My love is a garden enclosed…

Gardening has never appealed to me, for two reasons.  One, I am essentially lazy and it looks like hard work.  And two, every house we’ve ever lived in has come with a mature garden, already planted out with lawns, borders, trees and shrubs.  There has been no scope for design or imagination.

But for the first time I have moved into a house which is solely mine, and I can do what I like with it.  And crucially, it came with a virgin garden.  The previous owner had not attempted to do anything with it.  The back garden consisted of a patio which has been built too high and breaches the damp course (so it has to go) and a scrubby patch of grass and weeds extending from one fence to the other.  The south-west facing front garden consisted of a paved area surrounded by a six-foot hedge that formed a barricade, cutting me off from feeling part of the community.

Suddenly finding myself presented with a more or less blank canvas, gardening has taken on a new appeal.  I moved in on 30th September, so I have had all winter to think about what I would do with it.  First, I bought a compost bin.  Next I mowed the back garden (the grass and weeds were 12 inches high) and overseeded it.  I began filling the compost bin with grass cuttings and vegetable peelings.  Then I had the top four feet lopped off the hedge so that I now feel as if I belong to the neighbourhood.

I set aside a patch below the kitchen window for vegetables, although I have not yet weeded and planted this.  The week before last I went along the two back fences digging out flower borders.  I put in some seeds of night-scented stock and giant sunflowers, and was excited to see the first cotyledons appearing above the soil yesterday.  Then I bought some bedding plants – phlox, nicotiana and polyanthus and put them in.  I have some tubers ready to plant next month.  Apart from the polyanthus, all the flowers I have selected have wonderful scents, so that even if Ellen can’t see my garden very well, she can still appreciate the fragrance.  I bought a trellis and fixed it to the wall of my outhouse, and planted a honeysuckle to grow up it.  I bought a large container and put strawberry plants in it.

I had plans to plant a Peace rose in the front garden where it will benefit from the sun.  I love Peace – my mother grew it in the garden of my childhood.  I love its colours, its scent, and the story of how it got its name (http://www.bexrose.org.uk/RoseArticlePeace.htm).  There is only one patch of soil in my front garden, and it was covered in scruffy grass and stones.  I went to dig it out and found it was only an inch deep, with flagstones under the soil.  Clearly the rose could not go there.  I looked for a suitable spot in the back garden, and the only place where the soil was deep enough was in full shade – no good for a rose that loves the sun.  So I went to the garden centre and bought a large wooden planter, set it in the front garden, filled it with soil and compost and planted my rose right where I originally planned.  I thought it would look lost in the middle of the large container, so I bought a dozen blue petunias and planted them around it – I imagine they will look stunning against the creamy yellow tinged with pink of the Peace rose.  Now I am weeding, watering and waiting, expecting a colourful and aromatic display front and back.

I have long loved the imagery of the garden.  Even when I was not interested in gardening I still loved gardens, especially ones with varieties of open, sunny areas, hidden shady corners, trees, shrubs, flowers and fruit.  Back in 1996 when I heard Chris Bowater using the garden as a symbol of worship, I immediately engaged with the idea.

He said that when we are in the congregation of the church, worshipping Jesus together, it’s like going for a walk with Him in the public garden, in the company of His friends.  And when we worship Him on our own in privacy and intimacy, it’s like taking a walk alone with Him in our own secret garden.  As it says in the Song of Songs, “My love is a garden enclosed”.  I was gripped by this imagery and it transformed my times of personal worship.  I could clearly visualise my own secret garden in my mind’s eye, and I loved to take walks there hand in hand with my Lord and Lover.  I often wrote poems as my natural expression of love to Him during these times, and as they grew in number, I titled the collection “Poems in the Secret Garden”.*

Making my own first foray into gardening has really enriched my understanding of this picture.  I look back on the barren wasteland of my early times of walking with Jesus, and I can see just how much weeding, fertilising and planting He has done.  Not that He has imposed these on me – it has been a process of co-operation, learning to love what He loves and knowing that He appreciates those things that I have decided to plant in order to delight Him.  I can see how some things in my life which have been culled and rotted away have become the fertiliser for beautiful new things.  Where there has not been enough soil for Him to plant the beauty that He wanted to see, He has put structures in place which can hold deep soil and there He has planted the things He wanted to grace the garden.  Between us we have redirected streams to irrigate dry areas, and life has sprung out of barrenness.  He has done this with my agreement and co-operation.  There are still barren areas, weedy areas, stony areas and shallow areas.  But little by little He is completing the work He began, and I am enjoying my walks with Him in the romance and intimacy of a place that I share with Him alone.

