit strengthen us we pray, to put our limited understand of what is best to one side, and to seek to do Your will. Grant us pure hearts, and a greater trust, so that Your love might be seen in our lives, Amen.
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Holy week reflection Wednesday 31st March- ” motivated by love.’

‘ as the time drew near for him to ascend in heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.’ Luke 9: 51

There is every indication that Jesus knew that he was going to die. However Jesus also trusted His Father’s plan, and he knew that through his death, the perfect lamb sacrificed for the sins of the world, that forgiveness would flow for all who wanted to receive it, and so he set out resolutely.
Jesus is such an incredible example. His heart’s desire was to fulfil His purpose, and to demonstrate the true meaning of love, in this act of self giving love. In this pandemic, we are privileged to see so many people following this pattern, giving their lives to care for others, even though the cost has been great.

I remember some words from the prophet Isaiah in chapter 50: 7
‘ Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore I have set my face like flint, determined to do His will.’

Jesus faced misunderstanding, hostility, pain, betrayal, but he still found the strength within to fulfil His Father’s plan, and to reveal His love to the world. When the world seems a tough place to be, and we are disheartened, may we be motivated by love, and have courage to follow Jesus’ example.

Let us pray, Gracious God, when You saw our rebellious hearts, You sent Jesus into this world to give up His life for us, so we can receive grace and forgiveness. He set His face like flint, motivated by love, to endure all things. We think of the courage of Christians enduring all things in prison in China and North Korea, those working in refugee camps in Syria, those protesting bravely in Myanmar. Protect them and give them resolute hearts. And in our lives, holy spirit help us to keep our eyes fixed on our Saviour and Lord, and to do everything motivated by love. Grant us courage every day, as we walk with You, Amen.
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Holy week reflection- Tuesday 30th March- a house of prayer.

‘ my Temple will be a house of prayer, but you have turned it into a den of robbers.’
Luke 20: 46.

During holy week, Jesus entered the temple, a place of holy prayer and worship. However what he saw round about angered him, because people were exchanging money to make profit for themselves, rather than to support the worshippers, and so Jesus described it as a den of robbers.
People perceive churches differently these days. In the past they were seen as places of sanctuary and meeting with God. Today many people see them as the old musty building at the corner of the street and wonder what they are for. In history, Christians have often been compromised by politics or self interest or greed.
Today we pray for a cleansing of God’s Church. The photo here is of our church on Sunday, where people wrote prayers on crosses, and Louise, painstakingly and in the rain, and in a covid 19 compliant way, put them on the railings. It symbolises that we want to remind the community, that we still want to be a house of prayer, to pray for all to know the beautiful and strong love of Jesus Christ.

May we pray Gracious God, Your house is to be a house of prayer . Forgive us for all the times your name has been hijacked for selfish gain or political power, or for status or greed, when we have lacked love. Lord Jesus, Forgive us for all the damage we have done. Cleanse us we pray, so that your church would always be a house of prayer, where people know they are welcome, and can find meaning, challenge, comfort and peace. Holy spirit, work in our midst, so that our relationship of love and grace with You can be strengthened, In Jesus precious name, Amen.
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Holy week – Monday 29th March.

” A sacred perfume” Mark 14: 1-9.

In the final week of his life around Jerusalem, Jesus had a meal in Bethany, with Simon who used to have leprosy. It seems that there was a community of believers that Jesus used to visit in that place. People were divided as to how to respond to Jesus’ message of love and truth and grace. Some people were threatened by Jesus’ words, and were planning to try to arrest him. Others just wanted to give him a place of rest and sanctuary.
In this house where Jesus was eating with his friends, a woman came with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, and she broke the jar, and poured the perfume over his head. The whole house would have been full of this fragrance. Some people protested that this was a waste of money, but Jesus said that the did what she could, and that her story would be told wherever the gospel is preached. For the woman had annointed Jesus in preparation for his burial.
I have often wondered if the perfume from this oil stayed with Jesus through the week, and if there was still something of the aroma of this annointing with him on the cross, reminding him of his purpose, and of how much he was loved. The power of a scent to comfort and inspire is well known. Perhaps the beauty of this perfume gave Jesus courage in the week of his death.  May we too, share with others, the things that inspire them and give them joy.

Let us pray – Eternal Father, this is such a touching story of sacrificial love, and the empathy of this woman, who understood Jesus’ fate, and wanted to honour Him. Such a pure and generous and selfless act. Lord Jesus, may we seek to honour You this day, by giving You something that is costly to us, and which conveys our desire to love You more. Holy spirit, grant us pure hearts, and the desire to spread the fragrance of Christ wherever we go, Amen.
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Sunday 28th March ” Hosanna in the highest.”

 

” rejoice, O people of Zion, Shout in triumph, o people of Jerusalem! Look your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey, a donkey’s colt.”   Zechariah 9:9 NLT

 

We can picture the crowds on that Palm Sunday, many in Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Some had heard of a young Rabbi, who taught wisely, who performed miracles, who spoke out against hypocrisy and corruption. They knew he was going to be entering the city, and they wanted to come and see for themselves. Some had heard that he might be more than a teacher, even the Messiah, the Anointed One.
And when they saw him, they waved palm leaves in the air, they shouted ” Hosanna” and they believed that they were witnessing something momentous, something amazing, and they were moved by it all. This could well have been a King before them.
And yet there was also a sense of foreboding. How would those in authority, amongst the religious rulers and the political overlords, receive this man? How could the claims that were being made about Jesus, be voiced in the midst of such volatile and unpredictable crowds, without some form of retribution. There was much to ponder.

Let us pray, Gracious God, we are so thankful that You sent Your precious Son Jesus Christ into this world, to proclaim your truth, to teach and to love, to seek out the lost. We are with the crowds, singing your praises, calling out Hosanna. Yet we know that in just a few days, that was all about to change, the mood was going to become so different. And we know Lord Jesus, when we look into our own hearts, that we let You down so often, by our indifference, our selfishness and thoughtlessness. Please forgive us. Holy spirit, help us to ponder deeply this week, on all that You have done for us, and to choose to love You more deeply, and to follow You wherever that path might lead. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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Saturday 27th March – Jesus prays for us.

 

” I am praying not only for these disciples, but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.” John 17: 20

 

If you are looking for something totally inspirational – please read John chapter 17, where Jesus lets his disciples overhear his prayer to God. You catch a glimpse into the relationship of the trinity – Father, Son and Holy spirit, and their desire to glorify and love and work in harmony. It is an incredible insight into the divine!
Jesus talks of his work on earth being to bring glory to God, and to reveal the truth of God to the ones he has been given. Jesus asks that as he prepares to leave the world, that His father would protect his followers through the power of His name. They are equipped with the word of God, and with His holy spirit to go out and share the message of God’s love with others. And then Jesus prays for all who will believe through Him, and that includes us, for the circle of Christian believers extends through time and space. Jesus prays that we will be one, that we live in such perfect unity, that the whole world will come to believe in God. Such a powerful vision, and one that we need to go back to again and again.

