Tag Archives: The Christian Life

The world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you

If there is one book that has incapsulated the journey I have been on in the last 15+ years it has been Canoeing The Mountains by Tod Bolsinger. I only read it three years ago, but little did I realise I had been experiencing the reality of its challenge long before Tod articulated it for me.

It was the summer of 2017 and I was sitting in Cafe Nero riveted to Tod’s description of explorers Lewis & Clark. They set out in 1803 to map the western part of America, an expanse previously unknown and assumed to hold a water course to the Pacific Ocean. Tod interlaces this analogy of exploration with the steady marginalisation of the church in western civilisation.

The beauty of what Tod does in this book is that he is able to draw insightful parallels from their unexpected adventures in the wilderness with the monumental shifts that have taken place in society’s relationship with the church.

The gems in this book are too rich to summarise in a soundbite, they reward the thoughtful. This book deals with how to lead transformational change within an organisation when all around us is shifting. In the military they call it VUCA – volition, uncertain, complex & ambiguous. How do we lead change in a VUCA world?

What kind of leader do we need to be in order to both care for people and lead them into uncharted territory?

I have found its wisdom has remained with me these last few years. It calls us to not remain in the shallows but cast out for deeper waters abandoning our preconceived assumptions of what life would hold. Complete surrender is the goal, letting go of the need to gain approval or acceptance.

Stepping in to the unknown will mean we let go of our human resource to find all sufficiency in God’s provision – often in the unlikeliest of places & the least listened to people.

Reflecting on this book helped me to see two things clearly that I will be forever thankful for:

I need to care less about what people think of me – I surrender my need for approval

I need to care less about the problems causing the decay – I surrender my need for control

This is the fifth book review ahead of Thrive Scotland 2020, a catalyst conference starting on 9th September for encouraging Christians in the workplace.

The father’s heart for authentic living

A review of Unravelled by Jon Peterson

Unravelled is the fourth book in my Recommended Reading ahead of Thrive Scotland conference in September 2020…and it is the most hard hitting so far. This book is part manifesto for a renewed vision for a 21st century way of being church, and part guidebook to experiencing unshakable spiritual security in the Father’s love.

This book came to mind as I was doing some amateur stone dyking in my garden. I wanted to jump straight to rebuilding the wall and filling in the gaps…but before I could do this I had to do the hard, boring, dirty work of removing soil, weeds and small stones from the collapsed section.

In exactly the same way Jon expertly deconstructs our false thinking about leadership, authority and spirituality in western church culture. As a master surgeon he splits our skin with his scalpel in order to extract the tumour. And some of it is close to the bone as a result – this is a deep examination of our motives and hidden drivers for how and why we do ministry.

If we would see churches and workplaces transformed by the power of the gospel some deep surgery may be required. We all know churches have individual characteristics that express the gifts and flaws of their family makeup…are we ready to put ourselves on the operating table in order to become more like Christ together?

One of the key questions I have found this book making me ask myself is how do shift from “attending” to “belonging”?

The first authentic step I found fairly painful was to examine my own heart and realise that I was putting the vision of what I thought God was calling me to do before the people I was doing it with. This vision-first dynamic creates dividing lines and weakens the family bonds.

The second step was realising I needed to deliberately put myself in a place of weakness and vulnerability to hear what God was saying to me through others. This Stumbling Edge, as Ken Janke (one of our Thrive speakers) calls it is the place of faith, failure and growth. Eventually, we can even come to enjoy our feet not being able to touch the bottom as we learn to live beyond the illusion of control.

There are many more lessons within these pages for those with the courage to walk this path with Jon. It was a blessing to meet him and Ken Janke in March 2019 – and then read some of Ken’s story in this book. My prayer is that God uses this book to help us become more humble, more real & more secure in the Father’s heart. Enjoy!

This book review series is in anticipation of the Thrive Scotland conference coming in September.

A new perspective to start your week

A review of Thank God it’s Monday by Mark Greene

Have you ever found yourself lying in bed on Monday morning wishing that you had one more day of lockdown before heading back into the office? Wishing that you didn’t have to face the world of half asleep, mask wearing commuters on their way to another dull day in the office or factory?

Not many of us bounce out of bed on a Monday pumped full of delight at a new week at work. For the Christian this can present a dilemma – we know that we should be thankful for, and serve God, in everything, but why is it so hard to be satisfied in our efforts to serve God at our workplace? How can we flourish in the workplace?

