These questions came to me in my heart this morning, when praying for the needs of loved ones and my various communities. The question took me back to the story of Jesus, saying this – “which is easier, to say ‘your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘get up and walk’?”
I was struck by how our attitudes and expectations in today’s world are so different now than for the people in Jesus’ day. I don’t see a great many physical healings in my own day-to-day life, but I do believe that Jesus still heals. But forgiveness – do we take forgiveness of sins for granted, maybe? Or do we know we are forgiven and other things become more important to us? How important is the forgiveness of my sins to me?
How important was it/ is it to Jesus? Is that not why He came and died on the cross?
In this account, Jesus had healed many people and had driven out evil spirits and that’s why He had attracted such a crowd, so that people had come from all over, to hear Him speak and to bring the sick to Him… and hence, these 4 friends had faith to bring their paralysed friend directly to Jesus and to lower him through the roof… They expected Him to heal the paralysed man – straight up – but what they didn’t expect, was what He said instead – “Friend, your sins are forgiven”. I wonder how I would have felt, if I’d gone to all that trouble and heard Jesus say that? I wonder how they felt? That wasn’t why they’d brought him to Jesus and the religious were shocked and indignant – “Nobody but God can forgive sins,” they complained… which is why He said it – so they would “know that the Son of Man has power to forgive sins”!
Imagine yourself there in the story as you read it – become one of the friends, or one of the crowd!
Luke 5:17 One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.
18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus.
19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?
23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?
24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”
25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.
26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
Am I “amazed” and in “awe” of His forgiveness and do I still consider it more “remarkable” than miracles of healing?
We Christians know today that Jesus came to take away our sins, but I think that I largely take that for granted many days. I know it and am grateful, but the initial impact that forgiveness had, has worn off a bit – a bit like the “first love” feeling.
In the society that Jesus lived in the flesh, forgiveness was a cause for sacrifice, blood and ritual, but for me, it is not such a substantial much a part of my day to day or religious life, despite frequent celebration of Communion/Eucharist. Of course I am aware of my sinful nature, every day, and I ask for forgiveness at least daily, and keep “short accounts” with God – “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalm 139:23)
But the people in that place and time came to Jesus for physical healings, and for their material needs to be met, and for His teaching; and I think that more often than not, that is when I cry out to Jesus – when I or my friend is sick, when I need to see a miracle of provision for the hungry and the needy, or when I have questions and seek answers from the Word of Truth. My focus is often temporal.
“Which is easier?” You said.
I, of course, will die one day. The poor we will ‘always have with us’. Our sufferings are “light and momentary” in comparison with the joy of eternity. But I am here now and concerned with health and wealth, and the things of my humanity press on me on a daily basis; and You know this Lord, so when You lived among us in the flesh, You had compassion to ease some of these burdens. You healed, You fed and You loved and provided for those You met. And I long to see lots more of those temporal miracles in the world around me. You know what is important to me and You care about every tiny detail. Thank You.
Which is easier? To make sandwiches for the hungry in my community or to forgive my enemies; to forgive the one who abused me or my beloved? Which is easier? To feed and respect the dirty man in the doorway, or to throw him some change and pray for him? Which is easier? To come alongside and speak out for those without a voice, or to forgive the oppressor? He went on to expand this truth of forgiveness by describing the call of Levi, the tax-collector. Everybody hates tax-collectors, right? (Or maybe the corrupt politicians are today’s equivalent.) Where is the cross I am called to carry?
I am challenged by these questions and by Him who said of His murderers and mockers “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing!”
Which is easier and Which is more important? You came to earth, not primarily to feed us and cure our diseases, but to forgive us and to offer us reconciliation with our heavenly Father and offer us everlasting life. Forgiveness was not easier for You. You paid the greatest price. You gave up everything to become as nothing – despised and rejected and crucified with the weight of the sin of mankind! That was not easy. I think the reality of what you did is largely beyond my comprehension. I am truly grateful, but the words I use, or my feelings, cannot do justice to the enormity of the reality. That was the greatest miracle of all time!!!