Let us pray, Gracious Father, as we hear the words of Jesus’ prayer we are in awe of that vision of harmony and love. However we are broken, because we know that we have not always lived in unity with our brothers and sisters – we have been resentful and hard hearted and judgemental, and so we have hurt You Lord Jesus. Please forgive us, cleanse us, and may we truly work for greater unity amongst your people, so that world may know the truth of Your message.
Lord we are so often out of step with you – we have a critical spirit towards others, and are quick to speak. Lord Jesus, thank you that You give us a different, purer vision of what Your church is meant to be. Forgive us for the hurt and pain we have caused to others. Lord Jesus, thank you for never giving up on us, thank you for your prayers. We humble ourselves before You, and ask that through the power of Your holy spirit, that You would help us to live out your love each day, in such a way that many will want to know and love you for themselves, In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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Friday 26th March – “Live in love”.

When Jesus was talking with his disciples, and teaching them, he said:” I have loved you as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.”
John 15: 9 NLT

As we have seen, Jesus knew that he was about to give up His life. And so he spent time with his disciples and friends, trying to share with them all the teaching and spiritual resources that would equip them for the days to come.
Jesus says that he has loved the disciples as the father has loved Him. What a statement. When we think of the Father loving, cherishing, guiding, strengthening, inspiring Jesus, so Jesus lived out that way of Being with the disciples. He taught them about God, about wisdom and truth, he equipped them to do miracles in His name, and to share the good news that he was the Saviour of the world. He said that He was the vine, and they were the branches, and to remain rooted in Him.
In today’s world, we often feel a bit blown about by different fashions and circumstances. In the midst of these pressures, Jesus calls us to remain connected to Him, to live in His love. We are to know that if we let ourselves be loved by Jesus, and then share that love with others, all will be well. May we dwell in that love every day.

Let us pray. “Lord Jesus, in Your life, we see and feel the Love of Your heavenly father, and we are moved to tears, for Your love was willing to give up even your life for us on the cross. Father God, teach us not to hide from Your love, or to become numb to it’s power and beauty. Holy spirit, please bring to life our understanding of what it means to live a life where we are loved by You, so that we can bear fruit for You, Amen.
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Thursday 25th March Take heart – God’s strength in us.

” Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16: 32 (NLT)

Jesus is conscious that he is going to be with His heavenly father, and he wants to equip his disciples. He reminds them that he is the true vine, and that they are to abide in Him. He says that there will be times when the world hates them, but that he will send the holy spirit as their advocate to testify to his truth. He knows that his disciples and friends will grieve, because he will not be physically there, but that He will see them again one day, and that there will be much joy.
We understand this rhythm of life so much in these days, for we have experienced so many losses in the last year – the loss of our pattern of living, the loss of what is familiar, the loss of the ability to see loved ones, the loss of our identity, the loss of loved ones. Grief and sadness and fear have been part of our daily lives.
Yet Jesus reminds us, that he has to leave this world, in order to be with His heavenly Father. There has to be a letting go, to make space for something new. He has to be obedient, to die on that cross, and to rise again, to bring the offer of forgiveness to all, and to open up the way to everlasting life. Although his death is to have a terrible impact on the disciples in the short term, His resurrection changes the lives of hundreds of millions over centuries.
In the midst of our losses and sadness’s, may there be opportunity for healing, and space for God to do something new, something that might bring comfort and life and hope to others. May we be open to the workings of His spirit. As we approach holy week, may we think of the incredible love that God shows to us in Jesus Christ, and may this bring us strength.

Let us pray, Father God we are so grateful for your love, the power of which is revealed on the cross. Lord Jesus, we are so thankful for your attentive and wise preparation for your death, given to your disciples and friends, to give them strength and hope in the midst of bereavement. We thank you too for your holy spirit, who comes to be our Teacher and Guide. We often experiences trouble in this world, but you have overcome the world. we thank you for your resurrection promises, but meantime grant us strength and trust each day we pray, Amen.
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Wednesday 24th March- a loving goodbye.


In the next few days, we are going to consider part of Jesus’ farewell discourses, as outlined in John’s gospel chapters 13-17. Jesus knew that his time was about to come, and he wanted to share with his followers as much of Himself as he could. He washed his disciples’ feet to show them what kind of leader her was, and he called on them to wash each other’s feet. And then he comforts his disciples with these words:

” do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, I would have told you. ” John 14: 1-2

Jesus is wanting to share with his disciples everything that is important, and it is worth reading through these chapters, as they are a love letter to his disciples. He wants them to know that if they place their trust in Him, then there is a place for them in heaven. He wants them to know the power of prayer in His name. and that he will not leave them as orphans, but will send his holy spirit to guide and help them.
I am just blown away by Jesus’ tender and loving provision for the disciples. He wants to reassure them of the life that is to come, to remind them of the intricate communion between Father, Son and Holy spirit, and to encourage them to find peace. He knows that they will not have an easy path, but he leaves His holy spirit, to teach them all things. Alleluia!

Let us pray: Gracious and Eternal God, we are stunned that Jesus, even as he was preparing to leave this world, had such a loving and gracious heart, that He spent His time and energy giving all of Himself to his disciples and followers, to tell them more about You, and to reassure them of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Such a sacrificial and tender love. When we are facing difficulties and disappointments, frustrations and sorrows, remind us of Your promises of Your Father’s house, of the power of trusting in You, and the beauty of Your Holy spirit, our Counsellor and truth sharer. And as we realise anew how much we are loved, grant us your peace, for this day and always. Amen
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Tuesday 23rd March “tears and the first anniversary of lockdown.”

” as Jesus came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep.” Luke 20: 41

As Jesus approached Jerusalem, he wept. He wanted peace for that city and for them to acknowledge Him, but instead he knew that there would be trouble, insurrection, rebellion, with many suffering and dying, when the Jewish people rebelled against the Romans, and the Romans besieged and conquered the city. Jesus wept for the people who would be crushed and killed.
Today is a year after lockdown started, with the covid 19 pandemic. I think Jesus still weeps, as we see the enormous suffering of so many around the world. Today we remember all those who died in the pandemic, those who have been ill in hospital or at home, those who are still unwell, all medical staff and key workers who have worked with tireless compassion to care for the sick and the dying. We know there have been mistakes along the way – many of them costly.
Yet we also give thanks for the researchers who have worked to create the vaccines, for the government when they had to make impossible decisions, for people who have been heroic in keeping others safe, and looking after the vulnerable. So many deeply moving stories of courage and self – sacrifice and love.
Today we take some time to be silent, and to remember.

Let us pray, Gracious God, we think of those in our own congregation and wider community who have had covid 19, and those who have died from it. We remember them, and all those who grieve the loss of a loved one, in any circumstance. May they know that You, Lord Jesus Christ, understand their pain, and weep with them. We think too of those separated from their loved ones for many months, those who have lost their jobs, those who are burnt out after working long hours in traumatic circumstances.
Holy spirit, please breath your life into us again. As a world, may we share the vaccine with all those who need it most. Give us generous hearts. May there be medical facilities for those who are sick and frightened. For the UK, help us to find the balance between keeping people safe, and getting people back to education and work. For us as individuals, let us take time to reflect on all that has happened, and to pause. May we pray for all who are struggling with difficult memories this day, and we ask for you to bring your healing touch to each one. And may we give thanks that we are alive, and resolve to dedicate our lives to love and support others, as we seek a new way forward, Amen.
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Monday 22nd March. God’s care – even when we can’t see it.