This book from Mark Greene is the metaphorical light switch to help illuminate our thinking. If you want to see your work from God’s perspective and how we can thrive at work you will love this book.

Central to the book is establishing a new context for our service, using real life stories told with Mark’s irrepressible wit and charm. It’s a funny, compelling, warm-hearted exhortation to see the kingdom of God as it touches every aspect of life.

Can we see with new eyes what God wants to do through us?…through you…with that difficult to deal with boss, or dismissive colleague? Or lonely neighbour. This easy to read book is littered with real examples to connect what we think with how we act.

Mark’s aim is to not to give us a new To Do list everyday, but a fresh way of approaching our everyday lives. One of the key questions it raises is: Who are our hero’s? This book is jam packed with real heros from the Frontline, people who won’t have their biographies on Christian bookshelves, but who have their deeds etched in heaven’s annals.

If we are willing to see it, God is inviting us to bring His peace, His Shalom, to our broken world, and this not through perfect people but through the frail and faltering steps of His children who really do thank God it’s Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday…

This book review series is in anticipation of the Thrive Scotland conference in September.

Reviews of this book from other Christians in the workplace can be found here

A refreshed vision

For the last few years a small group of us have been sowing into the Aberdeen business community, with a heart to bless the city. We are refreshing our vision for 2020, you can read more below:

The Business Connection 2020 – Refreshing Our Vision

The Business Connection (http://thebusinessconnection.org/) exists to equip, encourage and empower people in the corporate sector in Aberdeen city and shire. We are a not-for-profit charity (SC045163) run by four trustees from within the business community for the benefit of the business community. All Trustees are volunteers, sourcing their income from professional employment or leading their own business or social enterprise. The charity is self-funded and relies on the donations of supporters to fund our activities. The charity’s activities have progressed over the last seven years:

– Since 2013 we have been hosting fortnightly breakfasts for workers to make friends, share stories and build relationships.

– Since 2016 we have also been hosting monthly talks on the last Friday of the month aimed at supporting the business community with helpful, thoughtful presentations on local and national issues across a range of topics.

– In 2019 we hosted the first Thrive Aberdeen conference along with 12 other Christian organisations (including Evangelical Alliance, LICC; Transform Work UK and many others) aimed at calling, gathering and celebrating those of a Christian faith in the workplace.

As we begin a new decade, we are relaunching the charity with two new Trustees – individuals of deep faith who bring significant experience across the public and private sector in Aberdeenshire.

Together we have sought to discern what the needs of the city and shire are at this moment in time. We believe that now is the time to sharpen our focus on the specific challenges facing our historic city. In order to ensure we invest the right resources in our vision we are stopping the fortnightly breakfasts for the foreseeable future.

We see that the forces that have shaped Aberdeen to be the city it has become are shifting and the city has entered a period of reinventing its identity. This change in direction has a knock-on impact on those of us employed in the city. We are asking ourselves: “How can those who care about the health and well-being of the Aberdeen business community help them influence the future direction of the city and shire?”

Alongside this focus on providing an intentional platform for influencing executive decision making, we also want to support the business community in having a more direct impact on helping organisations seeking to bless the neediest in the city and shire. So, we are also asking ourselves: “How can those of us who have benefitted from the prosperity of the region bless those who have not?”

We believe this dual pronged approach enables those in business to be a force for good – helping connect the decision makers to the workforce; and helping connect some of the most fortunate in society with some of the least fortunate. We are proposing a two-pronged approach in 2020, with a series of thought-provoking sessions from key organisations both within and outside the Aberdeenshire region on these two themes.

We invite those of you within our 280 strong network to come along and engage with our guests. We invite the key decision makers and culture shapers in Aberdeenshire to come and share thoughts on how the workforce in this region can help contribute to a better future for everyone.

We very much look forward to the year to come.

The Business Connection Trustees: Barry McAllister; Jim Grimmer; Martyn Link; Smart Masoni

95% is not obedience

Recently I have started reading the bible in what I would call the Countdown style. 2 from the back, 1 from the front and 1 from the middle – ie 2 chapters from the Old Testament, 1 from the New and 1 psalm. It has brought up some interesting insight as I mediate on such a broad sweep of redemptive history.

This morning I read Genesis 21 & 22, Matthew 11 and Psalm 11 and found an interesting parallel. In Genesis Abraham’s love for his son is tested, in Matthew John the Baptist’s quest for the Messiah is answered, and in the Psalm David’s refusal to flee from his enemies is declared.

