The Lake District in Northern England is one of the most beautiful parts of the British Isles. I know a certain place in one particularly striking corner of this countryside, surrounded by hills and mountains, valleys, lakes and streams. Set back on the edge of a hill is a bench strategically placed to give the best view across the dale of the imposing peaks that command the head of the valley. Engraved on the bench are the opening words of Psalm 121:
I will lift up my eyes to the hills ? from whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2
Sitting on this bench you can easily imagine those mountain peaks representing your high and holy calling in Christ ? so tantalisingly close and yet completely out of reach. To attain those heights you have to leave the comfort of the bench, set out across the valley and begin to slowly make your way to the top. It is an arduous task but a rewarding one. Each step takes you upward and onward. From time to time, you discover convenient resting places where you can pause for reflection and take in the view. You can look back to the valley behind you and see the ground you have covered so far and you can look up towards the mountain peak ahead renewing your determination to make it to the top.
In the past you have caught a glimpse of the mountain top ? all that you can be for Jesus. Now you can look back at what you have achieved through his grace and your determined practical action. You have learned how to work through major issues in your life and slowly bring about the changes God wants, yielding your mind, emotions and will to his Spirit at work in you. It has not been easy, and no doubt at times you wondered whether it was all ever going to work. But you persevered by his grace and here you are!
Let me offer some words of encouragement for you – no matter how fierce the battle appears or how impossible the journey seems, the Lord is with you to help you and to strengthen you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. If you persevere you will succeed, you will attain to your high and heavenly calling. Remember, ?I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength? (Philippians 4:6). Your help truly comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Your ever-watchful keeper
The verses following those engraved on the bench on the valley?s edge I spoke of earlier remind you that you are not alone ? he who has saved you, is the one who also keeps you, ever watchful over your every step, not to condemn you or criticise you but to lift you up and help you take the next step.
He will not allow your foot to be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. Psalm 121:3-4
This is confirmed by those encouraging words found in Jude?s open letter to believers.
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy… Jude 24
Facing your trials
The saying goes, ?When the going gets tough, the tough get going.? I would like to add, ?When the going gets tougher, the tougher keep on going!? Perseverance, inspired by the Holy Spirit?s work in your heart, no matter what the difficulties, the setbacks and the obstacles in your way will always bring the reward.
James encourages us to stay the course in the midst of tiresome trials and temptations. Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. James 1:12-13
Regularly through my preaching in Kensington Temple and in the pages of Revival Times, I set out in a practical way the life that Jesus has for those who follow him with all their heart. I constantly remind the congregation that this freedom is available through his victorious death and triumphant resurrection. I always stress that we too have died with Christ and have been raised to new life in him. The secret of discipleship is to so desire the abundant life of freedom in Christ that we are willing to surrender totally to his will. That way we can find both strength for the journey and joy in travelling it. This high and holy calling will cost you everything you have but it is worth it. The Holy Spirit urges us daily to press on to perfection and maturity and fulfil the command of Jesus: ?be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect?. Spiritual attainment is nothing more than living out your call to be free, working it out day by day, until you reach the end of the journey.
The pace of grace
As you step into the New Year, you will be grateful for all that Jesus has done for you in the past. But you will also be aware that there are other battles to fight, other mountains to climb. I want to encourage you to go forward step by step, fearing nothing but relying totally on the grace at work in you in Christ. John Calvin, that great Reformer of 16th Century Europe has some helpful words of advice for all those wanting to move forward in the life of faith and yet feel inadequate for the challenge. ?Perfection must be the final mark at which we aim, and the goal for which we strive. It is not lawful for you to make a compromise with God: to try to fulfil part of your duties and to omit others at your own pleasure. The Lord first of all wants sincerity in His service, simplicity of heart without deviousness and falsehood.
A double mind is in conflict with the spiritual life, for this implies a sincere devotion to God in the search for holiness and righteousness. No one in this earthly prison of the body has sufficient strength of his own to press forward with a due degree of watchfulness, and the great majority of Christians are kept down with such great weakness that they stagger and halt and even creep on the ground, and so make very slight progress.
But let everyone proceed according to his given ability and continue the journey he has begun. There is no man so unhappy that he will not make some progress, however small. Let us not cease to do the utmost that we may persistently go forward in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair because of the smallness of our accomplishment. Though we fall short, our labour is not lost if this day surpasses the preceding one.?
Calvin is speaking about the ?pace of grace?. That is, learning how to keep pace with the Spirit?s work in your heart. You cannot go further than the revelation you have received ? you cannot lead the Spirit, only follow him. God?s grace opens up the way for every step you take in your journey towards spiritual attainment and freedom in Christ. Our part is to keep up with him and to respond to his promptings within. This is how we discover his enabling power to keep on going. It is by being yoked to Christ that we discover spiritual rest and conquer the strivings of the flesh.
Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30
May God richly bless you as you continue on your personal journey. May he ever be with you helping you through every struggle against the weaknesses of the flesh. And may you always remember that you have a faithful and compassionate High Priest who is always available to help you and pour fresh grace upon you until you reach the summit.
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16