” I took care of you in the wilderness, in that dry and thirsty land.”  Hosea 13: 5

One of the really frustrating things about life, is that there are times when it is hard to feel God’s closeness. It could be a time of questioning or disappointment or grief, when life seems overwhelming, and God just seems far away. Everything can seem grey.
Yet even in the midst of our dark night’s of the soul, when we feel isolated and very small, God stoops down to be with us, and surround us with His love. It might only be in retrospect – later on – when we see how His hand was at work – in unexpected ways, and then things are clearer. At the time however, it can be painful and even harrowing.
We are so blessed however, for we have a God who cares for us in every circumstance.

Let us pray
– Gracious Father, we go through times when our fears seem greater than our faith, when there are dark shadows on our path. We can feel scared and disorientated. However Lord Jesus You are there, and Your hand is at work, to protect and to guide. Shelter us from darkness in our souls, and in the night, cleanse us, and despite our doubts, remind us of the reality of your presence. Holy spirit, speak to us we pray, and grant us your living water to sustain us, Amen.
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Sunday 21st March. “ministering angels”.

Michael Mitton wrote a book ” wild beasts and angels” about Jesus’s time in the desert, and about the healing ministry. It is a fascinating read, and there are some inspiring insights.
He talks of the wild beast that threaten, but that in the company of Jesus, they are at peace. And he speculates about how the angels ministered to Jesus in the desert and he says:   “my guess is that they were reminding him of the words that Jesus has so recently heard from his heavenly Father “you are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” It was this knowledge that he was loved by the Father that gave Jesus the inner security to acknowledge and face the wild beasts of his humanity.” p25

We remember the words of Hebrews 4: 15 ” For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin”.

In the desert, Jesus faced wild beasts – maybe symbolising chaos, darkness, greed, and he overcame them. And the angels strengthened His soul, and ministered to Him with the words of the Father, and Jesus even in the midst of temptation, was obedient to His heavenly father. May we also find this strength.

Let us pray – Eternal Father, we face seasons in our lives when we especially face temptation, to cut corners, to follow our own selfish desires, to compromise with the world. Lord Jesus, thank you that you understand the temptations that we face. Please silence the wild beasts in our lives, and may your angels minister to us, of your love and truth, that we are cherished in Your sight, and that You have a good purpose for us. Holy spirit encourage and strengthen us this day, to resist temptation, and to do your will, Amen.
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Saturday 20th March. ” wild beasts and angels.”

When it talks of Jesus’s time in the desert in Mark’s gospel in chapter 1 verse 13 it says of Jesus ” he was out amongst the wild animals, and angels took care of him.”

What an amazing image this is – one worthy of some consideration. Wild animals might include hyenas or wolves, gazelles, wild goats, bats, frogs, hedgehogs! They all seem to live in the desert. Some of them are strong and look quite fierce. Others look cuter.
Jesus in the midst of his struggles, was not by himself. He had wild animals around him – at times maybe that was reassuring – maybe at other times less so – the cry of a hyena at night is not known to console people!
He also had God’s angels ministering to him. Angels are present with Jesus around his birth and resurrection, but also in the desert, and in the garden of Gethsemane – sent by God to be a reminder of His presence and strength and light. And God still sends his angels to us today, to guide and strengthen and bless.
Even in our dark days, and days of struggle, God is merciful, and we are thankful.

Let us pray,
Lord Jesus in this time of lent, we feel as if we are with you in the desert, hot, sandy, thirsty, tired. And as we look round, we are not alone, for there are wild animals and angels. Eternal Father, thank you that You protect us when we are scared in the night, and that You strengthen us by sending Your holy angels. Holy spirit of God, minister to us, and may something change deep within our souls, as realise anew that nothing can separate us from your love, Amen.
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Friday 19th March “changes of pace.”

In these Lent reflections, we have considered a little about Jesus’s time in the desert, wrestling with temptation, and being prepared for ministry. We have thought of the Israelites wandering with Moses in the desert, relaying on manna from heaven. We have looked at the prophecy from Isaiah 35 of streams in the desert, and the hope we can find in the driest of places. And we have recently been considering Hannah Hubard’s book ” Hind’s feet on high places” about the spiritual journey, and the sorrows that can deepen our understanding and experience of love.

Over the weekend, we will think more of the desert, and then next week, start thinking of the events leading up to the cross. Even in the desert, there are changes of pace and rhythm, that can be both challenging and soothing. One minute we are in the heat of the day, and worn out, then we are transformed by the beauty of a flower, or a trickle of water from a spring. May today, be a day of refreshment and new strength.

Let us pray, Gracious and Eternal God, You have granted us the gift of life, and we are grateful every day. On our journey through life, we find different scenery – enormous sand dunes that cause us to slip and slide, and moment of such beauty that they transform our souls, and make us realise how close You are. Lord Jesus, you know what struggling in the desert looks like – help us also to know Your guidance and strength and presence, in every season of our lives. Holy spirit, may we match your pace, and always be led by You, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
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Wednesday 17th March – hidden beauty.

There is a wonderful description in “Much afraid” ‘s journey, of a bit in a valley, where there are wild anemones of every colour “tiny pink or mauve blossoms, each minutely small, yet forming together a beautiful carpet”. Much afraid comments that it seems strange that such flowers grow wild, with such a sweetness to share, yet there is no-one to appreciate them. And the Good Shepherd replies that “nothing my Father and I have created, is ever wasted. They offer themselves so sweetly and confidently and willingly, even if it seems that there is no-one to appreciate them”. And he goes on to say that most of the victories of the human soul, are unknown to any other person – every decision to love when it is painful, or to pray when it is tough, or to forgive, when it seems impossible. Much of what happens in the soul are known only to God, but He sees, and that is enough.
If we are struggling today, may God give us faith, to make the best choice, even though that work is not known to another human. We follow Christ’s teaching, not to impress others, but so His spirit can do a hidden work in our hearts, and make us more like Him.

Let us pray. Gracious God, sometimes our internal struggles are known only to You. Help us to let Your love grow in us, so that You might become greater, and we might become less. Cleanse us of selfishness, so that there is space for your beautiful love and goodness Lord Jesus, to grow within us. Holy spirit, thank you that nothing is ever wasted, and may we find encouragement to follow the ways of Love each and every day, Amen.
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Tuesday 16th March. ” overcoming our worst fears”.

The desert is often a place of mirages – an optical illusion caused by the refraction of light. What seems to be in front of us, all too quickly fades, and it was just a result of the movement of air currents.
In life too there are many illusions and deceptions. Sometimes it is our imagination – what if…………………. Sometimes it is the result of a bad dream or nightmare, where we are plunged into a world of shadow and darkness and fear. In our world today where it seems to be harder and harder to discern the difference between objective reality and perceived reality, it is unsettling and scary.

In our allegorical story of ” Hinds’ feet on high places” some of “much afraid” ‘s relatives come to call, and there is a lovely phrase that they ” gradually bring her to a state of bewilderment and incoherent fear” p25 They are trying to persuade her that they know best, and not to follow the Shepherd. She starts off feeling resolute, but is worn down to fear and shaking.
We too can often start the day full of courage and vision, but a few set backs can discourage us, and leave us a tremulous wreck. And so we need to trust the Shepherd’s voice, even when the times are bewildering, and the way ahead unclear. When we place our hand in His, then our anxieties lessen, and we have courage to continue.

Let us pray, Gracious God, You are our Shelter and Hiding Place. At times we are frightened by the negative thoughts and nightmares within us, and the barrage of information without, which is often overwhelming and frightening. We get paralysed by it all, unable to move. Lord Jesus, teach us to listen for Your voice, and to trust You, even as Peter trusted you in the storm at sea. Holy spirit, help us to overcome our worst fears, and to know that You always speak truth and life to us, and to find reassurance and a safe path, Amen.
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Monday 15th March – a journey of love.