It struck me that each of these passages shows us an important but different aspect of obedience. Obedience in the bible is always in the context of relationship with the Creator. As our maker and father he instructs us in the best way for us to walk, he guides us towards the best pasture to feed on. The question is, will we follow?

Abraham’s obedience overcomes paternalistic love; John’s obedience overcomes nationalistic apathy; David’s obedience overcomes hostile attack. In each the test is different but similar. Do you love me more than your greatest love? Will you follow me if you are the only one? Are you prepared to trust in my protection?

Sometimes we are tempted to think of obedience as this impossible standard of perfection that encompasses everything we think, say or do…and that would be correct. On this level our every action is marred by our tainted motives. Much of this is innate and only slowly and painstakingly redeemed.

However there is another aspect of obedience which is the deliberate choices we make to either follow or reject God’s leading in our lives. This is conscious, deliberate, stumbling toward God in faith moment by moment. We will never defeat our every sinful motive (who can know all their hidden faults?), but we are expected to choose the path of obedience over family love, fear of enemies and paralysing apathy.

In this place if we are only willing to give God 95% of our hearts, then this is not obedience. Full and unreserved surrender is the currency of heaven. Yes we stumble in times of weakness, yes we have a backlog of bad tendencies to work through, but in the moment by moment relationship we are holding nothing back. This is the outworking of Jesus’ call to remain in him and bear much fruit.

Father, help us to submit our lives to your care, enable us to overcome our hesitation and fall forever into the ocean of your unconditional love. Amen

Because you’re worth it!

Book 3 Chapter 10 Section 1-6

If there is a motto for the 21st century Brit, this is it! Our media screams out day after day as a mantra for modern day living, “Go on spoil yourself you deserve it”. We know that we don’t really need that flat screen TV, ipod, new mobile phone, anti-aging cream, XBOX 360 (delete as appropriate!) but we buy them, why? “Because we are worth it”. We deserve the best that life can offer and no one has the right to tell us otherwise. Restraint and moderation have been forgotten and our society has embraced materialism with a religious fervour – that is until the credit crunch hit.

Calvin takes a very different approach to our possessions. He poses the refreshing suggestion that we should use the various things in creation for the purpose they were created. Why did God make food, clothing, flowers, or precious stones? Not only for our sustenance but also our enjoyment. But this enjoyment should not go to excess, so that we over-indulge our appetites and end up abusing the God-ordained purpose of the object. We should bear in mind that “the object of creating all things was to teach us to know their author, and feel grateful for his indulgence.” In regard to food, Calvin asks “where is the gratitude, if you so gorge or stupify yourself with feasting and wine as to be unfit for offices of piety, of the duties of your calling?”

If we become so obsessed with the gifts and forget the Giver we risk becoming like the gifts. As Calvin says “for many are so devoted to luxury in all their senses, that their mind lies buried: many are so delighted with marble, gold and pictures that they become marble-hearted…The kitchen, with its savoury smells, so engrosses them that they have no spiritual savour.” Rather we should view ourselves as stewards of all that we have, recognising that in fact we really own nothing (1 Cor 7.29).

Response

How refreshing it would be for us all to use things for the way they were created, if we all used food for the pleasure and nourishment it provided without becoming anorexic or obese. What would society look like if we all used clothes for the simple purposes they were created? No fashion industry would be needed, no sweat shops in Asia, no competing to keep up with the latest look.

While some may say Calvin is advocating an Amish-type existence, he is no kill-joy. He is all for enjoying the good things in life, but framing that enjoyment within the purposes of the Creator. What advice would Calvin have for us regarding our possessions? I think he would say, use it, enjoy it, but don’t let it master you or abuse it beyond its natural purpose. Best of all, be content with whatever God has given you, patiently bear hard times, use what you have to bless others and realise that you have these things, not because you are worth it, but because He entrusted you with it.

“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say “Who is the Lord?” Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of God.” Proverbs 30.8-9

A couple of billion heartbeats later

HeartbeatBook 3 Chapter 9 Section 1-6

2.5 billion – that’s the estimated number of heartbeats of someone who lives until they are age 70, at 35 million heartbeats a year. That means if I live until 70 I only have some 1.2 billion heartbeats to go. That’s all that separates us from eternity – just the thump, thump, thump of our cardiac muscle. Obviously many never reach the ripe old age of 70, and a few find that their tired heart can keep going for a few more million beats.

