A letter by John Newton for tough times

John Newton wrote the below to a friend in tough times; it’s beautifully put.

Your sister is much upon my mind. Her illness grieves me; were it in my power, I would quickly remove it. The Lord can, and I hope will, when it has answered the end for which He sent it. I trust He has brought her to us for good, and that she is chastised by Him that she may not be condemned with the world. I hope, though she says little, she lifts up her heart to Him for a blessing. I wish you may be enabled to leave her and yourself, and all your concerns, in His hands. He has a sovereign right to do with us as He pleases; and if we consider what we are, surely we shall confess we have no reason to complain; and to those who seek Him, His sovereignty is exercised in a way of grace. All shall work together for good; everything is needful that He sends; nothing can be needful that He withholds. Be content to bear the cross; others have borne it before you. You have need of patience; and if you ask, the Lord will give it: but there can be no settled peace till our will is in a measure subdued. Hide yourself under the shadow of His wings; rely upon His care and power; look upon Him as a physician who has graciously undertaken to heal your soul of the worst of sicknesses, sin. Yield to His prescriptions, and fight against every thought that would represent it as desirable to be permitted to choose for yourself. When you cannot see your way, be satisfied that He is your leader. When your spirit is overwhelmed within you, He knows your path; He will not leave you to sink. He has appointed seasons of refreshment, and you shall find He does not forget you. Above all, keep close to the throne of grace. If we seem to get no good by attempting to draw near Him we may be sure we shall get none by keeping away from Him.

Lessons in logic from Samson’s mum

The following is from ‘The Test of a Crisis’ by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. (You can find it in ‘Be Still, My Soul’ ed. Nancy Guthrie). There’s lots that is helpful but I love the last paragraph and am always glad when I stumble across it again.

He’s commenting on Judges 13:20, 22-23.  Manoah (Samson’s dad) is fearful that God will destroy them.  Mrs Manoah says: ‘if the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”

Lloyd-Jones writes:

“far too often, we behave as Manoah did. We seem to break down altogether and to lose hope entirely.  We jump to conclusions, and almost invariably, to the worst conclusion that is possible in the given circumstances…that somehow or other, God is against us, and that all we had so fondly imagined to be an expression of God’s goodness and kindness was nothing but an illusion…

His wife behaved as we should all behave…she thinks, she reasons, she ponders the matter, and with magnificent logic she arrives at the only conclusion that is really valid.

The first principle she stated is that God is never capricious.  ‘If the Lord were pleased to kill us,’ argues the woman, ‘he would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands.’  It appeared at the moment as if God were suddenlly going to reverse everything that he had just been doing. Having smiled upon these people, it looked as if without any apparent cause or reason he was now frowning upon them, and on the point of destroying them.  Circumstances often seem to give us that impression.  Everything suddenly seems to go wrong and to be working in the reverse direction, and the suggestion comes to us that God is not really interested in us, and not concerned about us.

Now, of one thing we can always be absolutely certain – God is not like that.  By his very nature and being there is nothing more glorious than the eternal constancy of God.  He is ‘the father of light with whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning’.  He does not say one thing and then do the opposite.  He does not play with us and mock us.  He is never capricious.

…In effect she turned to her husband and said ‘I do not pretend to understand, but to me, it is unthinkable that God should start a process and then suddenly reverse or destroy it.’

We have in her words what St. Paul states so frequently and so eloquently. “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” But the argument is still stronger, “He that spared not his own Son but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”  Is God who has already done the greater, yea, the greatest thing of all, likely to fail us in the lesser?  Is the love of God, which is so great as to send his only-begotten Son to that cruel death on Calvary’s Hill, likely to forsake you, having done that?

You may not understand what is happening to you; it may seem, to you, all wrong. Trust yourself to him. Believe when you cannot prove. Hold onto his constancy, his justice, his eternal purposes for you in Christ.  Regard these as absolutes, which can never be shaken, build your case logically upon them, remain steadfast and unshaken, confident that ultimately all will be made plain and all will be well.



Travelling Blind

We recently watched ‘Travelling Blind’ on BBC iplayer and enjoyed it. Lots of poignant moments as Amar Latif travelled through Turkey with the comedian, Sarah Pascoe – Amar lost his sight 20 years ago, aged 18.  As positive a person as he was, he was honest about the fact that he has to keep positive and busy so as not to sink emotionally.  There were particularly moving moments as he shared how his memories of what his mum, for example, looked like have faded over the years.  He fears the loss of more ‘sight memory’ over the years.

It reminded me of something I read a few years ago…

Here is John Piper in a post called ‘My Young Life Has Been Physically Ruined – Now What?’.  He’s responding to someone writing in about his brother Shaun who lost his sight through cancer.