In these days of pandemic restrictions, many people seem to be going for a walk. There are not always a lot of choices in terms of exercise at the moment. People often have earphones in, and are listening to music and podcasts, and it is good to be able to tune in. However as Christians, the great things for us is that we know that we never walk alone, and that Jesus is always with us.
In the book “Hinds’ feet in high places” the character Much Afraid has companions with her on her journey. And at one point the Shepherd says to her about the nature of love:
” To love does mean to put yourself into the power of the loved one, and to become very vulnerable to pain…..” p16
The journey of Much Afraid as she seeks to come closer to God, is a rocky and difficult journey, as she learns more about love, and it is painful. But it is also a journey of love, and that is the greatest thing. Loving often risks pain and sorrow and sadness, but it does not make it any less while.

Let us pray, Eternal Father, Good Shepherd of your sheep, forgive us that we get hurt and dejected, and we sit down at the roadside and lick our wounds. Give us strength to get up, even when we are afraid, and Lord Jesus may we draw strength from your example, to love, even when it is costly. Holy spirit of God, lead us gently on our journey of love, may your angels lift us over the hard places, and help us to find the strength we need, for Your love never fails us, Amen.
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Sunday 14th March – Mothering Sunday.

” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings…..but you wouldn’t let me.” Matthew 24: 37

Jesus wept over Jerusalem, because of the violence and hostility they showed towards the messengers of God. How we weep over the brutality and violence in the world today, the murder of Sarah Everard, of George Floyd, of murdered minorities in Myanmar, of those in the prison camps of China and North Korea. So much cruelty and pain.
Jesus wept, but He also longed to gather His children together, and protect them under the shadow of His wing, like a mother hen, to keep them safe, to give them a place of love and security. God wants to nurture His people, and to hold them and show grace.
On this Mother’s Day, we want to give thanks for our mums, those here and no longer with us, those known and unknown, mothering figures in our lives, who have guided and nurtured us. We also think of those who are hurting, because this is their first year without their mum, or because they have a difficult relationship with their mum, or because they long to be a mum, and its just not working out. Whatever our emotions today, may we know the love and mercy of God, giving us a safe place to be honest about out sadness, and to hope and pray for a world one day without fear and trauma.

Let us pray, Lord today our hearts are sad, remembering the 25th anniversary of the Dunblane shootings yesterday, thinking of gender and racial discrimination and violence. Our hearts ache for a better world. Lord Jesus, You wept over Jerusalem, and over injustice.
On this day when we celebrate and give thanks for mothers and aunts and foster carers and so many others, help us build a society where showing tender love and grace, is not seen as weak, but as strong. Holy spirit, may we advocate for justice, and prioritise healing and support for those who suffer and have nightmares even yet. Bring healing and peace to our society and our world, a revolution of love and light, and start with us. Amen
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Saturday 13th March – yielding to God.

” seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6: 23

 

In wilderness times, it can be easy to be self pitying, to say ” why me” and to get into a really negative mindset, when we are lost and tempted to dwell on all that has been hurtful or gone wrong.
But God calls to us to keep trusting Him, even when we do not understand our path, even when it seems too hard to travel on. In the foreword to Hannah Hubbard’s book Hinds’ Feet on High Places, she says we come closer to God:
” by learning to accept, day by day, the actual conditions and tests permitted by God, by a continual laying down of our own will, and an acceptance of His.”

As we go further through Lent, and closer to Holy week, we think of our Lord laying down his will ” Not my will, but Your will be done” he said at the garden of Gethsemane. And he is our example. This does not mean that God wants us to suffer – far from it, but that He is with us when we are in dark and painful places. May His will be done.

Let us pray – Eternal Father, how we struggle with life, arguing with You when things do not go the way we would like. Help us to trust that You look after us with a Father’s care and compassion, and to continue to trust, even when we do not understand. Lord Jesus, thank you that You obeyed Your Father’s will, a road that took You to the darkness of the cross. Sometimes we are scared to follow, but Holy spirit give us courage to say Your will be done, and to yield our lives to You, and to follow in Your footsteps, For your kingdom’s sake, Amen.
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Friday 12th March ” strength in difficult journeys”.

” The Sovereign Lord is my strength. He makes me as sure footed as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.” Habakkuk 3: 19

Being in the desert is tough – the ground uneven, and the way unclear, but it is amazing how God gives us strength. The concept that God gives the deer strength to keep to the path, to fulfil his/her purpose is so encouraging.
In the next few days, to help us think of the meaning of this journey, I am going to include some of the themes from Hannah Hurnard’s “Hinds feet on high places”. It is an allegorical story of ” Much afraid” who is led to leave her shame and fears and worries, and to come closer to God. It is a story of setbacks and anger and doubt, along with a desire to place her trust more fully in God.
In this time, we are experiencing such a turmoil of emotions – fear and sadness, confusion and anxiety. We know that lockdown is gradually being lifted, but we have forgotten how to live, what to do, how to prioritise and make decisions. May God guide us, and grant us the strength we need to trust Him.

Let us pray, Father God, at times we feel like “Much afraid” where the world can seem a scary and bewildering place, a vale of shadow and tears. Yet Lord Jesus, You call us to trust You, and to make space for Your Holy Spirit to work in our lives, so we can find strength and renewal for the road ahead. Help us to know that You watch over us with Your Holy angels, even in desert places, and to have confidence to take that next step. Amen.
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Thursday 11th March – Lent reflections. An oasis of love.

” As the deer pants for streams of water, so I long for You, o God. ” Psalm 42: 1

Sometimes we are restless and discontent, and we don’t know what we want. Maybe we feel that we need a bit of space, and we yearn for restrictions to be lifted a bit more. Maybe we think ” if only” this was different, or that were different, then things would have worked out better. We go over things again and again in our minds.
In lockdown we have been renovating our houses, improving our gardens, doing digital clean ups, eating comfort food, and often watching too much tv. We try to choose things that are constructive to do with our time, with mixed success!
Yet the thing that most benefits our souls, is just to spend time in the presence of God. In psalm 42, we have this beautiful image of a deer in the desert. Deer have a hard time in the desert, moving higher to find vegetation in the summer months, just to survive. They look so delicate, but they have to be so hardy. And one of their favourite things, is just to find a spring of water in the hot desert sun, and to find hydration and refreshment for their bodies.
For us, may we also be led to springs of life giving water, time to enjoy and celebrate the love of God. It might just be a stopping point in our day, but an oasis of love is just what we need – a time to lower our defences and just to reflect, to relax and talk to God, to ask Him to heal our hurts, and to guide our path, and to give us strength to walk along it. May we remember to stop and spend time with God each day, and to find what we truly need to find peace for our souls.