Calvin’s message in Chapter 9 is that Christians should look forward to the end of this life, not from a morbid fascination with death, but because this is when life really begins. He’s not just saying this to make us feel better, he really believes that the best is yet to come. It reminds me of CS Lewis’ play The Great Divorce, when the people in heaven were more real and joyful than they had ever been on earth. There is something coming on the other side of death that will make this life seem like a rainy bank holiday weekend in Llandudno (no offence meant, but you can’t argue with childhood memories!).

Calvin ties this topic into the theme of bearing our cross that we were looking at last time by pointing out that one of the effects of the many afflictions that we bear is that they make us despise the present life. We yearn for an end to our sufferings that sometimes almost make us hate our earthly life. Calvin says that this is one of the legitimate goals that God would has in giving us a cross to bear. The cross is our remedy to an over-indulgence in this life, Calvin recognises the danger that “our minds being so dazzled with the glare of wealth, power and honours, that they can see no further.” In fact, “the whole soul, ensnared by the allurements of the flesh, seeks its happiness on the earth.” So God shows us the “vanity of this present life, by a constant proof of its miseries.”

But alongside the danger of becoming too besotted with the glitter of earth, is the other extreme of becoming so disillusioned that we begin to hate our life on earth. As someone once said, we risk becoming so heavenly-minded to be of no earthly use. Calvin warns against ingratitude to God who has given us numerous divine blessings in this life that we should be thankful for. These are a foretaste of what is to come – “before openly exhibiting the inheritance of eternal glory, God is pleased to manifest Himself to us as a Father by minor proofs – i.e. the blessings which He daily bestows on us.” We must never let our weariness of the troubles of life become a weariness of life itself.

And yet how few believers truly live in the light of these realities, having a desire to depart, while also having proper thankfulness and joy at the simple pleasures of this temporary life? How infrequently we meditate on the reality of the brevity of this life and the certainty of our future life. As Calvin says “there is no fact which we ponder less carefully, or less frequently remember.” But our attitude in this area is a sure sign of the depth of our Christian maturity, for “no man has made much progress in the school of Christ who does not look forward with joy to the day of death and final resurrection.”

Response

Chapters 9 & 10 form two bookends of the Christian life – the former driving us to meditate on the glory of the future life, the latter reminding us of the importance of our stewardship in the present life. It’s vital we hold the present and future life in balance. Without a right focus on both we will become inbalanced and unstable, either becoming intoxicated with the futility of this present life or overly comfortable with our temporal blessings. How hard it is to be both content with what we have, as well as eager to leave the body and be with the Lord. There are many times when I have been more than ready to go, but now with the blessings of a young family and a faithful companion my heart desires to see them grow.

How little we ponder these things, even as Christians. Do we dwell on the reality of the temporary nature of everything we see? Have we grasped that one day, even though none will realise it, there will be the last ever Premiership season, the final Wimbledon Championship, the final season of Formula 1 (this may be nearer than the others!!)…there will be the last house sold but never lived in, the last person poked on Facebook, the final Twitter tweeted. Our task is to live in the constant reality of these truths, while simultaneously finding joy and delight in the momentary sparkle of creation.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you.” 1 Peter 1.3+4

Father, we know our lives are fleeting in our heads, but we sometimes convince ourselves us we are here to stay. Help us to number our days aright and avoid either extreme. Inflame our hearts until we meet, that every heartbeat would be full of love for you, Amen.

Our wilful, joyful, costly submission

Screen Shot 2018-01-04 at 16.54.36Book 3 Chapter 8 Section 1-11

In this second chapter on self-denial, Calvin focuses our thoughts on what it means to “bear the cross”. He begins by stating that our example and model in this should come from our Lord, who, despite being the most beloved Son and completely sinless, was subjected to a “perpetual cross” while on earth. The only reason He carried His cross was “to testify and prove his obedience to the Father.” On the contrary, there are many reasons which make it necessary for us to bear our cross:

  • To reveal our false confidence in the flesh – because we estimate our virtue above its proper worth
  • To prove to us our great weakness and frailty – thus teaching us true humility
  • To learn to invoke His strength – teaching us to daily rely on the grace of God, not our own strength
  • To try our patience and train us in obedience – that we might “display striking proofs of the graces” He has given us to withstand such trials
  • To prevent us from becoming corrupted by His indulgence – and so not become like the children of Israel who kicked against the father who reared them (Deut 32.15)
  • To correct our past faults – treating us as children who are rightly disciplined (Heb 12.8)
  • To suffer for the sake of righteousness – which is singled out as being particularly glorifying to God (Mat 5.10).