One of the keys to finding strength to live with disability here — even the extraordinary disability of blindness — is to experience the grace of God in the unshakable confidence that this life, as precious as it is, is only prelude to the life which is life indeed. This life, in fact, in reality, not pretending, not romanticizing, not dreaming, but being utterly realistic, this life is very, very short. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17: These afflictions are light and momentary. And by “momentary,” he meant a lifetime. Peter says: We may suffer various trials for a little while (1 Peter 1:6). And by “little while,” he meant a lifetime. James says: This life is like a vapor’s breath on a winter’s morning: two seconds, max (James 4:14). And that “vapor’s breath” is a lifetime.

And, of course, it is a miracle, a wonderful, God-given miracle to believe that and to live in the joyful confidence that, in a vapor’s breath, I will see again. In a vapor’s breath, I will walk again. And I pray for that miracle for Shaun’s brother. It is a precious thing, I know. It is a precious thing to be able to see the beauties of the world and the people of this world with the eyes that are in our head. But it is — and I pray that there will be grace for Shaun’s brother to believe this — it is an infinitely more precious thing to see with the eyes of the heart as Paul calls them in Ephesians 1:18. The greatest tragedy in the world is that people with good eyes cannot see.

I would encourage Shaun’s brother to think about this. Millions of people use their good eyes and look at the natural world and do not see the glory of God. Thousands of people used their good eyes and looked at the very Son of God in the flesh and did not see the glory of the only begotten from the Father. Millions of people hear the gospel with their good ears and read the precious pages of the Bible with their good eyes and do not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. This is the greatest tragedy in the world. But Shaun’s brother has the opportunity now to see and to see and to see: to see the glory of God in everything he touches and tastes and smells and hears; to see the glory of Christ in every story from the Bible and every promise of grace; and to see the utter folly of the world in using their good eyes to commit idolatry, instead of loving the unseen God supremely.

Jesus lamented the blindness in Jerusalem. He said, “seeing they do not see” (Matthew 13:13). And I pray that Jesus would say just the opposite over Shaun’s brother. Blessed are your eyes, because not seeing, you see (Matthew 13:16).


So I am personally reminded in my paralysis that it’s more important to be able to walk with the Lord than to be able to walk physically; it will matter more in eternity that God enabled me to run the Christian race in this life (1 Corinthians 9:24) than that I was unable to run over a hill top or across a football pitch.



Parenting a child with a disability

You can find a really helpful podcast episode here.  It’s 17 minutes long and really worth making time to listen to.   Darcy Strickland, the mother of a son with a disability, is interviewed and she’s honest and realistic in her wrestling with the Lord.  Of course her experience may be different to ours but I was especially struck by her comments in three areas:

  1. Raising children in God’s image not ours.
  2. Isolation as being one of the hardest parts of this trial.
  3. How disability can force us to think about heaven a lot.

I hope it’s a help to you as it was to me.



Suffering from the perspective of eternity

There’s a varied arsenal of Bible truths that I reach for on harder days.  Each one of them has their place in doing battle on despairing thoughts and on the suffering in the lives of those we know and love.

Today feels like one of those days.  Sad news from friends we love and their losses and, here, another UTI after the last one had just cleared up (and I’d been doing all the things I’m meant to do including drinking cranberry juice by the litre!).  Not a big thing in one sense, but in the category of ‘one thing too many’

The range of truths I reach for on these days includes: ‘God provides one day at a time’; ‘it’s okay to grieve’; ‘the Psalms encourage honesty with God’; ‘it’s okay to rest; you’re not indispensible’; ‘God took His own medicine and knows what suffering is like’; ‘God is present even when He seems most absent’

Sometimes the truth I reach for is ‘eternity puts suffering in perspective‘.

So, I’m offering the extract below from Philip Yancey not as the one knock-down thing we need to hear in suffering, as if ‘well, eternity will make things alright’ is the only thing we say to ourselves and others when another of God’s waves breaks over us.  It’s not the only thing we need to hear or say.  Certainly it’s not the only thing God says to us in the Bible.  But it is one of the things.  And a really important one.

I think Yancey puts it well:

“Who would complain if God allowed one hour of suffering in an entire lifetime of comfort? …[our] lifetime is a mere hour of eternity.

In the Christian scheme of things, this world and the time spent here are not all there is…remember: less than one-millionth of the evidence has been presented, and that is being worked out under a rebel flag.  God is not deaf.  God is as grieved by the world’s trauma as you are.  His only son died here.  But God has promised to set things right.