Let us pray,  Gracious God, we can be frustrated and bewildered, doing many things, but not finding what we seek. Lord Jesus, forgive us that at times we look for fulfilment and meaning in the wrong places. Help us to be like the deer in the desert, finding life and refreshment in Your presence, and to drink deeply at the oasis of Your love. May we find nurture and challenge in Your word, in times of praise, in honest prayer. Holy spirit, we might feel weak, but help us to be revitalised and encouraged by Your abundant love for us this day, Amen
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Wednesday 10th March  – the way of holiness “Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness.” Isaiah 35: 10b

At this time, there seems a real heaviness in the air. Maybe it was the continued deluge of rain yesterday, or just a stream of meetings. We had news yesterday, that some restrictions are gradually being lifted, and that in Scotland, churches will be able to reopen before Easter, and that is great. However I wonder if there are also moments when you realise all that we have been through as a community, and as a world, and that the ongoing ramifications are going to be with us for such a long time.
Isaiah 35 describes the way of holiness in the midst of desert times, that even when we are struggling, that God brings flowers and strength and freedom and refreshment. We are so blessed to be called to walk on this way, and we are called upon repeatedly just to trust and to keep walking.
We live in hope however, as the sorrow and sadness we feel now, will not last forever. God’s presence with His people brings us to a place of healing and grace, that will enable us to notice our wounds, and then to find ways of healing and restoration. It is just a process however, and we are often impatient along the road. We pray for joy to be restored, and perhaps it will be on Easter Sunday, that we might begin to feel more of that once more.

Let us pray, Eternal God, what complex emotions are around just now, deep sorrow and pain at all the losses of the last year, and in the distance just a glimmer of hope, just a touch of colour. Lord Jesus thank you that you know how it feels to be in the desert, where we go through times of fear and weakness and questioning. Lord, we long for healing, for safety, for peace. Holy spirit continue to bring us to greater freedom, form us more into the likeness of Christ, to be more full of your love and light and goodness this day, and to remind us that there can be joy and gladness once again. Amen.
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Tuesday 9th March – Lent reflection – freedom in the desert.

Isaiah 35: 6 ” the lame will leap like a deer, and those who cannot speak, will sing for joy.”

When listening to people, many say that lockdown feels a bit like being in prison – with little freedom to see family, to go out for the day, or to visit a loved one in hospital. We know that we need to do this to keep infection rates down, but it also has enormous consequences for our emotional health. We have to be so self disciplined, for such a very long time.
At the moment, it feels like we need to dig deep. I guess that is what happens, because being in the desert is seldom for a short time – rather 40 days, or 40 years. And there are times when things seem very bleak and without hope, when you feel that you are making no progress.

A verse that has always helped me is from 2 Corinthians 3:17 ” where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” While our outward physical situation is significant, the state of our souls is also. The holy spirit helps us to break our of emotional chains from the past, from despair in the present, and helps us to notice the freedom we have, to be loved by God, and to learn to love others. That journey alone, takes a life time, but when guided by the spirit is one of the most rewarding and beautiful journeys ever. It is a journey that sets us free, and makes our souls sing. Even in the challenging days of lockdown, Jesus brings us freedom and grace.

Let us pray, Eternal God, at times we feel oppressed by the strident voices of the media, and by our own wrestlings in our hearts. We are burdened by mistakes of the past, by the limitations of the present. Lord Jesus, remind us of the forgiveness that You offer us, so we are not stuck, and can find cleansing and freedom to move forward. Holy Spirit, reveal to us the freedom we have with You, so we can sing our love song to You and be guided for the path ahead, Amen.
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Monday 8th March – exhaustion and weariness.

Lockdown blues are a real thing. Without a break, and with limited physical things to do within a 5 mile radius, people are struggling in so many different ways. There is a heaviness in the air.
In Isaiah 35, there is a vision of the desert being filled with flowers one day, but at times people are still walking in the heat of the sun, with unrelenting exhaustion and fatigue. Sometimes you keep taking the steps, but you don’t notice the difference. In the spiritual life we can become disorientated and wonder if it’s all worthwhile.

In verse 3 the passage says:
” Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way,
Say to those with fearful hearts,
Be strong, and do not fear.”

On days when our journey seems tough, and there seems to be no betterment in sight, we keep putting one foot in front of another, we maybe borrow the Shepherd’s staff, just to get that extra support that we need. We keep going even when the way seems dark or unclear, and we follow our inner God given compass to find our route.
Today, even if we are weary, may we keep going forward – even just a single step, and trusting that we will continue to be led.

Let us pray, sometimes it is a weary journey, and we are exhausted. Lord Jesus, show us when to rest with You, at the spring of clear water. Show us when even just one more step, is enough for the day, and then we need to eat, or find support and prayer. Help us not to fear and catastrophise. Holy spirit, strengthen us in body, mind and soul, so we can stay on our path, and move forward, at the pace of your choosing, Amen.
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Sunday 7th March God’s glory.

This morning there is a beautiful soft light shining through the window, which speaks of energy and goodness and hope. It is the beginning of a new week, and an opportunity to take stock.
In our passage – Isaiah 35 we hear of God revealing His glory as the deserts become as green as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon.

You can imagine the morning light in the desert, that after the cool of the night, that the sun wakens the flowers, and that they open up in delight.
God’s glory is revealed in many ways, in the light of dawn, growth in the wilderness, the snow covered mountain peak, the waves breaking in the ocean. We are reminded of His might and power and majesty, of His perfection and energy and goodness.
We live in days of light and shadows, hope and heartbreak, but through it all, we have a God of light and love, who cares about each detail of our lives, who knows the number of hairs on our heads, who is full of compassion for us, and who longs to breathe life into us, so we might somehow reflect something of His light.

Let us pray, Gracious Father, we thank you for this new day. Lord Jesus in our worship this day, may we glimpse something of Your glory, and fall on our knees. Holy spirit, may we be inspired to love and serve our Lord, with fresh vision, energy and commitment now and in the week to come. Revive us each morning, and fill us with enthusiasm for You, and sharing your love with others. Amen.
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Saturday 6th March. Hope – an abundance of flowers and singing and joy –
Isaiah 35:2

So just now, we are trying to think of what the future could be like. I think there are days, when it is too painful to have hope. Things can seem very black and white, very grey, especially in the west of Scotland, when it is raining, and the clouds are heavy. The heaviness can seem unrelenting. Even though we know that lockdown is necessary, it can seem like being in prison.
Even in wilderness times however, we know that there is a seasonal cycle that never ends. And after winter comes spring. We see small signs of it around – crocuses, buds on the trees – and we crave patience to know that spring will come, for after death there is always the assurance of resurrection.
In this time of Lent, we are preparing to get ready to think of Holy week, and all that our Lord went through for us. His love was sacrificial, offering forgiveness, a second chance, new life. And so even as we trudge our way through these days, we know that things will get better, there will be an abundance of flowers and singing and joy. And that vision sustains us, each and every day.

Let us pray, Eternal God, in our daily routine, we give thanks for things that bring hope – for buds, for falling numbers of covid 19 infections, for spring coming closer, for the promise of Easter, not far off.
Lord Jesus, Your death and resurrection mean everything to us. Your love changes our lives, offering forgiveness and cleansing and resurrection. May Your Holy spirit prepare us to receive from you, not by closing down, but to opening up to new and beautiful possibilities for the future, of an abundance of flowers, and singing and even joy. In Jesus’ name, Amen
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Friday 5th March – Hope for restoration.

We have spoken a lot together about how hostile a landscape it can be, when you are wandering in the desert. It can be gruelling, for body, mind and soul, and the journey can take everything from you.
However, there are also moments of joy and revelation on the journey, and in the next wee while, we are going to be focusing on Isaiah 35 – the way of holiness, the possibilities for restoration. In verse 1 it says:

” even the desert and the wilderness will be glad in these days, the wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.”