In all my asking, can it really be                                                                                     that answers come, not at my own request;                                                                        that I am Yours because You asked for me,                                                                  and I petition You at Your behest?                                                                                    In all my seeking, Lord, it’s You who seek.                                                                     I’m in my garden with just one intent:                                                                               to seek Your face, to wait and hear You speak;                                                            but, being sought by You, I am content.                                                                             I knock, and know the opening of the door                                                                       is promised; but You also knock, to see                                                                            if my heart, now ajar, will open more.                                                                       There’s nothing that originates with me.                                                                     Repentance is pre-empted by Your pardon,                                                                  and You, not I, designed this secret garden.

* http://www.amazon.co.uk/Poems-Secret-Garden-ebook/dp/B00703L7LG/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1333072279&sr=1-1

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The world according to Ellen

Like a lot of autistic people, Ellen finds the world a scary and unpredictable place.  The rest of us live by rules, but they are rules which Ellen doesn’t understand and she hasn’t worked out how to predict what they might be.

For example, banging a drum makes an interesting booming noise.  Banging a tambourine makes an interesting tinkling noise.  And banging another person makes them go, “Ow!” which is a very interesting noise.  You are usually allowed to do the first two of these.  But someone usually stops you if you try to do the third one.  Ellen has no idea why this is.  And if you are not allowed to bang another person, what else might you be forbidden to bang?  A teapot?  A cat?  A banana?  Ellen has no way of working out the answer to this question. 

Occasionally Ellen will see her sisters play-fighting.  They seem to be banging each other and I, maker of the rules at home, don’t try to stop them.  So now apparently the rules have changed and Ellen has absolutely no idea why.  It’s this failure to understand the principles governing everyone else’s behaviour that makes the world such a frightening place for people like Ellen.

So in an attempt to make the world safe and controllable, Ellen imposes some rules of her own.  For example, if we go out for dinner, she will only have chicken nuggets and chips.  There are plenty of other foods she likes.  Some she likes better than chicken nuggets and chips.  But she knows that if she always chooses the same thing, eating out will be a safe and predictable experience.

She tries always to do the same activities.  Different activities can take place on different days as long as each one is always on the same day of the week and Ellen has a calendar clearly showing them. 

We must do certain things only at certain times of the year.  Ellen loves me to take her swimming, but it has to be in the October half term holiday.  If I suggest a swimming trip in any other month, there is an extreme and negative reaction.  We must visit Granny only in the summer holiday or at Christmas.  On Friday when I suggested visiting Granny next day, Ellen started hitting herself and shouting that she wanted to go back to the previous weekend (although she surprised me by changing her mind on Saturday morning and coming with me after all!) 

Wherever we go – shops, restaurant, hospital, zoo, swimming pool, theme park – she must go and play with the hand dryer in the disabled loo.  This again gives every outing a predictability and makes the world a safer place.  Hand dryers are predictable.  Ellen can understand how they work.  People do very unexpected and alarming things, but hand dryers always do exactly the same thing.  Press the switch or put your hand under the sensor and this will switch on a motor which drives a fan round, which blows air over a heating element and comes out as a stream of hot air accompanied by a very gratifying noise.  And they do this reliably, every time.  They never do anything unexpected.

There are 3 words we try to avoid with Ellen because they provoke a very extreme reaction, often involving a damaging degree of self-harm: new, different and change.  Birthdays and Christmas are anxious times for her.  She loves opening presents, loves the excitement involved and the surprise.  But if the present contains something unfamiliar she becomes very distressed.  It’s new, different and a change.  So we give her the same things every time – chocolate, bubble bath, a personal stereo or Dictaphone, bubble wrap.  She gets though several rolls of bubble wrap a month.  Bubble wrap is predictable and therefore safe.  It always behaves in exactly the same way and makes exactly the same noise when you pop it.