I ask that I will always have before me what is most important for You – the eternal – that forgiveness, reconciliation and Salvation of our eternal spirit, for which You gave Your all, is the most important thing on Your compassionate, merciful heart and plan. I ask that I will have the humility to accept my cross and to forgive those who most challenge me. May I work with You intentionally to promote not only good works, but though it, your Good News, for Your Glory.
I’m afraid I do need to lament again, and I say that deliberately. I am afraid. I am scared of some of the things that I see and hear and sense and feel. And I feel powerless and small and completely lacking in wisdom and knowledge of the truth. I believe that You are bigger than all of it and I pray to be close to Your heart, Lord, but then I ask You to be gentle with me, because my own heart is already overwhelmed with the weight of sorrow in the world. I deliberately don’t have a TV or newspapers, because there is enough suffering, need, and work to do around me, and I can only carry a limited amount. I sob enough as it is. You know this Lord, but as I sit with You I am overcome with grief – grief at the weight of suffering and despair all around the world. Grief at the sin, the greed, the hatred, the lies, the deceit, the abuse of power, the violence and the lack of knowledge of You. And I know I should not fear – Your word tells me every day of the year – 365 times You wrote “Do not fear”, and I know that You don’t give us a spirit of fear, or of timidity, or of confusion, and yet I do feel all of those things as I drop to my knees… and I repent of my fear and confusion, for fear is sin and lack of faith, but that is why I need to lament – because it is really there in me; You and I both know of it, so it needs to come out. And so I will do as You instruct and I will “pour out my heart like water in the presence of the Lord”. (Lamentations 2:19)
There is such a strong sense that Your people, who are called by Your name, need to humble themselves and pray… for then You will hear from heaven, You will forgive our sin and You will heal our land – this world. Amen. (2 Chronicles 7:14) Your word never returns to You void, but accomplishes all You intend. All through Scripture, since Adam and Eve, You have been calling Your people to return to You – for we are so stupid, so fickle, so stiff-necked and arrogant! Lord, have mercy on us. We are all calling upon You now.
There are two themes running through my lament, but those two themes have come together – first I was lamenting about this whole virus pandemic and the unprecedented way that Governments world-wide have sought to control their populations with the “excuse” or “strategy” of trying to control the virus and prevent deaths. And maybe they genuinely are! And I use inverted commas, because unfortunately I don’t have a great deal of faith in our powers that be, to say the least. I am a bit of a sceptic, you might say. The evidence that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is rather evident from my perspective on the world. But I don’t just want to slag off the rich and powerful – this is not a political lament, Lord, it is a spiritual lament; for we are in a spiritual battle, I think, and it is not powers of flesh and blood that I lament – though it does present itself in such forms… I’m way out of my depth here, Lord, but it worries me. I was reading all the alternative view on this new virus control – the so-called “conspiracy theories” and they truly are very compelling – not least because so many of them posted on YouTube or Facebook suddenly “disappear” without warning, or are “taken down”… And I become very suspicious when views are silenced and people and ideas disappear. And this ties me back in to my earlier lament about the atrocities in China and the fact that nothing seems to be being done about it – not even much said about it. I hear constantly from Open Doors and Barnabas Fund about the persecution of entire cultures and communities of people, because of their religion or ethnicity – and I know this isn’t new and is widespread; I know it happens all over the world – in Burkina Faso, in other African countries, in India, Middle East, far East and even in the West, though much more subtly of course. Vast numbers of people are simply wiped out, displaced; genocide, refugees everywhere… we are aware of it and we sympathise and want them to be settled – we just don’t want them in our tidy neighbourhood! But yes, I have a heart for China and India, because I was there for 3 weeks in each, and I met and loved people, and I tried to learn and speak the language – and I have loved-ones who lived in and loved these places… so they are close to my heart and I pray for them and look out for them… And I watched countless videos about the plight of the Uighurs, the secret concentration camps and the orphanages for the children of the incarcerated Uighurs; about the indoctrination of the Han Chinese, who do seem to believe that such people are “being re-educated for their own good”… of the new ‘points’ system, whereby each Chinese citizen is monitored and surveilled; and what a person buys, where they go, what they watch, what they say, who they say it to, how they behave…. It is all monitored and they get points added and deducted, and they lose points for buying alcohol, or watching or doing something deemed “illegal” – and a loss of points can mean that they are denied a train ticket, that travel and other spending, or activities, is restricted or denied and then they may be arrested and taken away for questioning… I find it so scary! It seems like 1984, but with modern technology and even fewer places to hide! Maybe I read Orwell at