It looks like a miracle, when in the midst of the dryness of the desert, that some vegetation exists, and that there can even be flowers. They might take a long time to appear – they might only be there briefly, but that little bit of brightness lifts the spirit, inspires, and helps us remember that You Lord God, want us to live life in all its fullness.
In these days of lockdown, where days can be monotonous, may God give us something to brighten our day, to inspire, to bless. And may this give us renewed strength to continue on our journey.

Let us pray, Creator God, we thank you that spring is coming, for the delight that flowers and blossom can give our souls. Lord Jesus, they remind us that you desire that we find colour and life, even in the most bleak times in our lives. May your holy spirit minister to us, and bring us energy and inspiration, even this day, and the hope of restoration, Amen.
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Thursday 4th March. ” Provision for the journey”

Often when we are in a difficult place, we are restless and dissatisfied, we yearn for something better. We dream of better days. In lockdown, we imagine days when the virus rate is down, and we can have more freedom. We know that we are moving through Lent, and that after death, there is resurrection. But meanwhile we are still in the wilderness.
God encourages us with His promises for the future, but He also has compassion on us, in the midst of our struggles. When Moses and the Israelites were in the desert and they were grumbling and hungry in Exodus Chapter 16:4 it says:

 

” I will rain down bread from heaven for you.”

 

That is such a beautiful provision for God’s people. Every morning they were given enough for the day. They were not to save it up – it would go bad, and they were all to have equal measure. And this continued for the 40 years they were in the desert.
Whatever we are going through just now, God gives us enough. He supplies our daily needs, our daily bread, as it says in the Lord’s prayer. He gives us His Word, the gift of prayer, Christian resources in abundance – music, books, stories, fellowship. Even sitting in our houses, or busy at work, God provides for us, not just to survive, but to be healthy, to know we are loved and cherished. What a wonderful God we have.

Let us pray, Gracious father, forgive us that we grumble about what we have not, instead of noticing what we have. Lord Jesus, in You we have every spiritual resource – may we explore these resources, and find the very food that our soul craves to find nurture. Even in these stressful days, Holy Spirit speak to us, and help us to find comfort, peace and inspiration for each day, Amen.
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Wednesday 3rd March – lent reflections. Shelter in the heat of the desert.

” He is my Rock and my salvation; He is my fortress I never will be shaken.” Psalm 62:6
In the searing heat of the desert, it is easy to get weary. It is hard to imagine, as a Scottish person – that kind of heat! But excessive heat can bring sunstroke, headaches, dizziness and confusion. Sometimes, as well as having water, you just need to get some respite, a time in the shade.
When we are in the desert, and the pressures around us seem relentless, sometimes we just need to look for that Rock, a place where we can find shade, and relief and rest. In these days of continued lockdown, God calls us to come into His Shelter, the Shelter of the Most High God, to be able to let go of our burdens in His presence, and just to find a deep peace, resting in His love.
Today, may we not just be racing around, trying to accomplish our to do list. Rather may we choose to answer our heavenly father’s call to come and to rest and to find Refuge in Him. Then when we have rested, we are refreshed and strengthened to face the remainder of the day.

Let us pray, Some days, Lord God, we have such busy schedules, with so much required of us. When we are weary, for whatever reason, gather us to Yourself, and help us find rest and shelter in You, Our Fortress. Defend us from negativity and cynicism, and with You Lord Jesus, may we find a love that never lets us go, and an inspiration that brings new energy and vision for the future. Holy spirit, breathe new life into us, so we can get up with a new spring in our step, In Jesus’ name, Amen
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Tuesday 2nd March. “Finding who we really are in the desert”

Being in the desert is often a time of vulnerability and questioning. There can be a very physical part to it, of being beyond the end of our rope, exhausted and aching. And in that time of adversity and pressure, we can discover new things. When we are at the end of ourselves, there is often more room for God to work.
In this pandemic, many of the things we would normally do – to see family and friends, to go out, to travel, are no longer options. So we have made other decisions about how to spend our time, and these choices also say something about who we are. What are our priorities? How can we honour God in the house or at work? What do our choices say about our identity?
Recently I watched a film called “Tracks” a true story about a young girl Robyn Davidson, who decides to cross 1,700 miles of hostile Australian desert with her dog and four camels. It is a beautifully shot but bewildering movie, because we are not entirely sure why she does this, or what she discovers along the way. But there is something about making the journey, which helps her process some of her experiences and which changes her life.
Sometimes we are not sure why we have to spend so long in the desert. During this covid 19 pandemic, so many things are changing, and we are unsure what life will be like, when we eventually emerge. It is so hard to put everything into words.

However, as Christians, we can meditate on God’s word, and he says in John 1: 12 “to all who believed in Him, he gave the right to become children of God.” So even in the desert, we know that we are God’s children, and this is everything. Then God helps us refine this, what is our purpose, who are we, how can we use our gifts and talents for Him, what is our direction meant to be? May we each find out more about who we are, even in the desert.

Let us pray, Gracious God, sometimes in the silence, we almost forget all things, but then You call us to remember that we are your beloved children, and that You have a good purpose for our lives. Even in dry times, Lord Jesus, remind us of our identity, and envelop us in Your love and grace. Holy spirit, guide us as to Your path, your choices for this day, Amen.
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Monday 1st March – grumbling in the desert!

Moses had led the people out of slavery in Egypt, the people had seen the miracle of the Red sea part, they had found water in the desert and a new beginning. So what do they do, they complain and grumble – they say ” if only the lord had killed us back in Egypt” Exodus 16:3.
How often does God show us His love and provision in amazing ways, but we want more. We don’t like change and being led in new directions, and so we grumble. ” this isn’t right, what about this, I would have preferred that” It feels safer to go back to the familiarity of the past, than to engage constructively with the new.

Yet God listens even to our complaints. Eugene Petersen says of this passage: ” even our complainings are accepted as acts of prayer by a Gracious God. This is prayer at its minimal – mean, carping, ungrateful – and yet prayer it is. The merest groan is a seed prayer. Are you surprised at God’s amazing grace? “

Personally, I am always surprised by God’s amazing grace. Even when I am unsure, frustrated, worried, God shows me such compassion and grace. Even when I am full of moans, He listens and shows me such tender love. What a wonderful God we have – let us lean deeper into His care.

Let us pray, Eternal Father, forgive us that we are so shallow, so full of moans and grumblings. Sometimes we see the past through rose coloured glasses, and we just want to go back there. Lord Jesus, thank you for your grace to us, for the gentle reminder that going back is not an option. Holy spirit, give us courage to go forward, and to do so with anticipation at the good things you are doing. Deeper our trust in You, as we seek new direction, Amen.
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Sunday 28th February – the magnificence of God.

Today we think a little about what it must be like to be in the desert for a long time. Whether we are thinking of Jesus in the desert, or Moses and the Israelites, to be in this dry and vast terrain day after day, must make you see things in a new way. All the things we normally worry about – the car, the dentist, the dishes in the sink – they no longer have any sway. Instead there is only you and the universe.

I love the words from Psalm 8 about how majestic is our God and then in verse 3-4:” When I look at the night sky, and see the work of your fingers – the moon and stars that you set in place,
What are mere mortals that you should think of them, human beings that you should care for them.”