Calvin goes on to say that without trials there would be no such thing as patience. For patience only grows in adversity, never peace. God would have us display the glory of the gifts He has given us, that His grace and power may be demonstrated to the world. As Calvin says “But if God Himself, to prevent the virtues which He has conferred upon believers from lurking in obscurity, nay lying useless and perishing, does aright in supplying materials (i.e. trials!) for calling them forth, there is the best reason for the afflictions of the saints, since without them their patience could not exist.”

However, knowing that there are so many good reasons to undergo trials does not mean that believers possess a “total insensibility to pain” as if there feelings were desensitised. Our goal is not to be like the Stoics who aim to be so divested of humanity that nothing in life can affect them – treating adversity and prosperity, grief and joy all the same as if they were a stone. Even Christ himself experienced grief and “shed tears for his own and others’ woes.” We are caught between wanting to obey God and trying to avoid suffering. We by nature recoil from trials, but knowing that this is often the path we must take to obey our Father we press on, not knowing what lies ahead.

Response

With so many good reasons for undergoing trials and tribulation its a wonder that we complain so much when we go through them! Seriously though, how hard it is for us to hold on to these truths in the midst of our sufferings. Most of the time it is only when looking back, often after many years, that we can see any positives from our ordeals. And yet Calvin reminds us that is in the midst of these trials, when they are at their fiercest, that we are virtue shines the brightest. Our patience, thankfulness and graciousness at the time of testing glorifies God and demonstrates to the world the reality of our faith.

Some trials are common to believer and unbeliever – for example disease, bereavement, redundancy and natural disasters. In addition when the believer takes a stand for his Lord he will often face persecution. In all these things, whether they come to us because we are believers or because we are living on a broken planet, we can view them all as the cross that we must bear. They can all be redeemed by embracing them for the sake of Christ. This is where the difference comes – not in the nature of the trials themselves, but in our offering of ourselves willing to God to bear them for His pleasure.

“Everyone who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Timothy 3.12

No other will

Screen Shot 2018-01-04 at 16.26.21.pngBook 3 Chapter 7 Section 1-10

In this chapter Calvin continues his contemplation of the Christian life by doing a two-part exposition of Matthew 26.24, looking at the practice of self-denial. He begins by reminding us that we are not our own:

  • “We are not our own: therefore, neither is our own reason or will to rule our acts and counsels
  • We are not our own: therefore, let us not make it our end to seek what may be agreeable to our carnal nature
  • We are not our own: therefore, as far as possible, let us forget ourselves and the things that are ours”

So who do we belong to now?

  • “We are God’s: let us, therefore live and die to Him
  • We are God’s: therefore let His wisdom and will preside over all our actions
  • We are God’s: to Him, then, as the only legitimate end, let every part of our life be directed”

Calvin would have us realise that it is only in giving away our lives that we can rescue them from destruction, for “the only haven of safety is to have no other will, no other wisdom, than to follow the Lord wherever He leads. Let this then be the first step, to abandon ourselves and devote the whole energy of our minds to the service of God.”

Calvin divides the rest of this chapter into two parts, namely how self-denial has respect to our fellow man and, most importantly, to God.

  • Our fellow man – while keeping ourselves humble by a diligent examination of our faults we should “behold the gifts of God in others, so to reverence and respect the gifts, as also to honour those in whom they reside. God having been pleased to bestow honour upon them, it would ill become us to deprive them of it.” Denial of self also means we do not use our gifts for our edification or promotion, rather “whatever we obtain from the Lord is granted on the condition of our employing it for the common good of the church, and that, therefore, the legitimate use of all our gifts is a kind and liberal communication of them with others.”
  • God – our self-denial calls us to “resign ourselves, and all we have, to the disposal of the Lord.” Calvin recognises our “frenzied desire” for wealth, prosperity, honour and power, but the Christian is to seek none of these things as an end in themselves. Rather we do not “think of any prosperity apart from the blessing of God.” We are not to trust our own “dexterity and assiduity” (i.e. ingenuity) or leaning on the favour of men (i.e. networking) or empty imagination of fortune (i.e. visualisation techniques). Rather than standing on anyone who gets in our way, this way of thinking will mean “we will only follow such fortune as we enjoy with innocence.”