The emotional pain arising from an unpredictable change can be, for Ellen, quite literally unbearable.  Something has to be done, at once, to make the world feel safe again.  The only way is to replace this unmanageable emotional pain with a manageable physical one.  That is why Ellen self-harms, sometimes with catastrophic consequences – she has lost all the sight in one eye and more than 50% in the other as a result.  It might look like a temper-tantrum, but it isn’t.  It’s a frantic attempt to make this scary, unsafe world seem safe and controllable again.

Last week I took Ellen to the garden centre.  This is her favourite outing.  She always has chips in the cafe.  But this time we arrived early, while they were still serving breakfast.  They weren’t yet frying chips.  The lady behind the counter explained this to Ellen, and suddenly Ellen found herself plunging into a vortex of unpredictability and danger.  The world was no longer a safe place where you could go to the garden centre and know that you would be able to have chips.  Ellen set up a loud wail and began biting her hand and wrist and punching herself in the face and head.  Thank God for a kind and understanding employee in the cafe.  She went and had a word with the chef and he agreed to cook chips especially for Ellen – crisis over!

I have come to the conclusion that deep in the soul of every one of us there is a bit that reacts to unpredictability the way Ellen does.  We need to know that there is something in the world that never changes and can always be relied on.

I deal with change pretty well.  I like things to be different, and I get bored with routine.  I like spontaneity – getting up in the morning and deciding to do something I hadn’t thought of until that moment, or packing a bag on a whim and going away for a weekend.  I like surprises, the more unexpected the better.  Yet even I have this core somewhere inside me that needs to know there is something predictable that makes the world safe.

In the last two years I have survived a lifequake.  I have lost my marriage, my job, the home where I lived for over 20 years, and have had to learn to do things I’ve never had to do in my life before – financial planning, self-assessed tax, booking holidays, diy, gardening.  I’m loving it!  I’m finding a confidence I’ve never known before from discovering that I can do things I didn’t know I could do.  Nonetheless, somewhere very deep inside me is a bit that longs for the unchanging. 

In particular, I have wanted God not to change.  I was quite confident that He wouldn’t.  After all, didn’t He say, “I am the Lord, I change not”?  But then, a God who doesn’t change and who champions marriage throughout the Bible would save my marriage, right?  He would protect my children from the emotional damage involved, right?  Like Ellen’s frantic behaviour, some of my prayers and some of my conversations with counsellors were  desperate attempts to make God predictable and controllable.

But God is far more expansive than my understanding of Him.  He refuses to be squashed into my box.  Some of my internal struggling looked very like Ellen’s self-harm.  Some of my incessant bleating (usually by email) was very like her loud wailing.  Suddenly the world was unpredictable, and so was God, and it all felt very, very unsafe.  What’s more, there was nothing I could do to control it or make it safer. 

Now that the dust has settled, though, I have discovered that there is something that never changes, and yes, it is God.  My understanding of Him has, at times, proved wildly wide of the mark.  My vision of Him has been far narrower than the reality.  His capacity to surprise me is infinite, and I keep having to revise and adjust my image of Him.  But still, He has been the solid rock beneath my feet, and though the lifequake has tossed me high in the air and even upside down at times, I have always come back down with that solid rock immovably in place, and discovered that the world is safer than I ever dreamed – the worst can happen, without destroying me or my children.  And out of it all the most serendipitous discovery has come – God really is Love, and I am far, far more loved than ever I realised.  I feel more loved than I have ever done at any time in my life.  And that makes the world a very safe place indeed.

I only do what I see my Father doing

“I only do what I see my Father doing.” This was the one guiding principle of Jesus’ life. It explains why, at the Pool Bethesda, He singled out one man from the many and healed him. It explains why, when the rich young ruler walked away, He let him go and didn’t chase after him. Given the thousands of people clamouring for His attention, this one principle must have saved Him an awful lot of stress and wasted effort.

I want to try to learn to follow Him in this and live my life this way, too. At the end of last year, it became apparent through a combination of circumstances, words of prophecy, and God’s signature peace all over the decision, that it was right for me to give up my job and turn my energies to writing (I have always written, but it has never been my main occupation before). I had no illusions that I could earn a full time living from it, and as a single parent I need to earn a living. But it really was the direction in which God was leading me, and one of the prophecies I received specifically mentioned not worrying about my income but trusting God to provide. So it was to be a big faith venture too, and that really excited me, casting my all on God and letting Him provide for me as a loving Father does.

