From the Manse
The days are lengthening and, as I look from my study window, I can see the snowdrops dancing merrily in the morning light.
Though March can be a month of inclement weather it brings with it signs that spring is just around the corner. Golden daffodils are about to burst into bloom and soon lambs will appear in the fields as the temperature begins to rise.
It is a special time of year and for Christians, this time is particularly special because it is the time when we focus on Jesus’s last weeks on earth, and the events leading to the cross and empty tomb.
To journey with Jesus in these days can be very enriching as we recall his temptation in the wilderness, his overturning of the tables in the temple, his betrayal by one of his followers, his suffering at Calvary, and his victory over death.
In this season of lent – a word derived from an old English word meaning ‘spring’ - many people give something up as a sign of sacrifice and to test their self-discipline. There is much to be said for that, but for me, lent also affords us the opportunity to draw closer to God and to make him the focal point of our lives.
How might we do this?
Can I suggest that firstly, we set aside time to pray.
For Jesus, prayer was key to his relationship with God. Time and time again, he would withdraw from the crowds to speak to God, and to be renewed for the work he had been sent to do.
Prayer is a wonderful privilege but how often do we pray? When we pray, do we spend time focussing on who God is, and what he has done for us in and through Jesus Christ?
The temptation when we pray is to give God a list of requests and while he is pleased to receive them, there is merit in immersing ourselves in his love, in being still before him, and in marvelling that we should be counted among his children. That should result in an outpouring of praise from us!
Secondly, can I suggest that we take time to reflect on our own lives. Life can be hectic and the demands, real or imaginary, can take their toll. It is easy to get so caught up in the ‘rush’ of every day that we can lose sight of what is really important.
As we read the gospels, the love Jesus had for people and his concern for them is abundantly evident. Think of the time a great number of people followed him, and he had compassion on them, for it was late, and he knew they would be hungry and in need of food?
Isn’t it true that on occasion we can take our eye of the ball? We get bogged down in matters that are ultimately of little significance and we become blind to the needs of those around us, a family member who would benefit from a listening ear, a friend who could do with a visit, or the ‘stranger’ we encounter in the street and for whom even a smile would be enough to lift their spirits and make them feel valued.
It is the case that sometimes acts of kindness do not happen because our focus is elsewhere and we fail to see what is taking place around us.
One of the most touching stories in the gospel is when Jesus visits the home of Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. Martha busied herself in the kitchen preparing a meal and while she is to be commended for that, Mary did what Jesus needed most at that time. He was on his way to the cross and knowing what was to come, his heart must have been heavy. Mary sensed this and realising her time with Jesus was limited, she sat at his feet and devoted herself to him.
Finally, in this season of lent, as well as seeking to draw closer to God, and taking time to reflect on our lives, might it be that we could devote ourselves to supporting a particular charity or engaging with those in positions of authority about issues of concern?
Start Up Stirling and Stirling Street Pastors are always in need of support but what about working with others to identify and deal with the issues that give rise to poverty, homelessness, and inequality, not only in the world, but in the communities in which we live?
The teaching of Jesus is very challenging and that is particularly true in the passage recorded by St Matthew;
‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
All around us there is need. What are we doing, as followers of Jesus, to help those who, due to their circumstances, are unable to help themselves? What would Jesus have us do?
Lent – a season in which to give things up? Yes, but it is also a season in which we can do more, and when we do, we will find that not only are we enriched as a result, but we will know within that we are doing the will of God whose love was revealed to the full on the cross and in the empty tomb.
Your Friend and Minister,
Gary J McIntyre