Being in the vast landscape of the desert, the sand, the baking heart, the shimmering horizon, makes you realise anew how very small human beings are, so very finite.
And yet God loves us so much, that he even knows the number of hairs on our heads, and he grants us to be stewards over this world, and to take good care of it. We are grateful for this trust, but do we exercise it wisely?
In this time of spring, we welcome snowdrops and birds song, but do we revere the earth and her Creator as we should.

Let us pray. Creator God of all eternity, Your glory and magnificence is revealed in your Creation, and we fall on our knees and worship You. We ask that You will help us to respond, by using our lives for Your good, Lord Jesus, to take seriously our call to look after Your world and its people. Holy spirit, challenge our carelessness and thoughtlessness, and help us to recommit ourselves to Your loving purposes for our planet, and her people, Amen
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Saturday 27th February -Bitterness healed through the cross.

We have been looking at Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, across the Red sea, to the desert. We read in Exodus chapter 15 that once they got to the desert, they were full of complaints because there was no water. And when they did find water, it was bitter, so they called it the waters of Marah. There was much grumbling, but God told Moses to throw a piece of wood into the water, and the waters became good to drink.
In the desert, one of the temptations was for people to grumble and to grow bitter at their lot. They were worried and resentful and angry. They even say at one point, if only we had remained slaves in Egypt! Their trust in God seems so very small.
When Moses is told to throw in that piece of wood, it would seem to represent the wood of the cross, the cross that transforms bitterness into sweetness. And today in lockdown, maybe we are resentful and angry over the way some things have happened for us in our lives, just not what we would have envisaged. It is easy to get consumed by these types of dark thoughts.
Yet in Lent, in the desert, we know that Jesus gave His life for us on the cross, and that He wants to heal our hurts, and pour on us the balm of Gilead. He asks us to let go of our pain, and to allow His love to restore us and give us hope for the future.

I remember the words from Hebrews chapter 12: 15b ” watch that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” Instead, we are to receive the grace of God, to find that love that has the power to transform us all.

Let us pray – Dear God, at times we are angry and resentful at things that have happened that seem so unfair. and we cry out to You. Thank You that You hear us, and that through the cross, and Your sacrificial love poured out for us, Lord Jesus, You soothe our hurts, give us a different perspective, and the opportunity to see things in a new light. Holy Spirit of God, in this desert time search our hearts to expose our anger and bitterness, and cleanse us from what poisons our souls, so we can live in freedom and grace, Amen.
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Friday 26th February. The trust of Moses

We continue our desert reflections, as we think of Moses and the Israelites as they leave their time of slavery in Egypt, and cross the Red sea into the desert. They were slaves to the Pharaoh for many years, and it was only after a series of plagues that he agreed to let the people go.
The people face many trials and frustrations on their journey, and one of the first they face, is to cross the Red sea. They have no boat, they are on foot, with women and children with them. And the Egyptian army is behind them. And it says:

” Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong East wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side.” Exodus 14: 21-22

God opened a path for the people, but they had to have the trust to walk through the walls of water. It must have been noisy and scary, they were far from home, and just trusting God’s promise that they were going to a better place. And they put one foot in front of the other. And they were amazed to get safely to the other side, and it says that they put their trust in God.
We are all on the road from the past to the future. at times, we leave behind difficult experiences, of being captive to the wrong things, slaves to negative behaviours or thoughts or trapped in an unhealthy situation. We believe that God can take us to a better place, but actually setting out can be hard – taking that first step.
Yet when we place our trust in God, he can rescue us, and bring healing, and lead us to a better place. Are there things we need to leave behind today, in order to be able to move on in our journey?

Let us pray – Dear God, You are the God of miracles, and You brought Moses and your people across the Red sea. Sometimes we are in situations where we see no way out, and we pray to You for answers, Lord Jesus. Please help us to trust You, and may Your Holy spirit help us to trust, and to take that first step in the right direction, Amen.
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Thursday 25th February – A glimpse of blossom!

 

I think when we find ourselves in the desert, there can be times of weariness and exhaustion, when there is a danger that any thought of hope becomes very dim. It almost becomes too painful to have hope, because ever finding your way out of desolation and grief seems like a far off possibility, at best. It is painful to hope, because you worry about feeling disappointed all over again.

Yet in these moments, when the terrain is bleak, and the sun blazes in the sky, we might catch a glimpse of a new possibility. Maybe it is the sight in the distance of a bird (that is other than a vulture!). Or maybe it is seeing a fragile flower blossom on a cactus. How on earth could something so beautiful come into being in such a hostile environment? To be able to form into a thing of such colour and delicate shape.

And this gives us hope, for on our journeys through Lent, maybe we have had some bleak moments, when we have despaired and worried, wondering if things will ever get better. It is such a long time to wait. Yet we pray that through this time of questioning and searching, God will bring something to birth in our lives, that will speak of His beauty and love and truth. Even just a small thing, but something that will speak of His love, and be a blessing to others.

“I will be like dew to the people of Israel. They will blossom like flowers.”
Hosea 14: 5-6

 

Gracious and Eternal God, thank you for your promise that ” a bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out” (Isaiah 42:3), that You watch over your people, especially in desert times. You are with us in the darkness, Lord Jesus, and you help us to notice small things of beauty in our lives, which bring us hope that one day things will get better. In our fragility, give us your strength, prompt us through your holy spirit, so that we might travel on the path of your choosing, so that even we might blossom in the toughest of places, Amen.
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Wednesday 24th February – water in the desert.

When looking at different pictures of the desert, surprisingly there are various types of landscape. There are rolling sand dunes as far as the eye can see, scraggy bushes around rocks, cacti, rocky crevices. Often, we talk about being in the desert, but there are so many different facets to these experiences.

For us, our desert experiences are all distinctive, and we notice different things. For some people, it is the physical discomforts of life just now that are difficult, not having access to the support they need. For others, it is the relentlessness of the journey that is gruelling, and in lockdown we can relate to this. For others, it is the travelling by yourself that can be frightening. There are many struggles and temptations that we all face.

In the midst of these struggles and our despair, sometimes our steps take us to a place where there is water, a drink for those who are tired and hot and thirsty. Just a moment of refreshment, which brings necessary hydration to the body, and is life giving to the spirit. God provides the very thing we need right at the crucial moment, a moment’s rest, and some encouragement.

In the midst of Lent, we ask God in His mercy, to grant us what we need for this day, that Word in season, that encouragement from a friend, that prayer, time to just enjoy the presence of God.

” He opened the Rock, and water flowed out,
It ran in dry places like a river.” Psalm 105:41

 

Let us pray – in the midst of our desert struggles and feelings of alienation, we give thanks for unexpected mercies, of finding a spring of life giving water, to quench our thirst. May we pause and drink deeply, and rest and find strength for the journey. Lord Jesus, as you shared spiritual refreshment with the Samaritan woman at the well, may we also find new energy and vitality for our souls. Holy spirit, breathe your life giving breath into our lives this day, Amen.
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Tuesday 23rd February – Stars in the night’s sky.

 

We have spoken much about the inhospitality of the desert, the harshness of the landscape, the relentless heart of the sun, the barrenness of the wilderness. It is a bleak place to exist, and Jesus had much time to reflect on His ministry and priorities. Yet one of the things about solitude and being still, is that you notice things that otherwise would pass you by. You have time to slow down. And the desert at night, must be quite something – incredibly cold, but no light pollution, just you and the night stars.