No sooner had I resigned my job than the publisher of my first book telephoned me and by the end of the conversation I had agreed to write 3 more textbooks and at least 4, possibly 6, compilation books of topical articles linked to the A level Philosophy and Ethics syllabus. This, too, had God’s signature peace all over it.

I sent out 7 magazine articles and proposals for articles, and 6 of them were immediately accepted. I put my details onto several freelancing websites, and before long I was receiving offers of work or invitations to bid for work. 3 friends also approached me about either writing books for them or co-authoring books with them. Exciting stuff, but I couldn’t manage it all – especially as I was already well on the way with writing a book I felt God had given me to write. I decided to try to apply Jesus’ principle. Every time I was offered work, I asked, “Father, is this something You’re doing? Do you want me to get involved in this one?” I only accepted the work if I sensed His “yes”.

Interestingly, apart from the educational books, most of the projects I felt He has said yes to are ones that will probably not earn me much if anything at all. I’m not worried by this – I’ve spent the last year wide-eyed in wonder at His ability to provide for me supernaturally. All he’s calling me to do is to be obedient.

On Thursday, the Association of Christian Writers’ Facebook page was buzzing with a thread that ended up with over 100 posts. Someone had posted a blog from a Christian publisher which said that it’s no longer acceptable to offer a book to a publisher and expect him or her to market it. Even before the book proposal is offered, authors need to have built their own platform. In practice that means you need to have 2,000 followers of your blog and on Twitter and Facebook, to convince the publisher that you have a fan base who will buy your book, and that he will get a return on his investment. We all frantically began following each other on Twitter. From having hardly used my Twitter account and having one follower, I started tweeting hectically like everyone else and picked up another 14 followers.

Then I paused and thought: I haven’t asked the Father if this is something I see Him doing. I spent part of Friday morning in stillness and silence, listening out for the still, small voice amid the clamour. Very clearly, I heard Him say, “Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

On Saturday I went to a writer’s day put on by the Association of Christian Writers – the first one I have attended, very enjoyable and worthwhile; I will definitely be going again. Once again, the theme was that we must build a platform, and self-promote in order to promote Christ. I can fully appreciate that publishers need to know, when they take on a book, that it will be profitable and I can entirely understand what was being said, and I don’t disagree with it. (Ok, well maybe I do have a little question-mark about it; should Christian publishing be going the way of the world, or should we be saying there is a different, kingdom way of doing this? I just throw the question out; I’m not going to discuss my response to it here.)

But for me, personally, I grew increasingly convinced that this is not what the Father is doing. I can identify with John’s words, “I heard a voice from heaven saying, Write.” But so far, that’s all the voice has said to me. How what I write reaches its intended audience is God’s responsibility. If I hear Him tell me to start tweeting frenetically, as He clearly has to some Christian writers, my Twitter profile will spring into life.

But I know that I can only write from the deep spring within me, and in order to keep that replenished and go on having life-giving words to write, I need to spend time by the Well. That’s going to mean, for me, that I spend much less, not more, time on Twitter and Facebook. In fact you might find me fairly absent for a time. I’m going to book myself some silent retreat days over the next few weeks and spend much more time with the Man at the Well, letting Him speak His life-giving words into my spirit.

This morning in Church as I thought over my frantic “tweeting” and “following” on Thursday, I had a mental picture of myself putting on running shoes to rush around “building my platform”. But when I paused to listen to that still small voice beyond the hubbub around me, I heard Him telling me to take off my shoes and spend some time just standing in adoration on holy ground. So, unlike some of my friends, I haven’t given up Facebook for Lent; nevertheless, I may be rather absent for a time. I’ll be standing, unshod, staring into a burning bush and hearing a voice out of it. Or I’ll be sitting at the Well, listening to One who offers me a well inside me, springing up to eternal life. I have no idea how I’ll get my work published, or where this journey will take me. But I suspect I may have something more worth saying for having taken the time to listen to my Father.

Disturb me

I wrote this 16 years ago, but it’s still as much my prayer today as it was then.

 

Disturb me again, my God;

disquiet my fickle heart.

Discomfit me with Your rod

and tear my castles apart.

 

For You are my portion, Lord;

security is in You.

The chattels my soul would hoard

will only obscure my view.