too impressionable an age, but Orwell had no idea where technology would be able to reach. I have had discussions about why I don’t want a cashless society, why I don’t want a smart-phone, why I don’t want to get rid of all my CDs and DVDs and rely just on one piece of technology! I know that makes me seem like a dinosaur, a technophobe, an old-fashioned antique – but it’s more than that – I am concerned! If the electricity supply was cut off, or our computer systems hacked, or they got a virus, we would all be lost in a world we know longer knew how to navigate! And I know people laugh at me, that’s okay. I still fear it happening. I’m sure Noah, Moses, Abraham and a few of the greats (with whom I do not compare in the slightest, of course) were ridiculed and mocked – “You’re building a boat? Here in the desert?” And maybe they had moments of doubt? The thing is that hindsight is the greatest of teachers, and so it still takes a great step on faith to get out of the boat! (Excuse me for mixing metaphors) So, I also fear the level of surveillance I feel, if I send an email to HMRC or buy something on Ebay, the same item or information pops up as an advert on my Facebook site! I find that disconcerting to say the least! I recently re-read 1984, because of all that I could see happening and was amazed that people actually choose to buy a device that hears everything they say and will respond if you say, “Alexa, do this”… It makes me want to throw away even my laptop – but they have us by the short and curlies, cos we have to do some things online now – it is almost impossible not to have online utilities and banking… – and then COVID happened!!! And we were told to stay indoors for 3 weeks… Three weeks, I exclaimed, incredulous! Of course it’s all for our own good… and we don’t want to be responsible for killing Grandma, do we? But we’ll pay (most of, but we’ll give the real details later) your wages, they said – furlough, they call it; you won’t lose your home or your job… in fact see it as a holiday at home. We’ll let you do your shopping for essentials – but, even better, do it ONLINE!!! Help one another, look after each other, but keep your distance – 2 metres – no hugging, cover your mouth, muffle your voice, be afraid of your neighbour – they may have the dreaded virus! We are doing it for your own good; we’re all in this together… and 3 weeks became 3 months, became 6 months… new restrictions, bubbles, all sorts of hoops to jump through to keep safe, protect others, control the virus, control the people… can’t go to school, can’t go to church, can’t sing and worship… do it all online! Yay! Wonderful zoom – allows us to have everything monitored and drives us just that bit further apart… we forget people, we get used to zoom and restrictions, we become afraid of one another, visitors are not allowed in our homes, no hugging, no laughing or singing… cancel the holidays and the parties and the celebrations, cancel the gatherings and the meetings and the fellowship, cancel the weddings and funerals and sense of occasion – get as many online as possible and get them to the point when they are desperate for a vaccine. And wait a bit longer and then we have them eating out of the palm of our hands! But what about the sceptics who refuse a vaccine? There are always a few that fall through the net and won’t be indoctrinated, that never trust authorities… these “conspiracy theorists” – well, we just won’t let them have their freedom back – if they won’t be vaccinated, we’ll say they are a danger and a menace – we will blacklist them and refuse them to travel and such – we will curtail their liberty (it works in China) – for the good of the majority of course – and the majority will believe us, they will malign those rebels and exclude them themselves – people will be so grateful to have their “freedom” back that they will police our plans themselves…
Lord, this is my lament, my fears and my confusion and the garbled thoughts on my heart. And in prayer I went to read Revelations, where You inspired John to write about end times stuff, and there I read (Rev 13: 16) “He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no-one could buy or sell unless he had this mark…” Is this what it is? The biometrics tags they propose and the vaccine we may be forced to have… that will be used to ‘track and trace’ us? In Revelations, this beast that forced the mark, “was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” (Rev 13: 7-8) So I don’t know who or what to believe in the world or the news. It goes on to say (in Rev 13) “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints” (verse 10) and later – “This calls for wisdom.” (verse 18) I believe that You do know, Lord. I believe that you have conquered sin and death. I believe You are on the throne, that You are the King of Kings and The Lord of Lords. You are there from the beginning right through to the end and You know every step along the way. You are here with me now. And I believe that You want Your children to repent and turn to You with all our hearts, and You ask us to be strong in faith and to trust You and obey You. And please God that I will. Please God that I will not be pulled this way or that away from Your will and that I will resist evil and always know how and where to do good. I pray that You will have Your way over us, protect Your people, draw more people into Your Kingdom through the very strategies of confusion that were meant for evil. I thank You that Your church is growing daily in all the places where there is persecution… I pray for grace and mercy for those who suffer and for those of us who may yet have to suffer, for Your glory. Strengthen Your people in Your Power and Your Truth, Holy Father. Amen.