I wonder how Jesus looked on the stars –
Psalm 19 says that ” the heavens declare the glory of God.” and indeed the night’s sky is full of brilliant patterns of light that reflect celestial movement and gravitational forces, all at work to reveal something of the radiance and glory of God. The desert sky invites us to wonder. And more than this, it is only in the pattern of suffering and self-discipline, that I think these deep experiences of light and hope, become more noticeable.

Martin Luther King Jr said, ” It is only in the darkness that you can see the stars” and it is often in the challenging experiences in life, the pain and the grief, when we are stripped of all superficiality, and can really see what is important, and can come closer to God. In whatever we are going through this day, may we notice the desert stars, the love that shines so brightly from above.

Let us pray, Gracious and Eternal God, thank you that when we stop and look up, our breath is taken away by the glory of the universe, the ethereal beauty of the stars. In the midst of desert times, when things can seem monotonous or dreary, open our eyes to Your wonder, and holy spirit revive that sense of reverence within us, for the glory of God, and the goodness of our Saviour. Teach us, in the stillness of the night, to notice what is good and lovely, and to know that all is well, Amen
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Monday 22nd February 2021 –  ‘facing temptation in the desert’.

When thinking of how it feels to be in the desert, we know that there are many temptations. To be in such a harsh and relentless environment, it reveals more about who we are and how we cope. Few of us think, this is great, an opportunity to grow in our faith! Instead we notice our fears and worries, our insecurities and doubts. And we cry to God to help us, to ask forgiveness, to forgive, to trust and to heal.

Jesus understands what it is like to be tempted. The devil tempted him to turn stones into bread, to put his own needs first. He tempted him with power and authority, but Jesus knew he only wanted to honour His Father. He tempted him with doing amazing spectacles to impress people, but Jesus did not want to put his Father to the test. Even when he was tired and hungry, Jesus resisted temptation.
And Jesus strengthens us when we are tempted, maybe we didn’t sleep well, or are disillusioned, or are doubting, or are considering giving up.

Remember then, the strengthening words of 1 Corinthians 10:13
‘No temptation has overtaken you, except what is common to all. God is faithful, He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out, so you can bear it’.

Let us pray, Father God, in the desert, it can be tough, but You show us that you can help us to resist temptation, as you have been there too Lord Jesus. When we hear that voice that tempts is to take a negative or destructive path, defend us, and call us back to You with your truth and your love. Holy spirit, strengthen our faith, even in the shadows, and may we cling to You, Amen.
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Sunday 21st February 2021.

We have been thinking of the desert, as such a difficult place to be, bleak, barren- a harsh environment. Jesus spent 40 days there after his baptism, facing temptation as he prepared for his ministry.

Yet we know too that he was led by the spirit, and that the Holy spirit, the third person in the trinity was with Him.

When we are experiencing difficult days, of pain or bereavement, we can feel abandoned. But the Holy spirit is with us. And when we feel that we do not have the words to pray, the holy spirit intercedes for us.

We remember some words from Romans 8:26:
‘ the spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us, with groans that words cannot express.”

This gives us hope, for when we are distraught, and run out of words, the holy spirit intercedes on our behalf. May this be so this day.

Let us pray, Gracious Father, we get so weary being in the desert. The days pass, and they seem so similar. When we are bewildered, and don’t know what to pray for, may your holy spirit present the prayers of our hearts to God on His throne of grace. When we are helpless, may we find comfort from having such a perfect intercessor, Amen
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Saturday 20th February- the emptiness of the desert.

Yesterday we thought a little about desert solitude, and that space can bring us closer to God. We think of Jesus being there for 40 days and 40 nights. However, there is also so much struggle in that process of desert times. Henri Nouwen talks of the ‘painful void’ and the journey from loneliness to solitude, a place of deep peace. It takes the emptiness of desert times- perhaps trauma or grief, a freedom from the distractions of the world, an uncomfortable time of questioning to reclaim our identity.

It is in the emptiness of the desert, the barren landscape, that outward superficiality melts away. It takes courage to take an honest look at ourselves, our faults and failings. It is a time of tears. Yet it is in the emptiness, that God meets us in our struggles and wrestling, and seeks us with His love. What an amazing God.

Let us pray, Eternal Father, especially in these weary days of lockdown, we struggle and cry to You in a place of emptiness and sorrow. We grieve over the suffering of the world, and the landscape can seem so desolate. In the silence, may your holy spirit give us attentive ears to your Word showing us new things, and shaping our lives anew, granting us insight as to our purpose in the time ahead, Amen.

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Friday 19th February 2021        ‘Solitude in the desert’

At the moment, in the pandemic, people are having to spend more time by themselves. Often this reminds us (depending on our personality type) of our need for connectivity. We really miss seeing people in person.
However, when Jesus was in the desert, he was there alone. Yes he could talk to his heavenly Father, but there were no other human beings.

I think that God wants to teach us how to live well in solitude. It is tough, because in the stillness, so many things bubble up into our souls from the past and that can be painful. Yet in these times, God also brings healing to us.

One author who battled with solitude was Henri Nouwen, and he said ‘solitude is the furnace of transformation’. We pray that somehow in the solitude of Lent, God can bring transformation to us.

Let us pray, Gracious Father, You made us to live in relationship with You, and one another, but in some seasons we need to walk alone. Take away our fears, and help us embrace solitude, and to learn even from our desert times. Holy spirit transform and shape our lives, so we can be more like Jesus Christ Amen.

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Thursday 18th February 2021 –     “ loved and called into the desert” Luke 4

One of the things that is startling about Jesus’s time in the desert, is that he had just been baptised by Jesus in the Jordan river by John the Baptist. Jesus had just had the most life affirming spiritual experience, where the holy spirit came down upon him like a dove, and a voice came from heaven

“ you are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased”. And then, that same spirit led him into the wilderness.

This gives us hope, in the midst of this pandemic/wilderness time. We might have feelings of being scared and disorientated and lost, and it is tough. But God has reassured us, with words of love and grace. He reminds us of our baptism, and how much we are loved. May that love give us courage in dark days.

Let us pray,  Gracious God, life is such a mysterious whirl of uplifting moments, and dark despair, especially in these days of covid 19 and so many restrictions. If we are honest, there are times when we really struggle. In these desert days, remind us how much we are loved and cherished by You. May your holy spirit bring light and direction and purpose on our journey, In Jesus’ name, Amen

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Ash Wednesday

On pancake Tuesday, people traditionally use all that is left in their cupboards, so that on their journey through Lent to Easter, that they can give up certain foods, in order to show their love and obedience to God.

Each day of lent. I hope to offer up a short reflection , and I pray that through this time, we can draw closer to Jesus Christ.

We think of Jesus having been baptised, entering a desert time, a time of solitude and searching and temptation. In this pandemic, it feels like that kind of time, a time of deep reflection. We pray that by Easter Sunday, we will know the joy of the resurrected Jesus, and greater freedom in every aspect of life. As we start on a lenten journey, are their bad habits that we want to give up, or good things that lead us to God, that we want to embrace.

” Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”   James 4: 8

Let us pray, Gracious God, we thank you for the Christian tradition of lent, and the choice  we have to seek to come to You. in these troubling days. Lord Jesus, we feel as if we are in a desert place, and we cry to You. Holy spirit, please guide us on our journey, show us the things to leave behind, and the new ways to embrace, so we can draw near to You, Amen.