 

Invisible things I see:

they are firmer to my touch

than wraiths of solidity

in a world composed of such.

 

I know that my destiny

is to love You as a Friend.

I know I was born to be

in a kingdom without an end.

 

Disturb me again, I ask,

for fear I should settle down,

still clutching a worthless mask

while throwing away a crown.

Purim

Today is the feast of Purim in the Jewish calendar.  This feast commemorates the victory of the Jewish people over those who sought to destroy them.  Because of the obedience and daring of Esther and Mordecai, God was able to work to overthrow their enemies.  Although I don’t celebrate the Jewish festivals, this one holds a special place in my heart.

When my daughter was born 13 weeks prematurely, I was already caring for my two year old.  The twice daily trips to the hospital, and the rollercoaster of emotions as Ellen hung between life and death sapped all my energy and left me feeling unable to cope.  When Ellen finally came home from hospital three months later, she was still desperately sick.  She would stop breathing six or eight times in every twenty-four hours, and I would have to get her started again.  If she failed to breathe adequately again, it meant an emergency dash to hospital for her to be given oxygen. 

It took two and a half hours to feed her, which had to be done six times a day – that accounted for fifteen out of every twenty-four hours.  Nonetheless, she failed to thrive.  In desperation I cried out to God as never before, and he answered me in two ways.  Firstly, the ladies from my church rallied round and organised a rota, so that every day I had people coming in to do cleaning, cooking, washing and ironing, leaving me free to see to my children. Secondly, I read something that changed my life forever. 

I had grown up with the feeling that God had to love me because that was His nature, and that He tolerated me as long as I kept my head down in some obscure corner of His kingdom; and I felt utterly worthless.  One day I read an article in which the author quoted from Psalm 66 “For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs.  You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.”  He described a prolonged and traumatic experience and explained that through it he had come into such a place of closeness to God that it was worth all he had been through to reach such a place of abundance.  I knew it was what I wanted and I prayed possibly the first really sincere prayer I had ever prayed:  “God, I don’t care what it takes or what I have to go through, please get me to that place of abundance.”

Ellen grew weaker and sicker, and at five months old weighed only four pounds fourteen ounces.  We were later to discover that her very premature start in life had left her with severe cerebral palsy and autism.  The cerebral palsy affected all four of her limbs, her sitting balance and – crucially – her sucking and swallowing muscles, accounting for the feeding difficulties.  But at the time I didn’t know this.  One day, after another exhausting night of trying to feed her and starting her breathing again several times, it suddenly occurred to me that if I smothered her with a pillow, no one would know.  They would just think that she had stopped breathing again and I had failed to get to her in time – which the doctors thought was the likely outcome anyway. 

With hindsight I was suffering from serious post-natal depression.  But I reasoned that this episode could all be over, we could have another baby, and no one would suspect a thing.  I was on the stairs, on my way up to fetch a pillow, when there was a ring at the doorbell.  I answered the door.

My housegroup leader’s wife stood there looking a bit sheepish.  She explained that she didn’t really know why she had come, she had just had a strong feeling that God was telling her I was in trouble and she should get round here now.  I broke down and told her what I had been about to do.  She put the children and me into her car, took us to her house, tucked me up in bed and looked after my girls for me.

Afterwards I was amazed that God (a) knew what I was about to do, and (b) cared enough to stop me.  It was my first real glimpse of His love and care for me.  A few days later I was reading Psalm 45 and verses 10-11 leapt off the page at me: “Listen o daughter, consider and give ear.  Forget your people and your father’s house.  The King is enthralled by your beauty.  Honour Him, for He is your Lord.”

I saw immediately that God was telling me to forget the ideas of Him that I’d grown up with, and to understand that when  He looks at me, He is enthralled by what He sees, and longs for me to feel the same way about Him.  I look back on that moment now as the pivotal turning-point in my Christian life.  That realisation changed everything and brought me into that place of abundance that I had been longing for.  Life continued to be very hard, but God’s love was like a secret spring inside me which gave me the strength to cope with it all and to live joyfully.

What has all this to do with the feast of Purim?  Years later, I decided to set up Lifeline, a community project from my church giving to other families the same kind of help and support that the ladies from my church had given me.  I contacted the local hospital’s Special Care Baby Unit, spoke to the doctors and health visitors, and recruited a team of volunteers and a prayer team, ready to support families with seriously ill newborn babies.  We have now been running for 14 years, and helped around100 families.