Let history finish.  Let the orchestra scratch out its last mournful warm-up note of discord before it bursts into the symphony.

As Paul said, “In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us.  The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own…(Rom 8:18, Phillips Translation)

(Yancey, The Gift of Pain, in ‘Be Still, My Soul’, p.29)

I find that line about one-millionth of the evidence striking. Our perspective on God is limited and based entirely on a tiny fraction of time lived in a fallen world.  Like a beached whale basing its understanding of its existence entirely on the dry shores on which it is trapped rather than on the freedom of the Pacific ocean to which it may still return.  We can’t imagine a sinless suffering-free world, but one day we’ll be able to judge things from there. Don’t mishear that: the Bible never diminishes our real suffering.  But God does want to give us reasons for hope.

As Yancey says, ‘Let history finish’.

That helps for today.


One day at a time: daily manna

Commenting upon God’s provision of daily manna Ed Welch writes:

“Control freaks and worriers are being told that the challenges of life are ordained by the Father and King. They are neither random nor accidental…The tests follow a particular pattern: God will give us what we need for today and today alone.

No mystery here, it is all spelled out…”Take as much as you want, but don’t keep a crumb for tomorrow”. In various forms, this will become God’s plan for human life. You will encounter it again when Jesus trains his disciples and sends them out on a missionary journey with no extra supplies (Mark 6:7-9). The plan of course, is genius. Dump a year’s supply of manna into cold storage and, guaranteed, you will forget God until the supply disappears. Such prosperity would be a curse. God’s strategy is to give us enough for today and then, when tomorrow comes, to give us enough for that day too.

Do you see how this is exactly what we need? Fears and worries live in the future, trying to assure a good outcome in a potentially hard situation. The last thing they want to do is trust anyone, God included. To thwart this tendency toward independence, God only gives us what we need when we need it. The emerging idea is that he wants us to trust him in the future rather than our self-protective plans.”

(Running Scared, p.77)

One day at a time: future provision

I remember reading Corrie Ten Boom speaking of how she learnt about God’s daily provision as she suffered in a concentration camp; she remembered her dad teaching her the lesson.  He used to say to her as a child: ‘when we get on a train, at what point do I give you your ticket?’.  Corrie would reply ‘just before we got on the train’.  Her father would respond: ‘That’s right, I gave it to you when you needed it and not before.  So it is with God.’

This quote from the excellent book ‘Running Scared’ (by Ed Welch) makes a similar point.

We often say ‘God will provide’. These words spell that out a bit more.


“Among my assorted fears and anxieties is the fear of suffocation, especially through drowning…What does tomorrow’s manna, future grace, have to do with such fears?  It doesn’t say that I will be spared suffocation.  What it it says is that, if I am called to death by asphyxiation, I will have grace when that time comes.  What does that mean?  I don’t know.  I can’t imagine such grace.  I can’t imagine anything that would make drowning tolerable.  And that is exactly what we should expect:  At this moment I don’t have grace to drown because I am not drowning!  Of course I will worry if I try to envision a drowning scenario.  I will project the grace I have received for today onto tomorrow, not comprehending that I will receive grace as needed tomorrow.

We have to go slowly on this one because it is so essential in our battle with worry and fear.  Let’s say that you are taking a class, and the first thing the instructor does is hand out a test.  As you scan it, you know nothing.  Little signs and symbols, words you have never seen – your anxiety level rises with each question.  You have failed the class before it has begun!

Then the teacher interrupts, “Did I tell you that this will be your final exam?  You don’t have to take this now, and you don’t know any of this now, but trust me.  By the time the class is over you will actually know this.  You’ll be amazed at how well prepared you will be.”

Everyone breathes a sigh of relief.  Nothing has really changed. There will be a final exam at the end of the course, and you would fail it if you took it now, but you have no worries.  When the time comes to take the test, you will have received the grace you need to do well.

Are you worried about the future? You are looking at tomorrow as if it was a final exam adn you haven’t yet taken the class.  Of course you panic at the thought. But you haven’t considered that you will go through the class before you have to take the final.  You will be given all the grace you need when you need it.

What form might that grace take?  Be careful here.  When we try to imagine grace in some future situations, we might still be resting in ourselves.  We want specific confirmation that there will be grace and we want to calm ourselves not by trusting in the Gracious One but in seeing the future.  If I am called to drown, I don’t know what grace I will receive.  Having never had it, I can’t imagine it, and since God gives much more than we ask my prediction no doubt would fall far short.  It is enough to know that I will receive grace.  I will know the presence of the Spirit and I will die, or be rescued, in a way that pleases the Lord.”