If you read this to the end and think I’ve gone cuckoo, please comment that you are praying for me, and please do so. I may add that I wear a mask in public places and abide by all of the rules and restrictions that the Government has imposed on us to’ keep one another safe’. I’m simply being honest about what is going on in my mind as I pray for our leaders and our world. Blessings.
If there is an unwritten code that forbids bloggers to be political, I have to warn readers that these thoughts could be seen as political. If outrage against human rights’ abuse and social injustice is political, then my ramblings do take a political flavour to be sure. Is it wrong to want to be a voice for the voiceless? Forgive me, but my heart will not rest until I say something…
In 2015 I was lucky enough to go to China for 3 weeks as my son was studying in Beijing. I loved being in China. Two years later I was blessed with a trip to India for another 3 week, wonderful adventure. Before 2015 I had never been out of Europe. Consequently I now have a bit of my heart and ear to the ground in both of these two countries and I take an interest in them.
I have been praying this morning into the terrible atrocities that are happening in China… We are aware of the atrocities and persecution – I read regularly, online and in publications, about the atrocious treatment of the Uighurs and the systematic persecution of Christians… of concentration camps/rehabilitation centres/torture prisons, correction centres – whatever we may wish to call them – where (especially) the Uighurs (over a million) are “detained” indefinitely, to ostensibly try to “re-educate” them (a euphemism for torture?) until they are what? No longer Uighurs? No longer Muslims? No longer themselves? Dead? And meanwhile the officials put the Uighur children (now potentially, and to all intents, “orphans”) – in beautiful new children’s centres, all purpose built, brightly coloured, re-education camps/orphanages to train them to be like good, communist, han-Chinese citizens.
And I see stories of Christian bookshop managers who have “gone missing”, pastors jailed for “illegal activities” and books confiscated; books and bibles burned; crosses pulled down from churches – (now made a law that they must come down. Crosses may be attached to the side of the building in a stone/brick colour only) Some whole church building have been torn down, closed down… church meetings are videoed and scrutinised by ‘Big Brother’ and video-call meetings are hacked and disrupted. Surveillance is rife and easy on smart phones, which are required by all and monitored. Chinese Christians also “disappear” and those that re-appear often have to “confess” their illegal crimes. (Crimes of being a Christian).
It makes me so riled, heart-broken and feel so helpless. Always the minorities bullied and down-trodden, I think, but then it dawned on me – minority? There are between 1.3 and 1.6 billion Chinese – that’s a fifth of the world’s population. There are about 11 million Uighurs in China! The Uighurs are a minority within China, and so are Christians, but estimates of the number of Christians range from the extremely conservative official number of about 16 million to anything toppling 100 million. This is huge! Chances are that there are more Chinese Christians than there are Britons! But they are still being severely persecuted – at the very least they are being closely monitored, intimidated and their freedoms severely limited and controlled. The Chinese state is afraid of Christianity and its power and growth.