One day when I was starting to set all this up, I was driving along in the car, and thinking about how the very thing the devil had intended for harm – my daughter’s fragile start in life and severe disabilities – was being turned around and used against the devil.  We were going to bring the love of Jesus to suffering families in a way that would not have happened if the devil hadn’t done what he did to Ellen.

I said to God, as I drove along, “There must be an example in Scripture where someone takes something the enemy has intended for their destruction, and uses it to destroy the enemy.”  Immediately He reminded me of Esther 7.  That chapter begins with Haman building a gallows, seventy-five feet high, on which to hang Mordecai, and because of Esther’s obedience and God’s intervention, it ends with Haman swinging from his own gallows. 

It seemed the perfect metaphor for Lifeline.  One day I will see people in heaven who wouldn’t have been there if the devil hadn’t done what he did to Ellen.  Like Esther and Mordecai with Haman, it’s my mission to hoist the devil with his own petard.

Can I encourage you to do this too?  Take a look at what the devil has thrown into your life, things he intended to bring you down and do you harm.  Then look around for someone else who is going through something similar, reach out to them with the healing love of Jesus, and watch the devil swing from his own gallows.

Unless you become like a little child…

1 Samuel 30 : “Then it happened when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, that the Amalekites had made a raid on the Negev and on Ziklag, and had overthrown Ziklag and burned it with fire; and they took captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great, without killing anyone, and carried them off and went their way. When David and his men came to the city, behold, it was burned with fire, and their wives and their sons and their daughters had been taken captive. Then David and the people who were with him lifted their voices and wept until there was no strength in them to weep. Now David’s two wives had been taken captive, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess and Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite. Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.   Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Please bring me the ephod.” So Abiathar brought the ephod to David. David inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I pursue this band? Shall I overtake them?” And He said to him, “Pursue, for you will surely overtake them, and you will surely rescue all.”…. So David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and rescued his two wives. But nothing of theirs was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that they had taken for themselves; David brought it all back.”

Imagine being one of David’s children. Your father has gone out to fight, and the Amalekites have seized the opportunity to make a raid on his camp, and his wives and children – including you – have been taken captive, and all your possessions stolen. You sit there, not knowing what is going on. You don’t know where your father is. You don’t know if he’s even aware you’ve been captured, but there’s no reason to suppose he knows. You’re cold, tired, hungry, frightened, disorientated. You have no idea what’s going to happen to you.

What you don’t know is what’s going on back at the camp. Your father has arrived back and discovered what’s happened. He is so distraught that he cries aloud until he is exhausted by emotion and has no strength left to weep – that’s how much he cares about you. Everyone else is blaming him for what’s happened, which greatly increases his distress. But he turns to God and recovers his strength in Him. Then he seeks God’s counsel as to how to proceed, and God tells him how to pursue the enemy and rescue everyone.

But chained up in the enemy camp, you have no idea of all this. You sit there as hour after hour ticks by. You see no change in your situation. You have no way of knowing what the outcome will be, except that based on past experience you have every reason to expect that the Amalekites will kill their captives.
Meantime, your captors are eating, drinking and dancing – celebrating the trauma they’ve inflicted on you. All you can do is sit there in despair and fear, listening to the sound of their celebrations.

Suddenly you begin to hear a different sound, dimly in the distance at first, but rapidly growing nearer and clearer. It’s the roar and thunder of an advancing army. And as they arrive where you are, one voice is distinctly heard above the tumult, giving orders to the army. It’s your father’s voice! He knows what’s happened to you, he knows where you are, and he’s come to rescue you. As night falls, and for the rest of the night, the sounds you hear are the sounds of battle, the sounds of your enemy being overpowered and slaughtered, the sounds of your freedom being won!

There’s nothing you can contribute to this process. You’re tied up with the other captives, and the only possible role for you is to sit passively while your father deals with the enemy and secures your freedom. But even though you are still cold, tired, hungry, disorientated, bound, you’re no longer frightened. Because your dad is on the case, and he always wins. As day breaks, your dad and his victorious army appear among you, cutting bonds and setting prisoners free. You run into your father’s arms and he says, “I missed you so much! You wouldn’t believe how much I cried! But it’s all right now – I’ve got you.”