(Running Scared, p.144-145)



One day at a time

I’m a (very) slow learner and have got to the end of another day wishing I’d learn the lesson in this quote from a sermon.

“The experience of not losing heart fades and must be renewed day by day. If you are a veteran Christian, you know this from experience. If you are newer in the faith, this is one of the most important things you need to know…

A New Dosage for Today’s Pain

 Be sure you see the word “renewed” in verse 16: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” Do you see what this means? It means the refreshing, renewing, strength-giving drink you took in the morning that kept you from losing heart must be taken again the next morning — or night or noon. “Re-new” means something runs out. The bucket leaks. The car runs out of gas. The spiritual metabolism of your life feasted on the renewing meal, and now it needs another one.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:34, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Its own trouble. Its own wasting away. Its own destruction. Its own moths and rust and persecution and pain and dying. Each day has its own trouble. And the car of your hope and strength and joy is not meant to run on yesterday’s gas. The metabolism of your spiritual renewal is not meant to run on yesterday’s meal. The relief from your spiritual medicine does not come from yesterday’s dosage. The text says “day by day” the renewal comes! There are no spiritual booster shots that last for ten years. There are no meals designed by God to carry you for a year. There are no gas tanks in the car of your faith big enough never to need refueling. Look at what it says: “our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

Which is why the Bible not only said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble,” but also said, “The mercies of the Lord are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22–23) — every day, day by day. There is new water flowing from the fountain. New food for today’s spiritual metabolism. New gas to drive today’s car. A new dosage to relieve today’s pain.

Why We Need Renewal Daily

…There is a reason God would design things this way. Don’t get in God’s face and complain to him that he is saving you this way. Don’t murmur against God that the path to heaven takes so many thousands of acts of renewal to keep from losing heart. Don’t tell God you know a better way. You don’t.

This is a conference under the banner, Soli Deo Gloria — to God alone be the glory. And what did verse 7 say: “We have this treasure in jars of clay [jars that need refilling, renewing day by day] to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” God saves us through a thousand battles, a thousand renewals, so that we never, never forget that we are weak and he is our strength. He is our strength, our living water, our food, our gas, our medicine.

And the giver of the strength — the giver of hope and joy — gets the glory. That’s what the apostle Peter said: “Serve by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 4:11). The giver of the strength gets the glory for the service. That’s why we are weak and why we need renewals day by day so as not to lose heart.”

(From ‘The Glory of God in the Sight of Eternity’ by John Piper).




Our suffering is preparing something…

Sometimes the questions press insistently upon us: “is our suffering meaningless?” “Is there anything that could possibly make up for what I’m experiencing now?”

A little phrase in 2 Corinthians 4:17 has so much to encourage us with: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”.

Notice the verse doesn’t say simply that our suffering is leading to something.  Or just that our suffering will end.  The word is stronger: the affliction is doing something.  It is preparing the weightiness of the glory.

So in some mysterious way, our affliction now will contribute to our enjoyment of our eternal future.  It’s hard to imagine quite what that looks like; it is a mystery to us from our time-bound perspective.  But we live on faith in God’s word here that in some strange way the fruits and the lessons are amassing future joy for us.

They are like payments we make now into a pension pot that we will be eternally drawing on.

Here’s the key thing then: our suffering is never ever ever meaningless. Though it feels that way.  God is doing something.  One day that will be revealed.

I stumbled across these truths in this wonderfully encouraging talk called: The Glory of God in the sight of eternity.  By John Piper from 2013.

You can download the transcript but listening to the audio or watching the video is even better.

Listen or watch it here.  You’ll need to set aside about an hour (or do it in 15 minute bursts in the car) but make sure you get all of the way to the last few minutes on John the Baptist.

Here’s a stunning song too with the sermon woven in here.

Irreparable Loss

Came across this really helpful comment on Psalm 131 and the hymn ‘Be still my soul’ (Katrarina Von Schlegel) in ‘Seeing with New Eyes’ by David Powlison (p.83).

“Perhaps irreparable loss is the hardest thing to face.  A loved one dies, and will never again walk through the door to greet you.  You retire, and can never again return to the work into which you poured your talent, time and concern.  You will never again be young. No second chance to do your college years or that failed marriage over again.  Such things devastate us.  Can you quiet yourself? Jesus gives you himself.

Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Katarina Von Schlegel was the ultimate realist.  Most of the noise in our souls is generated by our attempts to control the uncontrollable.  We grasp after the wind. We rage, fear and finally despair.  But this wise sister focused on an enduring hope. Be still my soul.  All that is hard now will be forgotten amid love’s purest joys. This slight, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.  (2 Cor 4:17)”