But what do we do about it in the West? What can we do? What should we do? I don’t know the answer to these questions. My heart is to be a voice for the voiceless…
I asked myself that question this morning and have done a little research… I have copied and pasted a whole load of reports and photos and evidence of all these terrible violations of human rights. (I was going to quote some of the reports, but there is so much, and it us there for anyone to read…) And I see that people are speaking out. Some have courageously demonstrated outside the Chinese Embassy and been seriously condemned for doing so (by the Chinese officials I hasten to add. In the UK, we are so far still allowed to protest peacefully…) And I see the US has kicked off about it – even exchanging threats between US and Beijing… People are reporting it, people know… What are we afraid of? I guess it is a very real fear. The cold war is in living memory of many of us, and of course we all want reconciliation and we want peace. China is huge! And it has power!
But at what point do we speak out against human-rights violations in our world? When do we speak up for those who are silenced? Or do we wait until injustice happens to me and mine? Until my freedoms are eroded slowly… I honestly don’t know the answers. I feel moved to do something, say something, because doing nothing and saying nothing makes me feel complicit and cowardly…
I don’t know what to do about this or any of the terrible world situations – in China, India, Nigeria, North Korea, Yemen, and so many places in the world (about which Open Doors is one of many sources of accurate updates) – and even the injustices on our own doorstep – the down-trodden, the homeless, those discriminated against because of their race, religion, gender or social status.
We can pray for these persecuted minorities and the Governments that tolerate or endorse the persecution… – Jesus tells us to pray for our persecutors and for the authorities, but He also tells us to defend the orphan and the widow! How do we do that? How can we examine our own lives – to see if we can sign petitions, speak out and fight for justice for those that cross our path, like the Good Samaritan. Maybe we can do more, and can storm and question the powers that be? I don’t know. I’m not telling anybody what to do. I’m expressing my discomfort and seeking wisdom from heaven, first and foremost, and requesting the prayers of those who want to intercede for those who suffer.
Please pray for our brothers and sisters around the world. xx
“Let every throne, before Him fall…” is a line in a song I was singing this morning, and suddenly I saw what it meant, to me, now.
I pray every morning, “Not my will, but Your will be done!” But this week, two sets of circumstances have occurred that have… well, they’ve gone against what I had planned. They loudly challenged that pious prayer! Dawn’s plans were scuppered and thrown aside (excuse the pun!) and Dawn was disappointed, mad, irritated, discombobulated and wanted to cry. In fact I did cry. I cried and stamped my feet, because God has let me – ( He has been teaching me the importance of “lament”, of “pouring the heart out like water unto the Lord” – because it is an amazing avenue of processing and healing that He gives to us, “stiff-upper-lipped” folk that we are). So I moaned and wailed and got the “poor me” bit out, until I got to the “AND YET…” – and yet – I will praise the Lord (though the crops fail and the sun doesn’t shine) and yet – I will look to him, from whom my help comes; and yet – I will hope in Him, though circumstances look bad…
Mine aren’t bad circumstances in the scheme of things, my life is not threatened, as some are; I am not starving or persecuted, as some are; I do not face real trial or hardship, as many do. I simply didn’t get the little thing I had set my heart on in the way I had hoped for; and then I discovered that I have to self isolate and cancel all my plans for the next fortnight – but that’s all! But they were MY plans and I have to let go. God knew about it and He has other plans for me – better than mine. I will trust Him to know better. That is the second lesson – the principle of relinquishing. The prayer of lament and the prayer of relinquishing (or whatever the noun for relinquish is).
My plans were my throne. I have to get off my throne and look to the real King, the Lord to whom I pray “Thy will be done” and I have to let Him sit on my throne again. I thought He was on the throne, until a bit of my plan went “wrong” – so the Lord, my Lord on my throne, is teaching me and showing me a better way…
I will lament my hurt, relinquish control back to Him, get out the way and
…AND YET, I will trust Him, praise Him and forever hope in Him.
I took the liberty of reflecting on “The Lord’s Prayer” and putting it into a language that refreshes it’s meaning to me. I hope it raises an Amen from you too:
You are our heavenly father, mother, loving creator and source of all life; we are ALL Your children. Your names describe your character – Almighty God, Provider, Holy One, Most High God – You are Holy and more magnificent and more powerful than anything. We want to live as You intend us to live – in a free, beautiful, perfect world, as you created it to be – with You, for You. We can only do this with you. We trust You to give us everything that we need to do this –…