What can I learn from this? In the darkness of captivity, when it seems the enemy of my soul has overwhelmed me, as I wrestle futilely with a powerful foe, battering my puny fists ineffectually against his armour, all that happens is that I exhaust myself, and am no nearer to winning my freedom. In the fear and disorientation I can’t see what my Father is doing behind the scenes, and sometimes I may wonder if He even cares.
The reality is that He is breaking His heart over my plight – lifting up His voice and weeping until He has no tears left to cry. And even as He does so He is being unfairly blamed and accused for all the world’s wrongs. Then He gathers up all His divine strength and sets out to overpower the enemy.

David saw this parallel between how he as a warrior-father had acted and how God would act on his behalf. That’s why he wrote, “My enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him’ and my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken. But I have trusted in your lovingkindness; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.” (Psalm 13.4-5) He knew that what he, as a warrior-father, did to rescue his family, God, as his Warrior-Father, would do no less.

So even now, as the sound of my enemy’s gloating and rejoicing rings in my ears, my role is to be that of a little child, and do – nothing. There’s nothing effective I can do! My only role right now is to be passive and to wait and trust while my Father overpowers the enemy, wins the victory and secures my freedom. Any action on my part is futile and a waste of energy.

And yet this perspective transforms my captivity. The cold, the dark, the hunger, the tiredness, the disorientation remain as real, as present and as unchanged as ever. And yet… and yet.

My Father, moved to the very core of His being by my situation, is riding out to my rescue. And so the fear and hopelessness evaporate, and instead of waiting for the enemy to finish the job and execute the prisoner, I’m waiting in quiet anticipation for the victory to be completed. And there’s absolutely nothing I can contribute to that process, except, as a child, to wait patiently and trustingly for my Father to accomplish the task, joyful in the knowledge that He never fails, and it’s only a matter of time – His time, in His purposes.

“Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall I will rise; though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light for me.” (Micah 7.8)

“When Israel was a child I loved him… it is I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them in my arms” (Hosea 11)

I was recently watching a father with his young son.  The fascinating thing about the scene was that this little boy was adopted, not because the parents had decided to adopt another child, but because the social workers had come to a couple who had thought their family was complete, and asked them to adopt another child in desperate need of a loving home, and moved by love, they had opened their hearts to him and made him a part of their family.

The father was sitting on the floor teaching his son to walk.  He stood him up against the sofa and then sat so that when they both extended their arms fully, he was about an inch out of reach.  Tentatively the little boy leaned forward until he could just about touch his daddy’s fingertips, and then dared to put one foot forward.  Holding onto his daddy’s hands, he continued to take faltering steps until finally he was near enough to collapse into his father’s arms.

Over and over again they repeated the process, and what struck me most of all, even more than the boy’s growing confidence, was the look of radiant delight on the father’s face with every successful step that his little boy took.  His joy was infectious and soon his little son began to feel real pride in his achievement, as he saw how proud his daddy was of him.

Eventually the lad became tired.  He tried to take the next step, but he was just too weary to go on; his little knees buckled beneath him and he sank to the floor.  Without a moment’s hesitation his father scooped him up in his arms, held him close to his heart and smothered him with kisses.  Before long the two of them were giggling together.

For me it was the most beautiful picture of God’s fatherhood.  Paul tells us in Romans 8 that we have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”   The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.  But I have often looked at other Christians and compared myself unfavourably with them.  Their walk with God is so much more consistent than mine, so much more confident and faith-filled than mine, and I’ve had this image of God tolerating me because He has to, while I wear His patience thin.

But watching this scene of a father with his adopted son it brought home to me that God delights in every step I take, however faltering.  If I sometimes miss my step, or lack confidence, or doubt whether His arms are really there to catch me, it doesn’t make a scrap of difference to the joy and excitement with which He watches and encourages my feeblest attempts.  And when I fail totally to take the steps I should, and fall flat on my face, far from condemning me, He scoops me up in His arms, holds me close to His heart and showers me with love.

For a long time I’ve called God my Father without really believing the implications of it.  But seeing how much a human father can pour healing love on his adopted son recalled to mind for me Jesus’ words: “If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”  If the love and delight a human father takes in his child is so great and has such profound effects, how immense and real and life-changing is God’s love!