REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 40: To our grandchildren.
We are privileged to have 15 grandchildren, eight are aged 10 to 18 years and seven are younger. Given all the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, the fact that five of the eight live in Victoria and the increasingly discordant responses across our community to the government’s responses, I am pondering what I might say to these older grandies, to help them [and their parents to help them] navigate their way through this uncertain and difficult time. I think I would share these thoughts with them.
[i] Worry does not have to be worrying! There is no doubt that the pandemic is a cause for concern and worry. This is only natural, but our dear Lord and Saviour has given us a way to handle our concerns that will not cripple us with worry. Do you remember how He told His friends not to worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough troubles of its own [Matthew 6:34]? Someone said that worry is like a cup with two handles, one called fear and the other called faith. It is up to us to choose which handle to use.
[ii] The handle of faith in Jesus will never break since Jesus has shown us how faithful He was to His Father and how, through His death, resurrection and gift to us of His Spirit, we too can find peace in the midst of our fears. On the eve of His crucifixion He gave His friends these two wonderful promises: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid [John 14:27] and I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart I have overcome the world [John 16:33].
[iii] What I love about Jesus is that He is always truthful and never tries to trick or confuse us. Many people think that our life will be trouble free [and complain that God does not care for them if they experience troubles]. But Jesus is not like that He tells us the truth [you will have trouble] and helps us to see that this can be for our good when we trust Him rather than think it is not fair. For when we trust Him we experience the peace that will settle our hearts and soothe our fears. The more we trust him the more peace we will experience. It is good to remember that peace is a fruit that the Holy Spirit delights to grow in us [Galatians 5:22-23]. One of my favourite stories was about a painting competition where the theme was to be peace. The winning painting was not one of peaceful scenery or people speaking kindly to each other, but of a raging waterfall with a mother bird and her babies safely out of harm’s way in a shrub behind the torrent of the waterfall. The artist gave the title: peace in the storm.
[iv]This is the assurance you [and Mum and Dad and Ma and I] will need in life. You have lived long enough to observe, sadly, that there are troubles of all kinds around us. These are often very sad and painful for us and for others and many people try to escape from them, or make them more bearable by trying to ignore them, pretend they are not there or getting angry [sometimes with God or with other people or with themselves]. But Jesus helps us to face up to the troubles, not by ourselves but armed with His promises from the Bible and with His help and the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. This is the most wonderful experience I have ever had in my life, ever since I became a follower of Jesus way back in 1964 when I was 17. Have you ever sung the hymn: What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear, What a privilege it is to carry, Everything to God in prayer? This is where our peace comes from. This is why God encourages and teaches us to pray.
[v] There is a very simple reminder to us, found in both the Old and New Testaments; that God wants to hear His children talking to Him about their cares. It goes: cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares about you [1 Peter 5:7 quoting Psalm 55:22]. Not only does God want us to pray but He loves us to cast [bring] our cares, worries, fears, concerns and problems to Him in prayer.
[vi] One of the things He wants us to learn is that the troubles which come across our path are the very things that will help us to grow up as happy and helpful people. Many of we grown-ups are still learning this vital lesson and sadly, some have never learned it. Many of you, I am always glad to hear, enjoy running, riding, training and exercising. You will know that if you want to get and keep fit you need to stretch and exert yourselves. Your fitness will improve the more hills you run, ride [and for Ma and me] walk up. Walking along the easy paths will not strengthen us as much as walking up the hills. This is why Jesus says we must follow Him every day, even if it means others mocking or calling us names for doing so. It is why the apostles Paul [Romans 5:3-5], Peter [1 Peter 1:6-9], James [1:2-7] along with the writer of Hebrews [12:1-3] encourage us to count it a great joy when troubles come across our path. They will strengthen us and this is one of the main ways our loving Heavenly Father will grow us. Did you know that ABC stands for Adversity Builds Character/Christlikeness?
[vii] Let me tell you a story about when I first realised this wonderful truth. I was 12 or 13 and the Scout Troop were going on a ride from the Scout Hall across the old Roseville Bridge up the long hill through French’s Forest and then toward one of the beaches. My push bike had a back- pedal brake and had no gears. It was a great challenge, and on many occasions I wanted to get off and walk the bike, but the other boys and the leaders would not let me. I still remember the exhilarating sense of joy and achievement at making it to the top without getting off! It is probably 10 years since I drove up that road but I still get a thrill from remembering that I kept going. I am also very grateful to God for the encouragement, which I recall included shouts of “Come on p brain you can do it!”, and, I expect, less flattering words like, “Don’t be a piker!” which the leaders gave me. I did learn from that experience that obstacles like hills, though hard, were more than helpful.
[viii] I am even more grateful, that I have since learnt that God allows worrying things like pandemics, sickness and criticism for following Jesus so that we can grow strong, not so much in body, but in character and Christ-likeness. The way this happens is that when we know sadness, disappointment or difficulties we are much more likely to call out to God or read the Bible or seek the help of a good and trusted friend, than when everything is going along well and happily for us. Whilst this makes sense [like going to the doctor when we feel aching pain] it makes better sense to be going to God all the time [just as the cyclists in the Tour de France didn’t get on their bikes for the first time a week ago!]. No, God invites us to learn from Him each day as we pray and read our Bibles, and each week as we meet with our fellow believers, so that we will be well nourished and able to find the handle of faith [rather than of fear] when difficulties come our way. You will not be surprised to learn that all through my life, mainly at the hands of my Mum [Nanna Dot to your parents] and Christine [your Ma, Grandma, Nanny] I have been well and thoughtfully fed. But do you know what? I cannot look back and point to any one meal that made me healthy! It has been those meals lovingly prepared day in and day out that have made me healthy today. So, too, this is how our loving Heavenly Father would feed and nourish us today so that we need not fear uncertainties, like the pandemic, because we know who we are and how we can find strength for each and every day. This is why Paul says to Timothy: physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come [1 Tim 4:8 and 2 Tim 3:16-17].
[ix] Thankfulness is one of the most important ways God keeps us from worry and is the most helpful thing I have learnt in the last 20 years. Listen to Paul’s advice [which is really a command]: Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus [1 Thess 5:16-18]. Thankfulness makes all the difference in our lives since it keeps us grateful to God for what we do have rather than grumbling or whinging about what we don’t have or wish we did have. It helps us to be content and makes us grateful for [and to] the people God has put into our lives. One man said that he has never met a thankful person who is an unhappy person [Lewis Smedes]. It is not difficult to be unhappy, but it is not good for us or those around us. Our Father in Heaven has made it possible to be happy, not just when good things happen, but even when there are difficulties.
[x] So don’t waste the opportunity the pandemic has given us all to look to God, knowing that He is always good and wonderfully loving, as Jesus’ death on the cross reminds us [Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:9-12]. Come to God in prayer for yourselves but also for others, especially those in other countries who don’t have the good health-care that we enjoy in Australia and for the many who are being persecuted around the world because they love Jesus. Thank God for our political leaders and for the medical advisors, nurses and doctors, pastors with the many others [like cleaners, police, truck drivers, researchers, school teachers, parents and home-schooling mums and dads] who are serving us. Ma and I continue to pray for you all. We love you very much, thank God for each of you and ask Him to keep you from fear as you look up to Him for daily bread, peace of mind and joy.
Have you heard this little rhyme?
Said the robin to the sparrow, I should really like to know,
Why these anxious human beings, Rush about and worry so.
Said the sparrow to the robin, Friend I think that it must be,
They have no heavenly Father, Such as cares for you and me. E Cheney. [Based on Matthew 6:25-34].
Peter Brain 8th September, 2020