Response

How refreshing this attitude toward our fellow man is! How easy it is to focus on the weaknesses and faults of those in Christian leadership – both in the local church and those with a global profile. Calvin warns us against have a critical spirit against them, not because of the perfection of their Christian character, but because they have been appointed by God to their position for the good of the church. Keeping our own faults at the forefront of our mind should keep us humble, but how well do we do at this? Do we lift up those in leadership among us in our conversation or do we bring them down? Its interesting to think of the parallels with David’s attitude to Saul in this regard. Knowing Saul was “the Lord’s anointed”, David abhorred the thought of inflicting the slightest injury on him. Do we really believe that our leaders were appointed by God for the good of His people? If so then this is not a million miles away from David’s attitude to Saul. We would do well do emulate David’s holy respect and loyalty to his (weak and tormented) king.

Self-denial is something much bigger than a private battle against besetting sins. It encompasses our entire lives – are they directed to the call of God, or are we living our lives on our agenda, with only the most fleeting acknowledgment of our Lord? Self-denial only makes sense when we understand that the reason we are called to lay down our own will and desires is that we might learn the will and desires of our Lord and Saviour. Only then do we learn that we have actually sacrificed nothing of any value, and yet we have gained the most priceless of all pearls.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot.

No ordinary life

Screen Shot 2018-01-01 at 15.39.38Book 3 Chapter 6 Section 1-5

Calvin groups chapters 6 to 10 of Book 3 under the banner of “The Life of the Christian”. Beginning with this short chapter on how the bible exhorts us to live a holy life, he then moves onto a study of Matthew 16.24 in two part – self-denial (7) & carrying the cross (8) and finishes with two meditations on the future (9) and present life (10).

Calvin first of all presents the call of God to personal holiness. Scripture would have two things focus our attempts at holiness – 1) the love of righteousness and 2) the denial of self. Calvin reminds us that we are to be holy because God is holy. He states that holiness must be the bond in our union with God “not that by the merit of holiness we come into communion with him, but because it greatly concerns His glory not to have any fellowship with wickedness. Again “for to what end were we rescued from the iniquity and pollution of the world into which we were plunged, if we allow ourselves, during our whole lives, to wallow in them?”

While the philosophers can only exhort us to live agreeably with nature, we have a higher goal. For God “has impressed His image upon us, to which He would have us to be conformed.” And that image is His Son. Calvin presses us to live a holy life and gives numerous reasons for holy living, all originating in the blessings of God:

  • Ever since God exhibited Himself to us as Father…
  • Ever since Christ purified us by His blood…
  • Ever since He ingrafted us into His body…
  • Ever since He who is our head ascended to heaven…
  • Ever since the Holy Spirit dedicated us as temples to the Lord…
  • Ever since our soul and body were destined to heavenly incorruptibility and an unfading crown…

“These, I say, are the surest foundation of a well-regulated life, and you will search in vain for anything resembling them among the philosophers.”  He finishes this chapter by considering the challenge before us to be holy as God is holy. He admits that although all true Christians will aspire to a completely pure life, none will achieve it.  Nevertheless, we should be resolved to “set this before our eye as the end at which we ought constantly to aim.” We must seek to always make progress, even in some small way – “let us not despair because of the slender measure of success.”

Response

It is encouraging to see the compassionate Calvin in this chapter recognising the frailness of our nature and our lack of progress in genuine godliness. We must hold these two things in tension throughout our entire pilgrimage – the unadulterated call of God to complete purity and the frailty of the human nature in progressing in holiness. To over-emphasise the former leads to despair and inner condemnation, to over-emphasise the latter leads to over-indulgence and self-justification.

In all our teaching and preaching we should never water down either truth, but rather we should preach with all our heart that what is impossible with man is possible with God. Only with the Spirit’s enabling can we ever make progress in a holy life. As He enables, we are able to walk with the Spirit and as we do we find that we suddenly are not so inclined to satisfy our selfish desires. Does God call us to do the impossible? Yes, humanly speaking. But as Peter could walk on water as long as he kept his eyes focussed on Christ, so we too are able, in some measure, to live a God-honouring life.

“So I say, live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature…Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5.16+24-25

Father, enable us to keep our eyes focussed on Jesus for more of each day, every day. May we grieve the Spirit less and quench the Spirit less each day of our lives. We know we will never be perfect, but keep us from willful sins and keep us pressing on. Amen.